Meet the Distiller - Peter Bignell from Belgrove Distillery in Kempton, TAS

When we fall in love with an Australian craft spirit, it’s a lot more than enjoying the drink in the glass. It’s an adventure into finding out the beginnings of your favourite tipple.

This is where we get to Meet the Distiller - the opportunity to learn more about the people who breathe life into these remarkable spirits.

Peter Bignell from Belgrove Distillery in Kempton, Tasmania

It’s wrong to label Peter simply as a distiller.

For starters, like many Aussie craft distillers, he’s a farmer - a six-generation farmer in fact. But he’s also an artist and craftsman, and has a keen eye for recycling, up-cycling and the environment.

This last string to Peter’s bow comes from his loathing of waste.

Apart from hand-building his own distillery from scratch, Peter also grows his own grain for his whisky, which puts him in a very rare league to start with.

He also heats his still with biofuel (foraged fryer fat from local restaurants), harvests rainwater from his property, feeds his livestock with discarded mash grain and even uses the heads from his distillate in the wiper jets on his car.

And that’s merely the part of the iceberg we can all see. So let’s dip our toe further in the water and find out more about the man they call Hollywood.

1. How did you get started as a distiller?

Before I got into the whisky industry, I was a farmer and I still am. I was/am also a professional sand and ice sculptor.

I met Bill Lark and a few other pioneers in the Tasmanian whisky industry in about 2007 when I was restoring the old water-driven flour mill that was to become Nant Distillery.

While the distillery was being built, I became fascinated with whisky and the process of making it.

Back on my farm a couple of years later, I had just harvested a bumper rye crop. But to my disappointment I was unable to sell it because there was an over-supply that year, so I decided to build my own distillery and turn that surplus into whisky.

I hand built a small distillery. Much of the equipment was repurposed secondhand dairy and chocolate factory equipment.

I built the still from new copper, not from scrap copper as some have suggested.

I obtained a license and started production at the end of 2010.

2. What do you love about being a distiller?

I love being creative. For the last 25 or so years I have been creating sand and ice sculptures around Australia and overseas. I start with a block of ice or a pile of sand and create a work of art.

Whisky-making is another outlet for my creativity. On my farm I start with a paddock of dirt and end up with bottles of whisky that are being appreciated by consumers all over the world.

I also love problem-solving - as long as there aren’t too many! I am often finding ways to make things work better in the distillery.

Being a distiller has given me the opportunity to travel the world. I have been to the USA three times to speak at conferences, several times to China and Japan for marketing, and quite a few times to visit distilleries for ideas and inspiration in most major distilling countries, including Scotland and Ireland several times.

3. What makes Belgrove special?

Belgrove is one of very few whisky distilleries in the world to do everything on the one site, from planting the seeds to sending off bottled spirits.

Belgrove whiskies and spirits are for the consumers who want to explore different flavours. But just being different is not enough; those flavours must also be enjoyable.

Everything we do is to maximise exceptional flavours. Alcohol is treated as a by-product. The direct flame heating of the stills causes the Maillard reaction, which greatly increases the complexity of the spirits.