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New distillery serves up beer, BBQ and moonshine
Tim Baker | December 1, 2021
Mudgeeraba’s historic Woodchoppers Inn is adding an in-house distillery to produce its own gin, whiskey and vodka alongside its traditional offering of BBQ meats and craft beers.
The Woodchoppers Inn has developed a loyal following for its warm ambience, it’s sense of old-fashioned hospitality, a feeling almost like stepping back in time. It’s little wonder the historic Mudgeeraba institution has been chosen as a location for the filming of a new Australian, period mini-series.
But that doesn’t mean Woodchoppers is incapable of moving with the times. During pandemic lockdown, the historic old timber pub and restaurant was able to nimbly pivot to a takeaway business model for its BBQ meats, beer and a selection of household staples.
Now, as the world re-opens, Woodchoppers continues to evolve, with a new in-house distillery producing its own gin, whiskey, and other spirits, leading to a new slogan for the business: “Beer, BBQ and Moonshine”.
“Our over-arching message to people is, we’ve got a really successful BBQ restaurant with 16 taps of local beers,” says Woodchoppers’ gregarious proprietor Stephen O’Brien. “Add a distillery, and this is putting a complementary business into our core business.”
Stephen is bubbling (excuse the pun) with excitement as he introduces me to his new distillery, all gleaming stainless-steel vats and copper pipes and taps that resembles a mad scientist’s laboratory. He’s named it Bruce, after his dog, a 50 kg Boxer, and for Stephen it already seems to have become Man’s best friend.
“I just got bored. I just wanted to do something different. We’ve been here 26 years, every four or five years you’ve got to do something different,” he says.
Woodchoppers’ gaming room has been re-purposed into an intimate cocktail lounge with plush furnishings and the distillery as its spectacular centrepiece. Here, they plan on holding tastings, serving cocktails with their own house-made spirits, and conducting gin-making workshops.
Stephen developed his interest in distilleries in the same place he acquired his passion for BBQ meats, in the US, where he sought out teachers to learn the craft and the best equipment to bring home to the Gold Coast. Already, Stephen has become quite the purist in both disciplines, insisting on the best raw materials and no short cuts.
The art of distilling is a language and a science all its own, baffling to the novice. Stephen has named the new business, Against the Grain Distilling, (a sly nod to the region’s old timber cutting industry) and is determined to do things the right way, producing his own ethanol from scratch rather than simply buying it. “What you won’t see in 90% of distilleries in this area is a mash of grain and ferment. We create our own wash to distill, where the majority buy in ethanol,” he says.
Corn, barley, rye and wheat are combined in various ratios to create different flavours and styles. “We take all those grains, break down starches into sugars, they’re placed in a fermenter with yeast to create the wash,” Stephen explains, excitedly.
There’s a lot more of Stephen’s rapid-fire explanation of the various stages of the distilling process, talk of “heads and hearts and tails”, which I struggle to follow, but I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about, even if I don’t. Because they won’t be ageing their spirits in wooden barrels for years and years, he’s upfront about what they’re producing.
“It’s moonshine,” he declares, proudly, though this doesn’t mean he isn’t focussed on quality. Using smaller, 25 litre wooden barrels will shorten the ageing process, because the liquid is in contact with the wood for more of the time. “We’re not trying to be in Dan Murphy’s, we’ll be focussed on getting production volume right.”
Corn, barley, rye and wheat are combined in various ratios to create different flavours and styles.
He’s invited a “foundation group” of locals to come in for tastings and provide feedback, to avoid what he calls “brewer’s amnesia”. Over time, Stephen explains, you can become desensitised to the taste of your own products and miss some of the subtleties of flavour.
“You need to get as many palates involved as possible,” he says.
He’ll be sourcing local botanicals from the surrounding area, using finger lime, lemon myrtle, Davidson plum and other native ingredients. They’ll be producing small batches of whiskey, rum, vodka, bourbon and a variety of gins – London gin, pink gin, slow gin, ink gin (which sounds like the title of a grownup’s Dr Seuss book). And he’ll still be stocking other spirits so people can compare them to the locally made items.
“I’m going to have all my competitors here, because I want them to taste the difference between all-grain and ethanol,” he says. “You can have whatever you want as long as you spend money with us.”
Steve’s already got one eye on the future and the expansion of his distillery. “In the next five years, this will be a tasting area and the big stills will be downstairs,” he says. “We want to bring more people into the area – get people into Mudgeeraba on the weekends, give people a reason to come to Mudgeeraba.” He points to 10,000 new homes being built in the nearby Skyridge development as a positive sign of the growth potential of the area.
And he has other big plans – live music, distilling classes, collaborations with local brewers to use their beer as the basis for the distilling process. “We could make a Balter IPA style vodka, or use Stone and Wood dark ale and make a rum,” he says. “We’ll have a gin school, where you get fed from our BBQ, learn to make gin, and take home a bottle.”
And he plans to continue travelling to refine his knowledge and skills. “I want to travel and learn, do some internships to build my skill set. If you think you know it all you stop learning. That’s when you should stop.”
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