Whilst inspired by the traditions of Europe, their approach is distinctly different to most other distilleries, and one they are rightly proud of. Your own Bass and Flinders’ journey starts with a tasting or maybe a Gin Masterclass (or both) and along the way your eyes are opened to the botanical brilliance of these creative people.
Established in 2009 the passion and knowledge of the traditional distilled fruit and grape based products of Europe combined to create Bass and Flinders Distillery. Inspiration also drew on the adventurous spirit and courage of two renowned explorers, George Bass and Matthew Flinders, who between 1798 and 1803 explored the south east coast of Terra Australis, soon to be known as Australia. Bass and Flinders Distillery wanted to identify with and add value to the local region in ways that are common in Europe; by turning local fruit wine into spirit. Every stage of the process was important to them, as was the creativity of the process and attention to detail.
“We selected the grapes and the wine maker and in the beginning were able to use a small part of shed at a local winery to make our spirits”, says owner, Wayne Klintworth. “Originally, we sold our products out of the same location, but as we expanded we had to take over the rest of the winemaking shed”. In fact, it was the first distillery to open on the Mornington Peninsula, and the location serviced them well for almost eight years until it really became too small.
Wayne’s youngest daughter Holly joined the business in 2016. It turned out that Holly had a naturally great tasting palate (a must for a distiller) along with a talent for organisation, and in taking on most of the distilling and blending of spirits she became both the Head Distiller and Managing Director. “Running the distillery and overseeing the distillation process is so rewarding. I am so proud to be a part of a bigger story,” says Holly. “It’s lovely sharing this passion project with my dad and being a part of a vision that is really about creating a legacy.”
Wayne’s vision has been the inspiration and the drive for the business to reach the level it has, and he is still the strategic thinker, director and heart and soul of the business. Bass and Flinders remains a family business with Holly’s mother and sister also getting involved as much as they can. As a now second-generation distiller Holly sees her role as being to help this boutique distillery grow to be a national brand whilst always staying true to the original inspirations and ethos of Bass & Flinders Distillery. “People are often surprised that there are women running the distillery” says Holly, “but it’s become my passion project too. It’s a very creative process and this shows in each product.” She has proven her capabilities quickly going on to become a board member of the highly respected Australian Distillers Association.
Bass and Flinders continues to deliver ‘firsts’ – as well as being first on the Mornington Peninsula, they were the first distillery in Australia to make grape based vodka, as well as a gin using ants as a botanical flavour, and are one of the very few distilleries who distil their own grape spirit ‘eau de vie’ (single vineyard) in-house and use as the base spirit across their range. In 2018 the distillery moved from Red Hill to its new and larger home in Dromana. Although more industrial in style – it is in the Industrial Estate after all – this space gives them far more flexibility for their incredibly popular Gin Masterclasses and their new product development.
You can feel the creativity and passion behind this business and see the great attention to detail in all facets of the production process. At the time of the distillery’s inception no one else was using wine to make spirits on the Mornington Peninsula, and certainly no one in Australia was making spirits like Bass and Flinders. In addition to wanting to leverage the local vineyards to create premium grape-based spirits, there was a desire to take on the challenge of making fine brandies in the French Charente style The starting point was to make their own premium quality brandy – eventually called ‘Ochre’ because of its intense colour. While the brandy was maturing they started to experiment with an array of other products all with one thing in common - the grape.
“We make a single vineyard spirits range by sourcing the wines from a single vineyard in Victoria - Chardonnay for our brandy, vodka and eau de vie products, Shiraz for our award-winning gins”, says Holly. “We are proud to be a champion of premium brandy, and we continue to explore our sense of place by linking the locally sourced produce like black truffles, apples and cherries into our spirits. It’s an evolution”.
In the beginning, everything was done by hand. Everything - and we mean everything - was hand crafted; from hand zesting local oranges and limes for the gins, to distilling and bottling. The labels are all hand applied (they have to be as some have as many as five elements to them), and the attention to detail flows beyond the obvious; the leather holsters for the ‘Ochre’ brandy are hand stitched by a Melbourne-based specialist maker who uses the same stitch used on steering wheel covers for Lamborghinis. As production expansion proceeds in 2019 some aspects will of necessity become more automated, but the attention to detail will remain.
A desire to use local ingredients in the distillation of their gin saw the exploration of Australian botanicals, and the evolution of a dream to create spirits with a sense of place. As they experimented, the team at Bass and Flinders have found that the Australian botanicals offer a huge diversity of flavour and aroma beyond the traditional botanicals that Europeans had been using for centuries. “We choose to make our own spirit from scratch on site which is rarely seen in an industry where it is easier (and probably more cost effective) to opt to buy in pre-made spirit, but quality is what it is all about for us - so we make our own,” says Holly. “Following on from this hands-on approach, we also love to explore the creative side of experimenting with local produce in the distilling process. We aim to define the product by drawing on the local region for the finest ingredients, thereby creating our own sense of place.”
Daniel Calvert, the Production and Operations Manager, agrees. He trained locally as a winemaker and sees that this makes for many technical synergies. “We are all about linking the distilling craft from the past to modern technologies and flavour profiles of the future to create innovative products,” he says. “No two days are the same and the work can be very physically demanding but also very rewarding. The resulting spirit is smooth, soft and has a high level of drinkability due to its quality production.”
The product range ebbs and flows with the seasons; over winter there is (naturally) a Winter Gin, but there is also a Truffle Gin – made with truffles grown in Red Hill and hunted by Thomas the specially trained truffle dog. Spring and Summer sees the release of the delightfully bright pink (and aptly named) Cerise Gin that is made with local cherries. A summertime favourite is the limoncello made in the traditional Italian method with organic lemon zest and spring water – perfect for a cocktail or digestive. “The handcrafted nature of our grape based spirits makes a smoother tasting product,” says Holly. “We only make 200-300 bottles at a time and pride ourselves on making high quality spirts that are simply far more enjoyable to drink.”
The one that really captures everyone’s imagination is the intriguing triple distilled Angry Ant Gin that is surprisingly made with real ants. They are not your average ant but special edible ants unique to Australia that release a particularly delicious pheromone. This is blended with native botanicals such as native lemongrass, sandalwood nuts and the currant bush to make a truly Australian gin. It is this creativity that sets Bass and Flinders apart.
This distillery is proud to offer a different type of experience, one that shares the stories behind the products and where they come from. The tasting experience is personal and informative. While single vineyard spirits and seasonal gins offer a chance to explore different flavour profiles, the premium brandy is their flagship spirit. And the taste? Wow! “We aren't a regular bar - we don't serve food (apart from bar snacks in the busy season)” says Cellar Door Manager Simone Maynard. She has worked in the distillery cellar door from the very beginning. “What we offer is a high-quality experience; whether it is a tasting in the cellar door, or through being a part of one of our Gin Masterclasses.”
Holly is proud to lead a wonderful and passionate team that really love their job. “Every day we get to meet lovers of premium quality products that have sought us out, people who are seeking out Australian made products, and those looking to try something new and unique,” she says. “They love learning all about the distilling process and what's involved to create each product from vine to bottle, and we love sharing it with them”. The Bass and Flinders Gin Masterclasses were the first of its kind in Australia (another first). They are designed to guide you through the distilling process. “It’s a real hands-on learning experience,” says Wayne, “like aromatherapy for gin lovers. Along the way you get the creative power to craft a gin using botanicals of your choice and blend your own recipe into a take home bottle. You can even re-order bespoke gin made to your recipe.”
In fact, the experience is so popular it is now booked out well in advance and participants learn so much about the products that they become brand ambassadors. “The intimate experience on offer gives visitors the opportunity to learn about what goes into the products and become informed about what makes a premium spirit,” says Holly. “They leave a little better educated about the different methods used to produce spirits and the resulting flavours.” A visit is time well spent.
It’s hard to believe that it has been a decade since this journey began, and that 2019 is Bass and Flinders Distillery’s 10th birthday. This is a distillery with a unique connection to their location and a true sense of place. The resulting spirits’ are smooth, rich in flavour and ever-present is their connection to the Mornington Peninsula. Made from scratch on site in small batches, you can taste the essence of the season in each drop and know that this spirit was carefully and personally hand crafted for you to enjoy. The original dream is being carried on by the next generation of the Klintworth family and together they are building a legacy.
Find Bass & Flinders Distillery:
40 Collins Road, Dromana Victoria 3936. Phone: 03 5989 3154
Opening Hours: Friday, Saturday and Sunday 11.00am – 5.00 pm
More info HERE>>
The Mornington Peninsula is a place unmatched in it’s beauty, diversity of experiences and quality of produce. Here you can discover hand picked, hand made local heroes.
Sometimes you need the local knowledge to find them so “I AM Mornington Peninsula” shares with you the stories of 10 local heroes. Come and meet the talented makers, creators and innovators of our region. The welcome is personal and there is so much heritage and passion. They work hard to make their dreams come true, and they want to share it with the world. “I AM Mornington Peninsula” means that you can find your way to meet them for yourselves.
Read more at www.iamMP.com.au