Handcrafted in Victoria’s High Country using Australian ingredients, Backwoods Distilling Co. takes inspiration from its beautiful bushland backyard.
Backwoods Distilling Co. is a family-run whisky distillery located in Yackandandah in northeast Victoria. It was founded by Bree and Leigh Attwood in 2017, who’d recently returned to regional Victoria after many years in Melbourne.
The couple’s decision to open a distillery sprouted from a “love of whisky, science and craftiness,” as well as a hunch that Victoria’s high country had the perfect conditions for whisky distilling.
“Before we left Melbourne we’d been drinking whisky, starting with Irish and then into Scotch and then came to know a lot of the Aussie whiskies,” says Bree.
Whisky distilling in Australia dates back to the early 19th century. However, a law change in 1901 reduced the options for craft distillers and the industry lay dormant throughout the majority of the 20th century.
It was rebooted by the Hobart-based Lark family, who in 1992 became the first Australian distillery to produce a single malt spirit in 150 years. Lark’s single malt was made commercially available in 1998, by which time Sullivans Cove, another Hobart distillery, had also opened.
The Tasmanian distillers were a major source of inspiration for the Attwoods.
“Leigh went on a trip to Tassie and met some distillers and then Sullivans Cove won world awards [in 2017],” says Bree. “So there was lots of articles going around about how Victoria and Tasmania are really good climates for whisky making.”
Along with taking advantage of certain climatological factors, the Attwoods were eager to incorporate local flavours into their whisky.
“We use grain that’s grown nearby,” says Leigh. “And when we ferment it, we do open-top ferment – we open the top of the fermenter and let everything get in there. The distillery is just across from a little bush block so there’s a lot of natural yeast in the air and that gets in there. They’re all native gums in there so it gives it a bit of that natural Aussie flavour.”
They’re also committed to aging their spirits in casks from local wineries.
“Because we’re nearby such a famous wine region, we try and get casks and use them when we can,” says Leigh. “Our little point of difference is that we only age our whiskies in casks that have had Australian products in them.”
Backwoods’ first product, Wild Rye, launched in 2019. Although it’s twice-distilled, the Wild Rye is unaged, meaning it’s a clear liquor. The reception for Wild Rye has been enthusiastic, with the first three batches completely selling out.
“We’ve got a founders club, which we launched in 2018,” says Bree. “We sold out 250 founders club memberships in six months. We were surprised at the uptake, but I guess people took a leap of faith – they prepaid for a bottle of whisky, which wasn’t going to be ready for four years or so.”
The wait is finally over for the Backwoods founders club members, as well as the rest of the whisky drinking public. Backwoods’ first official whiskies, Rye and Single Malt, are launching on August 11. In contrast to the Wild Rye, these varieties display a mix of rich amber and deep red hues.
The colour is extracted from the cask during the maturation process. The Single Malt was aged in tawny port casks while the Rye was aged in shiraz casks, both of which are made from French oak.
“With French oak compared to American oak, you do get a bit more colour because you extract faster, because it’s a little bit more porous,” says Leigh. “The other thing we do is we re-char our barrels, so before we get them they get re-coopered. They get about three millimetres scraped off them and they light a fire and charcoal all the inside so it almost looks like an alligator skin.”
A bottle of Backwoods Single Malt or Rye will set you back $134. That might be a confronting proposition for consumers whose whisky knowledge stretches no further than Grant’s or Chivas Regal. But in terms of Australian-made craft spirits, it’s effectively a steal.
“We’re actually getting flak from other distillers saying, ‘How can you sell it so cheap?’ Some other distilleries sell their 500ml bottles for between $150-200. So we wanted to be a little bit fairer and just to try and get our product out there and not have to try too hard to sell it. We know it’s good, but we just wanted it to be accessible,” says Leigh.
“We just wanted to make whisky that people will open the bottle that night and have a drink with their mates,” says Bree.
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