Banking on a brandy resurgence

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By Andrew Spence

Making brandy cool again and appealing to Millennials with a growing appreciation for boutique spirits are the goals of Bickford’s Australia‘s new South Australian distillery which opens today (Friday, September 23).

The popular beverage company has launched a craft range of spirits under the 23rd Street label at a reinvented distillery in the Riverland.

The 23rd St Distillery in Renmark has today launched two brandies, a gin and a hybrid whisky.

The former Renmano distillery will also produce craft spirits under its own label and well-known Australian label Black Bottle Brandy, Australia’s second biggest brandy brand.

It is about a kilometre away from the St Agnes distillery, the maker of Australia’s biggest selling brandy.

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23rd St Distillery in Renmark has today launched two brandies, a gin and a hybrid whisky

Bickford’s, established in South Australia in 1874 and historically known for its cordials and syrups, has grown strongly into the alcoholic beverage market in recent years.

It bought VOK Beverages in 2002 and has steadily built a portfolio of well-known spirits brands including Beenleigh Rum, Real McCoy, El Toro and Vickers Gin.

It bought the Black Bottle Brandy label from Accolade in 2011 and has until now been making it out of its Beenleigh Rum distillery in Queensland. Vickers Gin and the new premium Black Bottle Very Special Australian Brandy will also be produced at the new Renmark distillery.

Bickford’s bought the Renmark site from Accolade Wines in 2014 after receiving more than $2 million in Riverland Sustainable Futures Funding towards the establishment of a spirit distillery in the region.

The 23rd Street Distillery is the result of a $6.6-million transformation and rejuvenation of the century-old landmark.

“With research suggesting the younger millennials are a discerning generation looking to bring quality and premium products into their repertoire, our focus is very much on boutique products of exceptional body and taste,” Graham Buller, 23rd Street Distillery’s Head Distiller, says.

“We’re blending our distilling knowledge and expertise – along with all the delicious local produce of the Riverland on our doorstep and those of the Adelaide Hills just a few hundred kilometres away – to create fun, exciting and prime sprits for the liberated palate.”

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Artist’s impression of the new Black Bottle Distillery at Renmark with some examples of Renmano memorabilia

The new generation 23rd Street Not Your Nanna’s Brandy has spent two years ex-Chardonnay oak barrels to impart rich colour, smoothness and length.

It is described as having vanillin sweetness on the front palate that gives way to vivacious honey and apricot flavours before finishing with soft oak spiciness. It’s a brandy with a new flavour profile and proposition the distillery hopes will encourage a new, younger breed to the category.

Graham describes 23rd Street Prime 5 brandy as “the ultimate in refined character” and “a rich and complex fruitcake-in-a-glass”. Aged up to eight years, portions of traditional double pot distilled liquor deliver sophisticated richness and roundness which, combined with portions distilled by the single pot process, add liveliness to an outstanding limited edition craft brandy.

For the brand’s Signature Gin, Buller individually infuses 10 botanicals – including traditional juniper and coriander – and complements them with invigorating freshness from local mandarins and limes to create what he terms “a layered palate and full-bodied mouthfeel”.

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Bickford’s Australia has long been a much-loved South Australian brand

The hybrid whiskey is, in Graham’s words, “the realisation of my dream to achieve the best of both worlds and create the perfect blend of scotch and bourbon whiskies”.

The barrels of Scotch and American bourbon – each with an average of five years’ individual maturation – are returned to bourbon barrels for finishing.

The new premium Black Bottle Very Special Australian Brandy is a blend of double and single pot distillation and matured for an average of eight years in a mix of French and American oak.

“We will also look to be creative and inventive, introducing new tastes and flavour combinations to the craft spirits industry that particularly resonate with millennials seeking maximum enjoyment by satisfying their sensory pleasures of savoury and sweet, bright and smooth, contradictory yet united,” Graham says.

“In addition, we hope to reignite brandy, give it a healthy dose of cool and engage consumers with a drink they thought was only for their nannas.”

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Bickford’s Group Owner and Managing Director, Angelo Kotses

Bickford’s Group Owner and Managing Director, Angelo Kotses, says the distillery is a chance for the company become a player in Australia’s booming craft spirits industry and leverage export markets.

“We looked at the international model where cognac all of a sudden became cool and consumption went up and markets such as Asia grew dramatically so it was an ideal time to look at that whole category again,” he says.

“Suddenly Renmark has become the centre of brandy in Australia and what we want to do is build the pie rather than take share from anyone else.

The new distillery’s production will centre on three restored vintage copper pot stills with the capacity to produce around 1500 litres – or about 11 barrels – of matured spirit during each run, positioning 23rd Street Distillery as Australia’s leading family-owned producer of branded spirits.

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