World Whisky Figures part I : David Baker of Bakery Hill distillery, Australia

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Today we’re starting a new series of interviews with World Whisky insiders, or the people _MG_3650that makes the water of life outside bonnie Scotland. We’re going to start with David Baker from down under who set up the lovely Bakery hill distillery.

Background:

Bakery hill is a distillery is located in North Balwyn, Victoria, Australia, and all brewing and distilling are carried out in the current distillery hall.At the commencement of operations, the brewing required was carried out for the first 4 years at a local micro brewery but subsequent that was carried out at the distillery itself.Bakery hill operates two wash backs each of 2,500 Liter, The wash produced is then double distilled in a 1,000L copper pot still.

During the distillation process the alcohol vapor is directed through a shell and tube condenser and then through a standard spirit safe.The distillery operates a combined low wines fores and feints tank of about 5,000L together with another 5000L spirit tank.

The method used is no different to most of the distilleries in Scotland and else where that is malted barley is milled, the milled barley is then converted into a wash at about 8% abv.

The wash is first distilled into low wines at about 26% abv which is then distilled again to produce new make spirit at about 72% abv.

The new make is then adjusted to about 65% and transferred into American Oak Barrels.

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The still at Bakery Hill

Bakery Hill produces 5 different expressions:

Bakery Hill Classic malt which is produced using unpeated malt.

Bakery Hill Double Wood which is first matured in American Oak barrels then finished in French Oak.

Bakery Hill Peated which is a medium peated malt using the same methods at the classic.

All the above expressions are bottles at 46% abv.

The Classic and Peated malts are also available at Cask Strength as well.

I asked David a few questions about his passion about whisky, and Australian whisky and bakery hill in particular:

What have you done prior to owning the distillery? tell me a bit about yourself….

I have always been fascinated by science, chemistry and engineering and trained as a biochemist at university.Like all young undergraduates, short of money, home brewing beer was always high on my list of priorities. At this stage distillation was still a long way off.

After graduating, my first job was in research and development investigating yeast products and later a production manager with a major multinational food company.

After pursuing this career for over 10 years it was time for the first of my career changes and moved from food production to teaching, teaching chemistry which I continued and thoroughly enjoyed doing for 15 or so years.

Always ready for a challenge, I turned my skills to whisky production which I have been doing for the past 11 or so years.

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How long have you been interested in whisky? and what got you into whisky?

I have always been interested in brewing beer, particularly at home where the challenge of creating the supper brew was high on my priorities and this ultimately led me to doing formal studies into Malting and Brewing with the idea of establishing a commercial brewery.

During my malting and brewing studies, I started reading text books and magazines which dealt with single malt whisky production that after all is just double distilled “beer”.

The real incentive for me was constantly being told by the Scottish distillers that the crafting of single malt whisky anywhere else in the world was impossible because we did not have the “air and water” necessary for its production.

What !!!! Being told I could not do something was like a red rag to a bull and set me on the path to prove them all wrong. After all, Australia was capable of making some of the best wines and beers in the world so why not single malts?

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When did you decide to start making whisky, and how did learn what it takes to distill whisky?

The first steps in setting up a commercial distillery were commenced in1997 where I started to educate myself on all things whisky.After purchasing every book, magazine and bottle I could lay my hands on I commenced my “education” into the topic but to my amazement most of what was being written way just plain wrong. Just the musings of the marketing department with very little fact. After wading through all these books, magazines and internet I decided most was just plain wrong and possibly the results of rather over excited marketing and promotion individuals rather than a clear and concise description on how malts are made that I needed to build a distillery.

From these rather shaky beginnings I decided not to trust the information I had collected from overseas but rather to use my own scientific training and educate myself on exactly how I could make a single malt whisky.

Every step of the process was researched and experimental trials were commence in 1998 to try and craft a truly unique single malt whisky..

Trials continued until late 1999 that I was confident that I understood the total process and had the respective engineering in place to commence our first batch.

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what hurdles did you have to overcome in the process of building a distillery?

The hurdles were enormous as very little whisky distillation had occurred in Australia and the necessary engineering skills were almost non existent.

To solve this problem I decided to purchase my still from the UK from a company that had been making then for almost 100 years. By doing this I was at least confident that it would perform to my expectations and in late 1999 my first still was shipped to the distillery and set up ready for its first run.

Having a still setup and operating is one thing but having it produce a spirit that you are truly in love and you are proud to put your name on is something totally different. From early2000 to later that year the still was “tuned and adjusted “ so that we knew how to consistently make spirit we were happy to put in a bottle and label as ours.

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What makes Australian whisky different, and what makes Bakery Hill stand out?

Australia is the perfect place on the globe to make single malt whisky.We have the perfect climate to grow absolutely perfect barley for malting and in fact about 40% of the crop is exported.A temperate climate may be excellent for growing the barley but it is also perfect for maturing the new make spirit. Compared to Scotland (which has two climates, cold and bloody cold) Melbourne’s ambient temperatures are considerably higher and this results in a more rapid maturation of spirit in the cask.Because of the higher ambient temperatures I believe one year in our maturation store is equivalent to nearly two years in colder climates. This speeding up of maturation is fast enough to give us well matured whisky in a shorter time but not too fast which would produce a less quality whisky.Melbourne not only has perfect temperatures for whisky production but also has an excellent water supply while our air is relatively unpolluted.

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What are your plans for the future, in terms of production, new expressions, new experiments with whisky?

We are constantly on the lookout for ways of doing it better. Ways with which we can increase the satisfaction and enjoyment that our consumers are experiencing with our single malt. At this time we are actually doing trials with different wood maturation and finishing techniques to give out consumers something we feel will be truly outstanding. If we even hinted to what and where we were at with theses trial it would be letting the “ cat out of the bag” so I guess every one will just have to wait a little time longer and see what we have created.

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Which style of whisky do you prefer, and what are your top drams (not Australian) you come back to time and time again?

It’s the old question “What whisky do you prefer” and constantly my answer is the same …. “ it depends on what I feel like, am I tired an just want to relax or am I excited and want to party”.

I really think the true answer is “ I like them all”.

many thanks to david for his time and for willing to be interviewed.

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