Stuart and Naomi McIntosh have been creating superb whisky in the Mornington Peninsula since 2016 thanks to a lucky (or skilful) turn of fate. Here’s their story.
It’s always a pleasure to meet the people behind a brand—even more so when they’re making delicious Australian craft spirits.
But from our perspective (Christina and I have been working together on MrAndMrsRomance.com since 2012), when the distillers we talk to are a husband-and-wife team, we feel like there’s an even deeper connection.
Stuart and Naomi McIntosh started Chief’s Son Distillery about the same time we did, designing their distilling process and future-proofing it with scaleable methods and infrastructure.
With Stuart’s military and then finance experience, and Naomi having a strong science background, playing to each other’s strengths (much like Christina and I do) has created not only a robust business, but also some spectacular whisky.
But let’s go back a bit and hear from the McIntoshes about Chief’s Son Distillery.
1. How did you get started in distilling?
In 2011, Chivas Regal ran a ‘25 Words or Less competition’, where the best entry won a trip to Scotland to tour the Speyside distilleries owned by Pernot Ricard.
Whilst Stuart purchased the whisky, his father, Alasdair McIntosh wrote the below words and won the trip:
“My grandparents passed the love of whisky through my parents to me and I want to make sure my children pass it onto their children.”
As Stuart had left for the Royal Military College Duntroon at 18, he truly believed that the prize was to spend time with his father as an adult. This was initially true, however as the trip progressed, Stuart soon realised that it had become an incredible research and planning opportunity.
Thus starting a sequence of events that would lead to the establishment of the initial Test Bed Distillery, drawing heavily on Naomi’s science background and then lead directly to the commercial operation that exists today.
In early 2016, we started commercial production.
But a great deal of credit goes to a small number of incredibly passionate and professional people who each provided key inputs into the development of the systems and components that eventually forged the distillery.
2. What do you love about being a distiller?
We truly believe whisky is the spirit of connection. It connects people as they enjoy this slow drink with friends and family. Everyone has a story that connects them to whisky—they shared it with their dad, their grandma always had a wee dram at Christmas—whatever it is we all can find a connection.
Recently we did three commemorative bottles for a family that were spread around the world in memory of their grandmother. On special occasions, in each corner of the world, they will FaceTime each other and enjoy the same whisky together to remember their nan.
This is what I love most about this job: that we truly are creating something that does bring people together in a small way.
3. What makes Chief’s Son special?
For a start, our provence; the Mornington Peninsula matters to craft. It’s a region that affords us and our network of craft and artisan brands the time, place, beauty, purity, space, and ability to focus on every detail. Like-minded people uniquely sharing, collaborating friendship, respect and support.
We are also actively involved in every aspect of the distillation process, and have designed and purpose-built our distilling system to create an exact and consistent spirit type only using the highest quality, hand crafted ingredients.
Our raw materials and methods of distillation and maturation respect tradition, but we place a far greater emphasis on extracting full and complex flavours from the highest quality ingredients, including yeast, malt and barrels.
This means that we exploit inefficiencies created in such things as higher malting temperatures and tighter distilling parameters (which tend to give lower yields), longer fermentations (for richer flavours), and smaller and first-fill barrels, embracing our varied climate and very strict parameters for finished products.
Rather than being barrel focused, we have four different malt recipes, which sets us apart from many others, who generally use only one malt recipe and different barrels. However, going forward we are gradually starting to trial new barrels for our cask expressions.
And of course, it would be remiss not to mention that Chief’s Son just took out Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits for The Tanist and for our Single Cask, and a silver for our very new Single Malt Vodka!
4. Where does the name Chief’s Son come from?
Our family name is McIntosh or in Scottish Gaelic, Mhic an Tòisich. This stems from the early 1100s where our family were loyal to successive Kings of Scotland, the Scottish people and the Highlands.
As such, 900 years ago, our family were awarded Mhic an Tòisich as a battle honour by the King (Chief) of Scotland.
The meaning of this battle honour is ‘Son-of-the-Chief’.
When it came to naming the distillery, we simply flipped the name around and locked in ‘Chief’s Son Distillery’.
5. I’m a huge fan of your Sweet Peat, but what is Chief’s Son’s flagship spirit and what’s your favourite way to enjoy it?
Our 900 Standard is our flagship and is based on a 250-year-old concept of whisky production. Add a twist of peat to deepen the taste and finish, and we have our 900 Standard.
The 1750s were a time when beer or beer ingredients formed the foundation for the whisky and hence the whisky had bold beer characteristics.
It was also a time when sherry imports from Europe dominated the market and hence ex-sherry barrels, made of French oak, were the main source of transportation and ageing of whisky.
As for a favourite way to drink our 900 Standard, well we always appreciate a good whisky straight or with a few drops of water, in order to explore the flavours and smells.
For the cocktail lovers out there, our Whiskitini is a favourite in winter, and for a more refreshing cocktail in summer the Elderflower Mojito is a favourite:
Elderflower Mojito with a twist
30ml 900 Standard 45%
10ml elderflower liqueur or cordial
15ml lemon juice
5 mint leaves
2 slices of fresh ginger
Ginger beer or dry ginger ale
In a highball glass, muddle 3 mint leaves and ginger. Add the remaining ingredients, fill with ice and top up with ginger beer and stir to combine. Garnish with a lemon wheel and the 2 remaining mint leaves.
30ml cold espresso coffee
10ml chocolate liqueur
10ml sugar syrup
Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice. Shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds. Double strain into a martini glass to ensure no ice shards are in the drink. Garnish with 3 coffee beans.
Importantly, drinking whisky is a journey and what you like or love, dislike or despise will be yours and only yours.
Whilst it’s both a private and a sharing drink, it’s not about other people’s attitudes, views, perceptions or judgements. We do say drink it however which way makes you smile!
6. What’s something we should know about craft distilling in Australia?
That every part of the process involves a craftsperson, for us in whisky land it is the maltster and their craft, the cooper, the brewer and the distiller—all with decades’, possibly centuries’ worth of experience between us—to create the beautiful liquid we savour in the glass at the end of the day.
7. Some people think that distilling is a dangerous pastime. Any near-death experiences?
We’ve had a few minor incidents that could have been far, far worse. One of note involved heat and pressure, and Stuart’s manhood!
Our whisky wash is transferred into the still via a heat exchange. This involves a 50mm stainless steel immersion coil through to the waste tank, which houses the 100℃ waste from the previous distillation.
When closed at both ends, the pressure inside this pipe is quite significant.
So when, at 5am, Stuart releases the clamps on the 50mm cam-lock cap, not only does the cap become a high-velocity projectile narrowly missing his undercarriage (and chipping the concrete wall four metres away), but Stuart’s private parts are then steamed at 100℃.
The result: a naked head distiller wildly splashing water on his genitals, and a new procedure for steam and pressure!