A PERTH-BASED distillery and second-generation farmer from Western Australia’s far-north, have teamed up to create the first red corn whiskey in the country.
The collaboration has seen rare, heirloom corn grown by Ord Valley farmer Christian Bloecker, picked and trucked more than 3,000 kilometres to Whipper Snapper for distilling, where it will be poured into American oak barrels and left to mature for the next two years.
Whipper Snapper Distillery managing director, Alistair Malloch, said the red corn whiskey was a chance to put unique West Australian produce on the map — from paddock to barrel.
“I found an obscure organic store in Queensland that had a small pack of 100 seeds and sent that to Christian in Kununurra.
“He’s a really innovative farmer and likes trying new things; [and] over about a period of 18 months he managed to get it to a stage where he got a total of 12 tonnes that he was able to harvest for us.”
The story behind the brew
Whipper Snapper is among the growing number of boutique distillers working with local farmers to capitalise on the growing importance of food provenance to consumers worldwide.
“Certainly, it’s a nice story when we’re out doing tastings and showing people our product,” Mr Malloch said.
“Our business is built around using West Australian produce as much as we can; so when people consume our product it really is authentically West Australian.”
The red corn whiskey follows the launch of Whipper Snapper’s quinoa whiskey last year, a world-first product made with Three Farmers south of Narrogin.
Head distiller, Jimmy McKeown, said with the growing number of craft distilleries around the globe, producing whiskey with a unique flavour was crucial to stand out in the market.
“We’re super excited to see exactly what characters this red corn is going to develop and how different it’s going to be to a normal yellow corn,” he said.
“We know this variety is packed full of sweat characters and a lot of nuttiness.”
An a-maizing partnership
Whipper Snapper Distillery has been using Kununurra maize to make their corn whiskey for several years.
Mr Bloecker, who is a second-generation farmer at Bothkamp Australia Farm, said the partnership was a natural fit.
“We’ve got our commodity crops, like the maize, but then you always need to be looking for something new, and that’s where this comes in.
“We’ve got this beautiful, pristine soil, water, [and] plenty of sunshine; that’s the beauty of the Ord — the story behind it is as powerful as the deep red colour of the corn.”
Mr Bloecker said he was also trialling a range of other heirloom corn varieties on his farm.
“We’ve also got some blue corn, green corn, some rainbow corn as well; it’s more just for a little bit of fun to see what’s doable up here,” he said.
“We’ll see what the whiskey is like and go from there.”
Sorghum for Chinese whiskey market
The Ord Valley is not the only farming area in the state’s north where whiskey has been helping farmers expand into new markets.
In what is believed to be a first for Carnarvon, grower Michael Nixon has planted a trial crop of sorghum destined for the Chinese whiskey market.
For many years, growers in the region have been looking for new and innovative ways to diversify.
Mr Nixon believed the climate in Carnarvon would be perfect for growing sorghum.
“With Carnarvon’s climate we can actually grow it all year round … so for the whole region it could be of benefit,” he said.
“So our situation geographically, and the story we can tell from our provenance, could be quite strong and quite valuable to them.”
The one-hectare trial is using clean seed bred in a controlled environment by the Carnarvon Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development Research Station.
Mr Nixon said the focus of his trial was to increase the quantity of the clean seed available in the region, to expand sorghum production for Chinese whiskey market.
But most importantly, if more widely adopted he said sorghum would be an important addition to growers’ crop rotations.
Opportunities for vegie waste
Across the other side of the country, Australia’s biggest ladyfinger banana farmer has figured out how to make spirits out of fruit and vegetable waste.
After finding commercial success turning banana waste into a popular banana flour, the Natural Evolution founders, Krista and Rob Watkins, started processing a range of produce into high-nutritional powders in Northern Queensland.
And now Ms Watkins said they were also experimenting with a sweet potato vodka.
“When it comes to other crops, whether tomatoes, capsicums, cucumbers, we’re about taking any fruit or veg through processing and turning it into some sort of value-added product,” she said.
Ms Watkins said having the ability to convert waste into value-added products was a good strategy to reduce risk for farmers in cyclone-prone areas in Northern Australia.
A bright future ahead
The president of the Australian Distillers Association, Stuart Gregor, said there were many creative ways distillers and local farmers were collaborating to create unique products.
“At Four Pillars we have developed a whole suite of products that are not necessarily gin, using our own waste at the distillery to feed livestock,” he said.
“Every year we have a dinner which features some of the Gin Pigs reared in the Yarra Valley that eat our wasted botanicals.
As for the next trending ingredient in the spirits industry, Mr McGregor said bush foods like lemon myrtle, native finger limes, and native plums were becoming increasingly popular.
He said at Four Pillars gin distillery in Victoria, they were already using 40 different indigenous Australian botanicals from farms across Australia.
“We can also go to Indigenous communities, help to harvest some of the incredible bush foods that they’ve got, and turn them into great spirits,” Mr McGregor said.
Until next time… Happy Distilling!