Anthony Baldwin, founder of the Baldwin Distilling Company, kindly took some time to answer my 7 questions!
First of all, could you please tell me a bit more about yourself, where do you come from and how did you get into whisky?
I have a very diverse background. I grew up about 2 hours SW of Canberra in a little farming community by the name of Stockinbingal. Never really into the “farming” side of things so when I left school I went straight up to Sydney and enrolled in the first Commercial Cookery full time course in Australia all at the tender age of 16. Always loved cooking and still do and I guess it is that creative side that beckons me to create my Whiskey. Came home from Sydney, joined a rock band (always played musical instruments) and toured around for a few years, moved on to sound engineering and tour management and after a few years, no.1 son came along so my touring days ended and into the 9-5 grind I went and learnt my sales/management skills in the IT Industry here in Canberra and stayed doing till early this year. So a few years ago my creative side needed feeding again and along came a show by the name of “Moonshiners”. After 44 minutes of how I like to describe as “I am so doing that”, I ran out and purchased a still, ingredients and practised, experimented and learnt the craft of distilling.
Why deciding to set up a distillery producing “American-style whiskey”?
Bourbon has always been my Achilles heel (old rocker paints a pretty bad picture right?) and working for a few large American IT Companies has allowed me to taste some of the bourbons not available Down Under and I was hooked. The “junkets” to the US always involved some Woodfords, Sazerac and Blantons. When I found out that I could produce some damn good product and coupled with the fact Australia’s been starved of the “good stuff” and every other Distillery here was doing Scotch-type Whisky, Gin, Schnapps or Vodka as their main focus; I decided to put everything on the line and make a go of it.
What makes your whiskey unique? Could you tell us more about the raw ingredients, making process, distillation equipment…
I think it’s a combination of things:
Australia’s great raw materials – Our barley is some of the best in the world with our 75% of the produce exported to the EU for beer production. We also have a unique “Caramel” Barley which is the one of the key ingredients in our Caramel Whiskey. Australia is not known as well for its Rye but it is just as good as our Barley. Both the Barley and Rye are malted for us. Our Corn comes from a region around 3 hours from Canberra called the Riverina. Again this is a very high quality product farmed by families for generations. Lastly and as important is our water; our water comes from the Cotter River here in Canberra and the chemical makeup is near identical to the limestone heavy water of Tennessee and Kentucky. You could call it a “Distillers Dream”.
Bourbon as a beverage – Being a lover of this fine spirit helps in producing something that I am proud of and would order in a bar or buy a bottle to take home.
Process – Here is our basic outline for our Premium Whiskey. Our other products just have different grains or leave out some in cooking;
The corn, malted barley and rye, are all sent through a grinding mill to crush and release the goodness inside. Then the corn is added to water and cooked for around 90 minutes to release the starches. The mash is then cooled to around 68 degrees Celsius and we add our malted barley which starts the process of breaking down the complex starches into simple sugar. The last grain added is the malted Rye and this is done when the temperature hits around 56. We leave the mash for a further 1-2 hours to ensure all starches are converted into the sugars. Once all the starch is converted, we cool the mash down to 32 degrees and pump into our fermenters. There we add our yeast and the fermentation process starts. This normally takes 3-4 days for the yeast to eat all the sugar and turn it into alcohol. Once fermentation is complete, the wash is then pumped into the distillation boiler where our final product comes out, ready for maturing in new American Oak Barrels for a minimum of 2 years.
Equipment – All our equipment is engineered by Allan MacSween (5 Star) in Perth, Western Australia and simply put, are the best products I have used or seen; our cookers, fermenters and Stills are all made of stainless steel. In selecting the right still, we evaluated the traditional copper “pot still” and the more modern, all stainless steel “column or plate still”. We decided use the “Column Still” for a variety of reasons; just as efficient in removing sulphides (it has copper bubble caps inside the stainless column), alcohol % is higher when distilling (90-92% Alc/Vol), “smearing” of the heads/hearts/tails is significantly less than the “pot still” (more quality product), modular design, and cleaning is as simple as rinsing out. We use 4 plates for our Whiskey and the flavour profile is exactly the same if we had used the pot still. All our boilers are steam heated.
If you had to pick ONE expression from your range, which one would it be and why?
I would have to go with our unique Caramel Whiskey (by a nose to the Rye). I spent a lot of time developing this to have a natural caramel flavour and our special caramel barley allows the sweetness to come through.
Have you already secured distribution deals outside Australia? Any key export markets? What has been the response so far from consumers to your products ?
We have only recently been granted an export licence and have yet to secure a distribution agreement. Currently with new trade laws and initiatives in the Pacific Rim, Asia is a key market we are looking very closely at but we are also looking at the US and EU. We have had a lot of great feedback and a couple of not so great. We recently ran a tasting evening and had the guests rate each one out 10; Averages – Premium Whiskey 8/10, Caramel 8.5/10, Rye 9/10 and Moonshine 8/10. We were very happy with those results and we will always looking to improve where we can.
How do you see the rise of the world whisky category, and more specifically Australian whisky? How would you explain this trend?
I think spirit drinkers palates have matured greatly in the last decade and are looking for more of a “premium” product. This is very much the case in Australia, probably more so since Sullivan’s Cove took out the big award in 2014 and a lot of bars are stocking their shelves with premium/craft Aussie spirits. We are very lucky here that older Distilleries like Larks and Sullivans have paved the way with world class products for Australian spirits both here and overseas. Australians now have a wonderful range of products from many distillers across the country and not just in Whisky, there award winning Gins and Vodkas as well.
Any further project in the pipeline? A dream you’d like to achieve?
We are currently working on a separate project with Vodka (insert cone of silence here) which if successful will see us capture a large part of the Asian Market. I will be able to speak more about this shortly. My dream is fairly easy to explain and hopefully not too hard to achieve; basically it’s my legacy – first for my family to carry on long after I’m gone and that we will someday been known as Australia’s Premium Bourbon Manufacturer.
I’ll be reviewing Baldwin’s Caramel Whiskey in the weeks to come!
Watch this space…