Interview: Catching Up With The Hollingworths of Black Gate Distillery

You can read our last interview with Brian and Genise here.

Nicholas:  So tell me, what has changed at Black Gate since our last chat over three years ago?

Brian:  Well, we built a cool room so we can ferment during the hotter weather, and we were able to increase production from when we first started, from 3 barrels a winter to about 30 this year, 30 100 litre barrels..

We have also added a 630 litre still, and upgraded our mash tun from about 380 litres to to 700 litres.

Nicholas:And I understand you have also changed your mash bill?

Brian:  Yes, drastically, we have been doing 100% heavily peated mash for the past two years.

Nicholas What’s the reason behind this change?

Brian I think there is a gap in the market for Australian producers, no one was specialising in heavily peated and there’s a demand for it, and Australian peated whiskies tend to be not so heavily peated..

I have actually been bringing in peated barley from the UK to make it more smoky, about 45-55 but usually 52 ppm.

Nicholas And you cut down on your fermentation time, is that right?

Brian Yes we do 4-day-ferments now in the temperature controlled cool room, so our ferments more consistent and our new makes are now more consistent with very slight differences from batch to batch.

But then of course we are at the mercy of the barrels as to how they turn out as you know they can vary a bit..

We are fermenting twice and distilling three times a week these days which keeps us pretty busy through out the week, and of course Genise is still making rum.

Nicholas The barrels on the racks look bigger as well..

Brian Yes we have bought some 230 litre Port casks from SA Cooperage and we have also got some 230 Litre ex-Bourbon casks which we think will suit the heavily peated new make quite well.

Nicholas:  Three years ago you were one of the first craft distilleries that started releasing whiskies after Sullivan Cove’s WWA win, how has the market for Australian whiskies changed since then?

Brian Definitely, when we first started, we had no idea that people would come from Sydney to come and visit us!  The interest has definitely grown.

Genise:  Especially at the markets!

Brian We started out at the farmers market so it’s amazing to see how different things are now.

Nicholas Talk about your experiences with regional markets, not a lot of  Australian distilleries are focusing on that slice of the pie, what has inspired you to do that?

Genise:  It gets our name out there and it gets people noticing us and noticing what’s around.  Half the time I go to these markets I get asked where we are from.  And when I say we are from Mendoorin they would say they didn’t even know we are out there so it’s basically just letting people know we are here.

Brian:  We have enjoyed sales at the capital cities and we are just sort of branching out to new customer bases in the regional areas who are more savvy about local products these days.

Our earlier customers are already active in the whisky circle but there are so many more people coming abroad, people who are just discovering craft whiskies.  There is a growing interest for sure!

Nicholas: So, Genise you have started marketing whiskies directly.

Genise:  Um, I am full time at the distillery now; it seems like a natural progression.

Nicholas:  Becci is at university now..

Genise:  Yeh, there’s sort of no one here anymore and I have more time on my hands to do the sales part of things.

Brian: I think with the change in distribution, or the dissolving of partnership it was just sort of us going in a different direction for a bit.

Nicholas So what changes can we expect?

Genise:  Hopefully people will like talking directly to the makers, I think it makes a little bit of difference to talk to people who have been through the entire process.

I hope they would like that whoever they are speaking to is the person making it so they can get a more direct answer.

Brian:  We are excited to be interact more with the actual customers.

Genise: whereas we didn’t know them before.

Nicholas:  So we can expect to see you more often then?

Brian:  Yes we aim to be at more cities and do more tastings.

We really enjoy meeting the customers.

Nicholas And the price?

Genise:  We are excited about that too!  As we up our production we should be able to drop the price a bit which is great as it is making the product more accessible to people..

Thank you Brian and Genise for your time, it was great catching up with you both, until next time!

For those who are interested in trying their whiskies, their next cask will be imminently released here.