The Black Gate Distillery is as welcoming and determined as the people who’ve constructed it – Brian and Genise Hollingworth. Their passion is infectious and it shows when you visit their humble distillery in Mendooran, halfway between Dunedoo and Gilgandra, five hours north west of Sydney.
The couple founded the distillery in 2012 after years of research, some of which took them to Scotland, Ireland and around Australia. The distillery itself, a large shed on their property, was built with the help of friends in the local community, and this DIY attitude extends to the way they produce their spirits. Production is seasonal: rum in the summer, and whisky in winter. Genise creates their full-bodied pot still rum over the summer months, while Brian crafts Black Gate single malt in Mendooran’s chilly winters.
And if you want handcrafted, spend a day watching Brian make whisky. His process is almost handcrafted to a fault. He starts by milling barley, which, in the past, was smoked with Tasmanian peat – similar to the method used at Lark Distillery. In recent years, though, Brian switched to heavily peated malt from Bairds maltings in Scotland, and the whiskies released from this phase of production show a much greater pungency and smokiness.
The grist is then transferred to a small mash tun on wheels (most of Brian’s equipment is mobile because years of working as a mechanic buggered up his back). Once mashed and fermented, a wash of 6–7% ABV is then distilled in two direct fired copper pot stills. It’s this direct firing which helps to create the lovely burnt toffee characters all of Black Gate’s spirits display.
Maturation takes place in tawny and apera casks predominately from the SA Cooperage in South Australia, although Bourbon casks have also been filled. Mendooran’s hot, dry climate causes rapid maturation, with heavy losses to the angels (as high as 15% with some casks). And while most of Black Gate’s releases are single cask expressions, two cracking exceptions have been the 5 and 6 20s releases: vattings of multiple 20 litre single casks which rank as some of the boldest Australian malt whiskies bottled in recent decades. More recent Black Gate vattings have shown how Brian and Genise’s blending skills are on the improve all the time.
This is about as traditional and successful as small-scale Australian distilling gets, and there’s so much balance and zen to Brian and Genise’s approach. They simply make enough spirit to sustain their business and their fans. They’re not interested in taking the whisky world by storm, and their persistence, and patience, has created some of Australia’s finest single cask whisky and rum.