In this series of Meet the Distiller, we learn about the Aussies behind the stills around the country. Those genius alchemists who turn water into gold and fill our cups with nuanced gin, brilliant whisky and robust rum.
Who are they? What makes them tick? And how did they learn such magic?
Josh Walker from Timboon Railway Shed Distillery in Timboon, VIC
The local boy with a sense of adventure, Josh Walker has been in business since he was 17. But the days of his farm contracting firm have changed a bit.
His hometown of Timboon - a stone’s throw from the Twelve Apostles and the Victorian coast - now sees Josh crafting some of the most spectacular single malt whisky you’ll find in Australia.
The distillery, named after the 1890s Timboon rail line it stands on, isn’t the only bit of history Josh has brought back to life with his whisky. His mighty Christie’s Cut cask strength gets its name from the infamously mean local copper who was determined to shut down independent stills like Josh’s back in the day.
It shows that Josh is as invested in Australia’s heritage as he is in producing world-class spirits. As you’ll see:
1. How did you get started as a distiller?
Well, it started with a bit of amateur home brewing but many years later travelling through Kentucky with my now wife Caitlin, we could see craft distilling booming in USA and knew that AUS was always 10-15 years behind.
By coincidence we had in our hometown a very small distillery already for sale with a 120 seat restaurant attached. We made a big call from over there to sell our current business (ag contracting, bailing, cropping etc) and basically turn tractors into barrels of whisky.
We sold everything on Facebook while still over there, flew home and took over the distillery two months later. Crazy times! (but the best call I have ever made!) That was in 2014.
2. What do you love about being a distiller?
Mmm. Many, but probably the maturation process. With hundreds of barrels laid down to rest, I love pulling five or six samples in the morning and comparing them to years earlier to see how they are moving along. At 72% abv I try them around 7am or 8am so I can still drive home!
3. What makes Timboon Railway Shed Distillery special?
Something that gets asks every day at the cellar door. It’s a combination of different things.
We are located in an old railway shed that features our two stills running most days.
It’s been restored and is like our “Home Ground” of tastings and sales. Also we offer a locally produced food sharing menu created by Head Chef Simon Yarham, which also includes our home-grown ABecketts Creek Beef.
The history of illicit whisky production in Timboon, which kicked off back in 1881, is featured through the naming of specific whisky lines and countless stories are told by our staff when you come to visit us.
And then there is our process. We use mainly ex-Tawny Port barrels that have had a heavy charr by our own cooperage ABecketts Creek Cooperage. The filled casks then rest for a time period of no less then three years and up to 10.
4. What is Timboon's flagship spirit and do you have a personal favourite?
Our flagship is our “Port Expression” Single Malt Whisky. Soft and slightly sweet and just a hint of that charr coming through.
This is by far our most popular at the cellar door as it appeals to a larger audience, however our Christie’s Cut is gaining cult status as our big bold spicy cask-strength whisky - not for the faint hearted.
5. What’s something we should know about craft distilling in Australia?
Well I’ll keep it brief as I’m not only passionate about the industry but we invest in it.
We now have over 70 Aussie independent distillers on our back bar for not only tastings but for bottle sales too! We sell around 50 bottles a week of all the other distillers to help raise awareness and get more Aussies drinking more spirits made here.
To steal a line from Kathleen Davies (founder-owner of Nip of Courage) ‘less than 1% of the spirits consumed in Aus is Australian’.
6. Some people think that distilling is a dangerous pastime. Any near-death experiences?
Yes it can be, no question. Not so long ago we had a condenser run dry of water, which then started to vaporise and then started filling the distillery.
I had Laura our manger ringing in panic, but the crisis was averted and the still was shut down safely!
7. I see you breed your own cattle too. Any good stories about them? Does your whisky pair well with the beef?
Yeah, we grow our own beef about 11km from the distillery. We actually use the bottom-of-the-barrel whisky, which can’t be used, in sausages with some local honey. We call them Timboon whisky honey sausages and people love them!