It’s one of the Tweed’s great success stories that progressed from a dream of tropical island rum to a thriving industry in just a decade. For those who have been watching the exponential growth in the success of Husk Distillers, now they have opened their own cellar door, cocktail bar and café in Tumbulgum, North New South Wales.
A geologist by profession, Paul Messenger fell in love with rum on a six-year-long stay in the Caribbean. ‘Why aren’t there more varieties of rum made in Australia?’ he wondered.
After gaining a liquor-making licence on his return to Australia, Paul planted cane on his 60-hectare beef cattle farm and set out to make agricole (paddock-to-glass) rum in the farm shed, hand cutting his own sugar cane and making his own yeast. It took him six years as a rum distiller to realise why there were only a few distillers in the country, his first rum release being in 2012. The limited sugar cane harvest season, time needed to achieve barrel ageing, and production constraints meant that his commitment to rum would be long-term.
Paul decided to diversify into a shorter-term spirit. Coincidentally, his rum project coincided with an increased interest worldwide in distilled spirits. So, while ageing his rum, Paul developed the premium Ink Gin made with 14 traditional and Australian native botanicals that include a mix of traditional and Australian natives, releasing it in 2015.
Unlike rum, gin does not need to be aged. Pot distilled in small batches in a hand-beaten copper still, Ink Gin gains its gorgeous purple hue naturally through the infusion of the exotic butterfly pea flower. As its ph level changes with the addition of tonic, so does its colour, however it remains subtle and very smooth on the palate, another legacy of the flower.
It’s the increasing interest in botanicals that sets gin apart from other spirits. Husk’s gin, made on single origin sugar cane from the fields adjacent to the distillery, infused with the SE Asian native butterfly pea flower set against traditional and local botanicals of the Northern Rivers, bring a unique blend of terroir to each bottle of Husk gin.
Likewise, by using local cane rather than a by-product such as molasses, Husk is Australia’s first agricole rum distillery (paddock to bottle).
Husk Pure Cane Rum has the clean grassy flavour that is the earmark of an agricole rum. The highly prized Spiced Bam Bam is naturally infused for three months with roast wattle seed, local native ginger root, as well as sweet orange, cinnamon and vanilla, giving it its unique spiced flavour. Husk’s latest release is their triple oak rum, aged in American Oak barrels formerly used to age bourbon and port, imbuing it with smoky notes. Drink the rum neat or on the rocks.
With the success of both their gin and rum, Husk Farm Distillery opened to the public in June 2019 to better cater for the interests and needs of food tourists.
The distillery is located at Tumbulgum, overlooking the rolling hills of the Messenger family farm and framed by the Tweed River beyond and Mt Warning in the distance. The ‘Husk Experience’ includes a café, cellar door and distillery tour, the 45 minute tour ($35pp) starting with a famous ink gin and tonic on arrival and ending with a rum tasting flight in the barrel house.
Planter’s Café, which serves Blackboard Coffee alongside a selection of food, runs four seasonal menus, focussed on showcasing local produce. We choose the Husk Board, a selection of cured local meats sourced from Salumi and a Lismore deli, local cheese from Cheeses Loves You in Burringbar, daily baked artisan bread (from the Bread Social), Byron Bay seeded crackers, organic dips from Murwillumbah, rillette from Billinudgel, tropical honeycomb, marinated olives and dried fruits. The café also serves baked goods, cookies and alcohol-infused artisan chocolates to be shared either in the café or at seating outside overlooking rolling pastures.
Husk Distillery is built on sustainable, environmentally friendly practises, with waste from the distillery fed back to the farm’s cattle or used as compost for the rainforest, crops and gardens.
As we leave the distillery after our tour, we pass by the Messengers’ herd of happy cows, hand-reared since birth, grazing happily in the front paddock. That’s the life!
1152 Dulguigan Rd, North Tumbulgum NSW Ph: 02 6675 9149
Open Wed – Thurs 10am – 5pm; Fri – Sun 10am to 6pm. Bookings essential
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast visited as a guest of Husk Distillers. One photo credited to Husk Distillers.