In 2015, Ben Bowles and Andrew Fitzgerald quietly launched Melbourne Moonshine – a tidy operation that quickly filled a narrow warehouse in South Melbourne. Two hand-beaten Portuguese stills were used to produce a sour mash 100% malted corn spirit from a recipe inherited by Bowles – he hails from South Carolina. The aim was to bring Australians around to the raw complexity of moonshine (or unaged grain spirit). It was a hard slog from the beginning, so they expanded their range with a number of successful liqueurs and white spirits which quickly took off.
Soon, their focus started to shift – whisky became the main game. They expanded, re-branded and launched The Gospel Distillers in 2019 after moving in to a warehouse located in the suburb of Brunswick, Melbourne’s inner-city hipster oasis. Armed with the successes and failures from Melbourne Moonshine, they self-built a much larger set-up inspired by some of the top craft distillers in the U.S. They also shifted grains: unmalted rye from South Australia would be the primary grain bubbling through their six-metre high column still, also designed and constructed by the former engineers.
The pivot was aimed at this country’s growing consumption of rye and corn-based spirits – Australia being one of the biggest markets for American whiskey in the world. But there was another goal: selling rye whisky back to North America.
All of this goes a long way to explaining the design of their maturation program. The Gospel Solera Rye, which launched in September 2019 (retailing for around $80), is matured in a purpose-built 6 x 4 barrel system. 100% rye spirit is initially fed into the top layer, comprising of virgin American oak, and is then transferred throughout the solera until it reaches the bottom barrels which previously held Australian red wine.
The resulting spirit then classifies as a rye whiskey in the U.S., but it can’t be called whisky in Australia as the components are younger than the minimum two year requirement, so the term doesn’t appear on the label. It’s a progressive, forward-thinking approach, aimed at creating an affordable Australian rye. But it’s also raised the hackles of traditionalists in certain quarters of the industry.
The Gospel straight rye whiskey was then launched in March 2020. The straight rye is fully matured in new American oak barrels and completely satisfies both Australian and American whisky regulations. A range of single cask and special release bottlings have since been released under ‘The Gospel Projects’ label.
The Gospel’s growing team of Australian distilling specialists, which includes the highly experienced Ian Thorn, formerly of Starward, and Alex Poulsen, who previously managed the Hippocampus and Boatrocker distilleries, also proves this is a bold project eyeing a big future in Australia and abroad.