Russ Watson • Bellarine Peninsula
Although retired, Russ had a bit of a bee in his bonnet about possibly making whiskey. Then one day, his wife just suggested that they start their very own distillery! Russ’s niece visited when it was just a small project and innocently said, “how’s the whiskery going?” – thinking that’s what we call a place that made whisky. ‘I’ve got a big moustache, so named the cellar door “The Whiskery”,’ says Russ Watson.
‘We opened on Anzac Day 2018 and had 300 people visit us in three hours. It was such a new thing on the peninsula. Everybody wanted to call in, and it’s been like that ever since we opened.‘
The gin is a lot of fun and has become a massive part of the business. Russ’s wife came up with the original recipe for the first gin ‘Teddy and the Fox’ – and the range has since grown to five. When you look at each bottle, you’ll see that each one is named after the family dogs. Teddy became the first batch and they have just kept on going.
The first releases of their two whiskies sold out in minutes. They were really well accepted by the public and critics, including Aussie spirits pioneer Bill Lark. The support that the Whiskery has had from the local community is incredible. People just love coming down for a chat and the sit around the fire, to enjoy live music. It’s a great place to be.
‘Buying locally means you develop a relationship with the whole experience. We see visitors as special guests who come in and share an experience with us in our home,’ Russ says. ‘The whole business is about ensuring people leave having had a fantastic experience and enjoy the Bellarine Peninsula while they’re here.’
The Whiskery offers gin tastings that take people through the full range. Here you will be taught the technique of tasting neat spirit – it really gives you a great appreciation of the complexities of the individual product. There are times that a rare person will come in and say they don’t like gin. Russ usually bets them a cocktail that they’ll end up enjoying the gin produced here and he’s never lost a cocktail yet! They’ll often walk out with a bottle.
‘We’ve just released our ‘Christmas Pud’ single malt whisky, and looking ahead there are quite a few more litres of whisky maturing, meaning there’s going to be some beautiful bottles on the way.’
‘We always try to support other local businesses where we can. We offer some Italian-style pizzas, platters with some fish pate and gravlax from down the road, some local cheeses and local olives. If people don’t want a gin or whisky, we offer a couple of local wines and local beers as well.’
So buying local also means supporting a whole community of local small businesses, just like us.
– Russ Watson – Distiller & Owner of Bellarine Distillery / The Whiskery
Visit the Bellarine Distillery from Thursday to Sunday at Cnr Scotchmans Road and Portarlington Road Drysdale, Victoria. Bookings are essential and visitors need to be 18 years or older, with exceptions for children under 12 months. You can book, shop online and find a list of stockists at bellarinedistillery.com.au
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