Whisky with notes of the Aussie countryside
The first hot climate whisky distillery in NSW, favouring intuition over science to create what’s maturing into Australia’s best single malt whisky. Black Gate Distillery is about as traditional and successful as small-scale Australian distilling gets, packed with punch, flavour, and infectious passion.
The small distillery’s Black Gate Rum made it on the menu of NOMA Australia, the Aussie chapter of the world’s best restaurant. That’s an achievement if ever there was one. But there’s a lot more that makes this homegrown distillery so special…
Whisky with notes of the Aussie countryside
45 minutes from Dubbo, in a small town called Mendooran, is a small distillery surrounded by a rural environment that encapsulates all that’s authentically Aussie. Black Gate is the first distillery to be built in central west New South Wales, a husband-and-wife run operation born out of a pure love of whisky and the desire to make and share their brews with equally passionate drinkers. The couple behind this passion project gone wild is Brian Hollingworth, a fitter machinist and automotive mechanic by trade, and his wife, Genise.
The distillery itself is situated in a large shed on Brian and Genise’s property, built with the help of friends and the local community. This DIY attitude extends to the way the couple produce their spirits, a handcrafted process from start to finish. Production on the Black Gate Distillery property is seasonal: rum in summer and whisky in winter. Genise, one of only a handful of female distillers in the country, creates full-bodied pot still rum in summer while Brian crafts black Gae single malt whisky throughout Mendooran’s chilly winters.
DIY, handcrafted whisky with grit
We weren’t kidding when we said the entire process is a handcrafted, DIY affair from start to finish. Brian starts by milling barley, which in the past was smoked with Tasmanian peat but recently switched to heavily peated malt from Bairds maltings in Scotland. The reason behind the change is the Scottish heavily peated malt has been shown to produce whiskies with a much greater pungency and smokiness.
From there, the grit is then transferred to a small mash tun on wheels (every big bit of equipment is on wheels since Brian hurt his back from a lifetime of mechanic work). Once it’s mashed and fermented, a wash of 6-7% ABV is then distilled in two direct-fired copper pot stills. This direct firing helps create the lovely burnt toffee characters displayed by all of Black Gate’s spirit range. Maturation then takes place in tawny and apera casks, predominantly from South Australia, although Bourbon casks have also been filled. The hot and dry climate of Mendooran lends itself to rapid maturation with heavy losses to the angels (as high as 15%).
Brian also produces his own wash and ages his new-make spirits in a variety of casks, including sherry, port, rum, and hybrid barrels with past non-peated expressions and now predominantly peated expressions. There’s also a Solera cask whisky available, with Black Gate Distillery being one of the first Aussie distilleries using the Solera system. This provides complexity to their juice consistently.
Rural, authentic, agile
But how did a humble Aussie husband and wife team become renowned whisky makers that ‘have whisky acolytes literally chomping at the bit to try every new release they create’? The answer is simple: it was born out of pure unbridled passion. The duo let their love of whisky take them travelling throughout Scotland, Ireland, Tasmania, and NSW to learn their craft. They researched and gained knowledge in the art of distilling high quality spirits, approaching the operation with a humbleness and love of the environment that shines through in the spirits they produce.
Brain and Genise came back to their property with newfound knowledge and a whole heap of intuition, and chose to start producing spirits while sticking to traditional methods and using the highest quality ingredients and casks available. The distillery operates with two copper pots and stills and the couple’s passion is infectious. After years of research, their whisky has gained its fair share of loyal fans, including the infamous chef Rene Redzepi of NOMA fame, who claims that Black Gate Rum is his favourite.
The distillery’s unique rural setting and hot climate allows for aggressive spirit maturation, and the couple produce both Australian Single Malt Whisky and Dark Rum, both brewed and distilled entirely onsite using direct fired copper pot stills that produce spirits on the richer end of the flavour spectrum. Black Gate Distillery has earned its fair share of accolades, including Dram Club Sydney Hall of Fame for Cask BG005, Silver in the 2021 Australian Whisky Awards for Whisky Distillery of the Year, as well as Producer of the Year and Dram of the Decade.
Despite all the success of their spirits, there’s still much balance and zen to Brian and Genise’s approach to distillation. They make just enough spirit to sustain their business and their fans, with no desire to take the world by storm more than making an impact on the whisky-loving community. Through their patience and persistence, the couple can proudly say that they’ve created some of the finest single cask whisky and rum Australia has seen.
Read about some of the exclusive & most passionate producers in Australia in CHEFIN’s team deep dive into New South Wale’s best producers.