WORDS BY BEN DAVIDSON
For the last two years I have been the Vodka Guru for 666 Vodka. I was engaged to complete a flavour innovation project and to create new artisanal flavoured vodkas for the brand’s relaunch plans in Australia and the rest of the world.
In case you didn’t know, hand crafted, small-batch flavoured vodkas are tipped to be the next big thing in the world of spirits. It was said recently that artisanal craft vodka is emerging as a style of ‘vodka with flavour’ and is benefiting from the continuing craft gin revival. Naturally flavoured vodkas offer consumers a premium-flavoured spirit without the sometimes polarising juniper flavour present in all gins. While the Australian gin producers number in their hundreds, there are still only a handful of distillers that are producing high quality, all natural flavoured vodkas. The style of Australian craft vodka that was pioneered by 666 is defined as being big on flavour with a full-bodied and textural mouth-feel as result of the pot-still distillation keeping hold of more of the flavours of the raw material used in production.
Next month, two new flavoured vodkas are being launched in the Australian market by 666 vodka. I was recently on hand at the distillery to assemble the liquids and create the first batches after a year of research and development.
My first job was to source and secure a supply of a uniquely Australian honey. We were able to get our hands on a limited quantity of rare and precious honey from the Island Beehive on Kangaroo Island, the last remaining pure-bred Ligurian Honey Bee sanctuary in the world. These bees were introduced to the island in the late 19th century and have been kept in isolation ever since. In addition to this luscious honey, I added a natural infusion of ground lemon myrtle leaves, ethically sourced and supplied through our native botanical suppliers at Something Wild. The result is a distinctly Australian flavoured vodka, with a vibrant bush lemon aroma against a backdrop of earthy and subtle honey sweetness – the new Lemon Myrtle Honey Vodka.
The second project is a renewal of the coffee vodka, but with an Australian botanical twist. Native wattleseed comes from only a few species of the Acacia tree and has been used as a traditional bush food going back thousands of years. The addition of a toasted and ground wattleseed infusion adds an earthy mocha, nutty cacao complexity to the roasted coffee blend that we cold extract, sourced from our friends at St. Ali Coffee roasters in Melbourne. Something Wild supplied us with the freshest ground wattleseed that I’ve ever seen, (toasted and ground the day before and overnighted to Tassie) which added multiple layers of wicked flavour from the Australian landscape to create the new Wattleseed Coffee Vodka.
The planets are re-aligning for 666 vodka, with these exciting new brand development projects coinciding with a new distribution partner in SouthTrade and their growing portfolio of Australian craft spirits, including Mr. Black, Starward and Adelaide Hills Distillery. Industry legend and SouthTrade National Training Manager, Gee David adds, “Having 666 vodka join our portfolio is an amazing addition. It fills the growing demand for locally produced all natural, artisanal flavoured vodkas and, from what I’ve tasted, I can see big things on the horizon for 666.”
There’s definitely a change in the air regarding Aussie made spirits and their acceptance by the local bar trade and consumers as being as good or even better than some of the traditional international spirits. Australian craft spirits advocate and trailblazing bar owner of Bad Frankie in Melbourne, Seb Costello says, “When we started in 2014 we had around 80 Aussie spirits and now, just four and a half years later we are up to 470 with more coming every week. What impresses me most, is how high the standards of quality and innovation still are. Australian producers aren’t restricted by traditions and category norms, and it seems the driving force is not marketing, but how good the liquid tastes. This is very important going forward.” True indeed!
Cape Grim, Tasmania
Tasmania is world-renowned for its rugged wilderness, pristine beauty and landscape of vivid contrast. It’s largely untouched wilderness, natural resources, and isolated location – between Australia and Antarctica – attributes largely to its clean air and green image. With a small population of just over 510,000 people, around 40% of Tasmania is protected in national parks and reserves. These reserves are a natural haven for Australian wildlife.
Cape Grim lies in the far north-western tip of Tasmania, flanked by rugged coastlines, verdant wilderness and tumultuous water. The winds that roar through Cape Grim have travelled more than 16,000 kilometres across glacial southern oceans, passing no land, no city or factory… They are completely uncontaminated. This is the purest air on the planet.
The Air Pollution Station at Cape Grim on the Northwest coast monitors and records the air purity and, unlike the rest of the world where the average cubic centimetre of air contains 5000 to 500,000 particles, Cape Grim air contains 10 to 600 particles. The Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO have been capturing the air since 1976. The air, held in unassuming silver canisters, is sent to scientists around the world to use as a baseline for their air quality measurements. From the cleanest air comes the purest rain water.
The Cape Grim Rain Farmer
When antarctic winds collide with the warm air rising up and over the rugged cliffs, the clouds open up and drench the valleys below. And it’s the job of the ‘rain farmers’ at Cape Grim water to capture it. Michael is a fifth generation Rain Farmer at Cape Grim water. They say, “His attention to air purity and his knowledge of this unique climate is a quality rarely seen in these parts. He never underestimates the power and unpredictability of Mother Nature, which makes him a true craftsman when harvesting water from some of the Earth’s angriest storms. He knows when the time is right, when the air is at its purest, and nothing will stop him from seizing that moment”. Now thats a cool story!
666 Vodka’s founder, Dean Lucas, was ahead of his time in many regards, when he created a hand-crafted vodka long before the Australian craft distilling movement gained the momentum that it enjoys today. It was over ten years ago that Dean started his quest to create a small-batch, premium Australian vodka. It was in Tasmania where he found a willing partner in Hellyers Road Distillery to make this handcrafted spirit from triple distilled Tasmanian barley.
Due to the close proximity to Cape Grim, the pure rainwater collected there has been used from the outset in the making of the vodka. The incredibly soft and mineral free rainwater is ideal to blend with the full flavoured spirit, without interfering with the delicate subtleties of the malted barley. Cape Grim as a location has become synonymous with quality and purity. As a result, Cape Grim beef and bottled water is served at many of the top restaurants in Australia and the world.
The Craft Vodka Revival
For quite a few years now, vodka has been dissed as a characterless spirit, lacking in flavour and hard to define. Even flavoured vodkas were looked down upon as being made with clear essences and artificial flavours, which has further undermined its position as a spirit with an identity and a reason for being. Consumers love it but connoisseurs don’t appreciate it. The negativity from mixological circles has subsided and the ‘hate on vodka’ stance is now considered out of touch and unjustified in many respects, as even the high volume and traditional European producers have changed their messaging away from purity, mystery and ubiquity to one of flavour derived from locality, terroir and attention to the the craft of the distiller.
Something that small producers like 666 Vodka have been espousing for years!
Check out the video below to find out more about the amazing work being done by 666’s native botanical suppliers, Something Wild.