Headlands Distillery debuted this Vodka in late 2018 as the first release of four friends, mates from high school days on the New South Wales south coast.
With an eye for detail, the distilling process and a strong commitment to sustainable production, Headlands is an exciting and innovative small batch distillery to get to know. They’re located in Wollongong and offer tours of their distillery by appointment.
This review is part one of two as they recently sent me the four spirits from their new range and part two will explore their gin and other releases.
Currently there are some 110 vodka makers in Australia and counting, but the releases never seem to get the street cred the gin releases do (even if they are made by the same distillery). The vodka brand category has some challenges, not least a lot of international competition with plenty of marketing budgets to drive sales, and that is also somewhat out of fashion right now.
In some cases distillers release a vodka to generate cash flow whilst the whisky ages, or to reach that part of the spirits market, which is perfectly fine, but there have been few standouts IMHO of releases that were clearly given their full attention by their maker to create a vodka of standout quality.
That approach doesn’t apply to the Seacliff Vodka from Headlands Distillery, they have started as they mean to go on with high quality inputs, a environmentally sustainable production process (more on that in Part 2) and a thoughtful approach to creating a product of quality.
Let’s have a chat with one of the team, Jared.
What is the inspiration behind the Vodka and how did you all get into distilling?
I love a good quality vodka and Dean and Lachie love whisky. For me, vodka is the most interesting spirit to make because of the ability to incorporate state of the art distillation technology, the science of separation. Trying to make something very pure, but still with a pleasant flavour.
I’m often reading the latest research papers on distillation, heat exchangers, energy efficiency etc at 2am! Haha. Whisky, for Dean and Lachie, while still great to be analytical on the amount of lactones, vanillin, esters etc is more about art, tradition and time, a very delicious tradition!
When did you know you nailed the spirit?
We use barley grown by a friend of ours. There are countless varieties of the same grain, some for certain types of bread, some for pizza bases, etc etc. We had our farmer grow 5 different types of barley and we did fermentation trials at different temperatures and with different yeasts before deciding on the final recipe.
The vodka is made from La Trobe barley, using a cold fermentation to stop the formation of ethyl acetate, responsible for solvent like flavours. Getting all this right took a lot of time, planning and very strict control over variables, and repeats. We were all working other jobs at that stage also.
How do you suggest people enjoy Seacliff?
We have put loads of work into creating a complex sipping vodka. Great in any cocktail where the actual alcohol can be tasted and it pays to use a high quality product. A more viscous mouthfeel with a long lasting pleasant finish. Great with ice, also great in the usual vodka lime soda etc.
- Nose: delicate grain notes, minimal spirit volatility
- Neat: offers a toasty warmth with a gentle, lingering finish, some residual spirit heat, and an attractive oily presence on the palette.
- Mixer: Opting for the Schweppes Signature Series soda water, this allowed for the subtle grain flavour profile to come through, just a splash is enough to open things up and one can see the the vodka has been designed for sipping, or on ice, to allow it’s complexity to shine through and savour.
- Martini: It had to be done. A Vodka Martini has earned it’s place at the table (see my take on it in another article here) after all these years, even though purists may insist otherwise. At any rate, I opted for 5ml of Dolin Dry Vermouth to 55ml of Seacliff Vodka with a lemon peel garnish and that worked very nicely, lots of complexity came through giving you something to think about as you sipped.
The Take Home
These talented young gents have debuted with a very polished and thoughtful spirit that took some three years to develop. The result is a quality vodka that is both attractively packaged, produced in a sustainable way and offers a complex and refined spirit that is a fine reflection of the care that went into it’s development.
Update 10 April ’21
The team have recently updated the formula for their range. They advise that “The Mount and Sea is more classic juniper forward than the 100% native Boobialla, but also includes some natives like rainforest limes, roasted coastal wattleseed and macadamia. Tidal Lines is also a classic juniper gin, then steeped in Illawarra Plums. The Illawarra Plum liqueur is sweeter than the first release and a 2019 vintage.”
- Find them on Instagram and Facebook @headlandsdistillingco
- Purchase Seacliff Vodka AUD $69.00 Available on their website.
- 40% ABV
Disclaimer: this review is of an unsolicited samples provided by the distributor, opinions expressed regarding the product are my own.
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