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Sunday 3 April 2016

Thriving Tasmanian distillery came about by accident

For a business that was created almost by accident, Tasmania's Nonesuch Distillery is thriving.

Rex Burdon, the man behind the still, spent decades in the superannuation industry before throwing himself into the gin fray two years ago. 

Based at Forcett, on the road from Hobart to Port Arthur, Nonesuch has only three products in its portfolio; a sloe gin, a dry gin and a unique sloe malt spirit. 

Marked by ultra-professional packaging and attention to detail at every step, Nonesuch has quickly made an impact; even in the ultra-competitive Tasmanian market, dominated by big names like Lark, Nant and William McHenry. 

Founder Burdon has told how the business came about through a chance encounter with the "godfather" of Australian craft distilling, Bill Lark.

“I had long wanted to produce a drink [alcoholic or non-] utilising unique Tasmanian native botanicals, and had been experimenting with flavouring spring waters,” he says. 

“Then a chance meeting with Bill Lark led us to discussing the fact that Tasmania was blessed with rows of blackthorn and hence sloe berries. Bill, in his inimitable way, enthused me to change direction somewhat and instead of flavouring spring water, start making sloe gin.”
The first batch of sloe gin was actually made at William McHenry - but now a 300-litre copper pot still is in place - and the range has expanded from one product to three. Burdon is full of praise for the encouragement both Lark and McHenry have given him. 

The name Nonesuch is an old English word that means ‘something without equal’, Burdon says. 

“I originally came across the word many years ago when researching my family history,” he says. “One of my ancestors who came to Tasmania in the mid-1800s settled on a property named Nonesuch and I rediscovered the word when reading a book about the Gallipoli campaign while the distillery was being built.”

The sloe gin is truly artisanal, with each batch subtly different. 

“We believe that the magic ingredient is time," Burdon says. "Allowing time for the natural process to colour the gin and for the exchange of juice and gin to happen slowly and not rushing to bottle it is our touchstone. We determined that we would bottle only when we decided it was ready to drink and not work to a budget-imposed time frame."

The initial sloe gin has been joined in the portfolio by the sloe malt, as well as the dry gin, which I sampled for the first time at the Bream Creek Show - just down the road from the distillery - poured by co-founder Annette Lodewikus. 

It uses a blend of botanicals which includes citrus, liquorice, orris root, angelica, coriander, cardamom and wattle seed alongside the juniper. It is very dry, and very good, with or without a mixer. 

"A great spirit is a great spirit because of the quality of the raw ingredients, the constant improvement of the process and the care given to it during production," Burdon says. "We call that the love factor and that is what makes our spirit great."

Nonesuch Distillery, 491 Arthur Highway, Forcett, Tasmania. 0408 616 442. Open by appointment.

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