Bickford’s craft distillery is banking on brandy resurgence

By RJ Whtiehead

- Last updated on GMT

Bickford’s craft distillery is banking on brandy resurgence

Related tags South australia

Making brandy cool again and appealing to millennials with a growing appreciation for boutique spirits are the goals of a new distillery opened by a leading Australian beverage company.

Bickford’s Australia has launched a craft range of spirits under the 23rd Street label at a reinvented distillery in South Australia’s Riverland. 

The 23rd St Distillery, on the street of the same name in the town of Renmark, has launched two brandies, a gin and a hybrid whisky. 

The former Renmano distillery will also produce craft spirits under its own label as well as well-known Australian label Black Bottle Brandy, Australia’s second biggest brandy brand. The biggest is about a kilometre away, at the St Agnes distillery. 

Bickford’s, established in South Australia in 1874 and historically known for its cordials and syrups, has grown strongly into the alcoholic beverage market in recent years. 

It bought VOK Beverages in 2002 and has steadily built up a portfolio of well-known spirits brands, including Beenleigh Rum, Real McCoy, El Toro and Vickers Gin. 

It bought the Black Bottle Brandy label from Accolade in 2011 and has until now been producing it out of its Beenleigh Rum distillery in Queensland. 

Vickers Gin and the new premium Black Bottle Very Special Australian Brandy will also be produced at the new Renmark distillery, which is about 260km northeast of the South Australian capital, Adelaide. 

Bickford’s bought the Renmark site from Accolade Wines in 2014 after receiving more than A$2m (US$1.5m) in Riverland Sustainable Futures Funding towards the establishment of a spirit distillery in the region. 

The 23rd Street Distillery is the result of a A$6.6m transformation and rejuvenation of the century-old landmark. 

With research suggesting the younger millennials are a discerning generation looking to bring quality and premium products into their repertoire, our focus is very much on boutique products of exceptional body and taste​,” 23rd Street Distillery’s head distiller, Graham Buller, said. 

We’re blending our distilling knowledge and expertise—along with all the delicious local produce of the Riverland on our doorstep and those of the Adelaide Hills just a few hundred kilometres away—to create fun, exciting and prime sprits for the liberated palate​.” 

The new-generation 23rd Street Not Your Nanna’s Brandy, sold at A$50, has spent two years in ex-chardonnay oak barrels to impart rich colour, smoothness and length. 

It is described as having vanillin sweetness on the front palate that gives way to vivacious honey and apricot flavours before finishing with soft oak spiciness. The distillery hopes this new flavour profile will encourage a new, younger breed of followers to the category. 

Buller describes the A$80 23rd Street Prime 5 brandy as “the ultimate in refined character​” and “a rich and complex fruitcake in a glass​”.  

Aged up to eight years, portions of traditional double pot-distilled liquor deliver sophisticated richness and roundness which, combined with portions distilled by the single-pot process, add liveliness to an outstanding limited edition craft brandy​.”

For the brand’s A$80 Signature Gin, Buller individually infuses 10 botanicals, including traditional juniper and coriander, and complements them with local mandarins and limes to create what he terms “a layered palate and full-bodied mouthfeel​”. 

A hybrid whiskey is, in Buller’s words, “the realisation of my dream to achieve the best of both worlds and create the perfect blend of scotch and bourbon whiskies​”. 

The barrels of Scotch and American bourbon—each with an average of five years’ individual maturation—are returned to bourbon barrels for finishing. 

And the new, premium Black Bottle Very Special Australian Brandy is a blend of double- and single-pot distillation and matured for an average of eight years in a mix of French and American oak. 

We will also look to be creative and inventive, introducing new tastes and flavour combinations to the craft spirits industry that particularly resonate with millennials seeking maximum enjoyment by satisfying their sensory pleasures of savoury and sweet, bright and smooth, contradictory yet united​,” Buller said. 

 “In addition, we hope to reignite brandy, give it a healthy dose of cool and engage consumers with a drink they thought was only for their nannas​.” 

Bickford’s managing director Angelo Kotses said the distillery was a chance for the company become a player in Australia’s booming craft spirits industry and leverage export markets. 

We looked at the international model where cognac all of a sudden became cool and consumption went up and markets such as Asia grew dramatically so it was an ideal time to look at that whole category again​,” he said. 

Suddenly Renmark has become the centre of brandy in Australia and what we want to do is build the pie rather than take share from anyone else​.”

The new distillery’s production will centre on three restored vintage copper-pot stills with the capacity to produce around 1,500 litres—or about 11 barrels—of matured spirit during each run, positioning 23rd Street Distillery as Australia’s leading family-owned producer of branded spirits. 

Kotses said having the marketing arm and manufacturing experience of a large beverage company, sufficient scale and existing buyers on hand globally was a boost for the new brands. 

What we’re seeing is the craft spirits guys can’t produce enough volume because of the equipment size and style​,” he said. 

We’ve got this nice space where we can take advantage of scale and that also gives you a great quality product on a consistent basis that sometimes you can’t get with a small still​.” 

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