Meet The Distillers - Nic and Nicola Thompson-Hancock from Mother Of Pearl Vodka, Melbourne
Like the magic lamp of Aladdin, from time to time we release the stopper in a particular bottle of Aussie craft spirits to release the distiller within!
Granting us not three but six wishes, these masters of the ether (or should that be ethanol) answer half a dozen of our most aching questions about their distilling genius—a word that aptly has the same origins as ‘genie’.
Coincidence? Probably. Entertaining? Hopefully. Fascinating? For certain.
Nic and Nicola Thompson-Hancock from Mother of Pearl Vodka, VIC
Taking us on a flying carpet ride around the world of Aussie craft spirits this time are the impressive power couple Nic and Nicola Thompson-Hancock, makers of Mother of Pearl Vodka in Melbourne.
The Thompson-Hancocks have created a superb vodka that takes its inspiration from the Pinctada pearl oysters that grow in the Southern Ocean and uses the superb wine regions of Victoria and South Australia for their grape-base spirit.
Remarkably smooth and silky, but with body, minerality and a pearlescent finish, Mother of Pearl Vodka is a true rarity.
And coming from very different backgrounds, Nic and Nicola have found their happy place in Australian craft spirits.
As they explain: “Nicola’s keen design eye and branding experience from her international fashion career with labels, including Collette Dinnigan, camilla and marc, Rachel Gilbert and We Are Kindred, was invaluable to ensure we created a strong brand identity.”
As for Nic, he has come from the heady world of hotels, but hasn’t looked back for a minute: “to go from being a young GM, occasionally sneaking a cheeky shot of vodka and a short black at 5 in the afternoon, to get started on the next few hours of socialising and dining (as is a GM’s corporate responsibility) then moving forward 20+ years to owning our own distillery and vodka brand is nothing more than life smiling with us.
“I’m always struck by how beautiful and challenging an industry hospitality is.”
But let’s hear more of what Nic and Nicola have to say about their vodka, Mother of Pearl.
1. How did you get started in distilling?
Nic has had an international hotel management career across Asia-Pacific, from chief of staff, finance and legal to general manager, in some of Asia’s most iconic cities and resorts. This experience led to investing and owning a number of Sydney restaurants over the past several years, including Banksii Vermouth Bar and Bistro, located on the waterfront at Barangaroo.
Making our own vermouth for Australia’s first vermouth bar was our first step towards understanding distilling, which also provided us the opportunity to creating and suppling Qantas with our buttered rye and cranberry sours on Business Class, and 65ml mixed cocktails for First Class on the long-hauls to London, Singapore and LA.
This experience and knowledge gave us the confidence to dive into making our wine-based vodka, Mother of Pearl. With a little help from our friends and talented partners, our 1000 litre still ‘Elaine' produces a delicious, smooth and award-winning vodka.
2. What do you love about being a distiller?
If we focus on the favourite part of being distillers, it’s more about our proudest moments. And we have two:
1: the pinch-yourself moment when we actually created a vodka that tastes exactly how we wanted it to taste: smooth and creamy on the palate.
3. What makes Mother of Pearl special?
We’re really proud of the providence of our grape-based, naturally gluten free vodka with zero sugar and less heat on the palate for the ever-growing discerning audience.
A smooth, grape-based vodka like Mother of Pearl is the perfect fit for the health conscious and those with allergies or intolerances as it’s gluten free, low in calories and has zero carbohydrates or sugar.
Mother of Pearl is Australia's award-winning Vodka, redefining the international spirit market by producing a premium grape-based vodka that complements our distinctly antipodean lifestyle with a youthful feminine appeal.
4. Can you tell us a bit more about your vodka? And what’s your favourite way to enjoy it
Mother of Pearl is distilled from premium Australian grapes from the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria and South Australia’s Limestone Coast.
We chose pinot gris grapes, late off the vine, for a full-bodied flavour which complements our unique distillation process, filtering through coconut husk and charcoal, which creates our smooth creaminess with less heat on the palate.
Nicola: Personally, I always tell anyone who is trying Mother of Pearl for the first time to taste it neat and warm. This way you really get to experience how smooth and creamy the taste is.
Many of my friends say they just enjoy it neat and would never think that they could experience vodka that way.
I myself love it as a dirty martini (stirred). I just can’t go past the simple elegance of the experience of making it and pouring it into vintage glassware, and imagining myself in a bygone era of martinis and glamorous train travel.
5. What's something we should know about craft distilling in Australia?
We have found when doing in-store tastings that mindful consumers are seeking out products from transparent brands. We are consistently being asked about the distilling process and the providence of our vodka.
Mother of Pearl Vodka is created in Melbourne using our dedicated 1000-litre still Elaine, with each step—from distilling, bottling and packaging—done ourselves.
Every step in the process is managed and controlled by us, from the grapes to the bottle.
6. Some people think that distilling is a dangerous pastime. Any near-death experiences?
Nic: Distilling has a few elements to be very aware of—mainly fire and explosion, with the potential for fire occurring from the release of flammable compounds such as ethanol (alcohol).
These risks, however, are always mitigated with correct distilling management, and I personally have not heard of or seen any accidents from professional distilling within Australia, given the tight excise controls and licensing.
I’m sure there are several incidents that happen in the back sheds of potential ‘moonshiners’. I’m pleased I don’t know of any.
As for our worst experience, we were made aware that a case of Mother of Pearl Vodka had been sent via normal luggage on an airline’s conveyor belt with suitcases. Of course, a few bottles were broken, with vodka spilling across other travellers’ luggage.
Not aware of the end result, but it would have made for an interesting story for someone with vodka-soaked clothes.