My home town of Canberra, Australia’s capital has it’s birthday on March 9, Happy Birthday!
With it’s modern, well designed layout, set within a natural environment, this city of some 400,000 people is one of the most liveable cities on the planet.
Still retaining something of a small town vibe, it’s blend of the new and the landscape, means you can focus on things that matter without wasting time commuting and the other hassles of a big city. Canberra sits within a wider region that extends down to the Australian Alps to the South (a couple of hours drive), the South Coast (ditto) and surrounding rural regions with winemakers, small towns and villages and fine food producers of all persuasions. Big Sydney is an easy three hour drive to the North.
Happily, the past image of Canberra being the seat of government and being tainted with the association with all those politicians and lobbyists has been left behind, and it was recognised recently by Lonely Planet who thought it was the 3rd best city in the world to visit, so there.
As part of this renaissance in the past decade, craft distilling has emerged as well, also inspired by the natural beauty and local ingredients.
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with each of these makers on events, and more, so here’s the scoop on who’s who in the Canberra region distilling scene. There’s another couple in the works too to join the list later this year by the way.
Meanwhile, you can also get this great overview by the Canberra Times – published 8 June 2021
Updated 8 July 2023
A recent entrant to the growing scene in the capital region, founder Andrew Galbraith has set up his boutique distillery with a focus on quality vodka initially, plus a gin naturally. You’ll find him a the vibrant creative hub at Diary Road in Fyshwick. He also offers canned Espresso Martini and Coffee Vodka products are made in collaboration with Canberra’s favourite cold brew coffee specialist, Bellerophon Cold Brew Coffee.
Australia’s first certified organic gin, has moved to Canberra in the past year to make the most of the innovative and vibrant distilling industry here and to be closer to the Sydney and regional markets. The make a range of gins, vodka, expresso coffee spirits for a killer Espresso Martini, and you can read more about them in an early review here, plus a long chat on YouTube for 2020 World Gin Day with the team.
Established in 2017, distiller Clyde Morton debuted with an attractive London Dry style Gin that has won many friends for it’s finesse and offers Canberra’s only ( at time of writing) tasting room just 15 minutes from the city. He also produces a vodka and other gins now and has a loyal following. You’ll find him out at the Diary Road complex that is worth a visit in itself.
New in 2023 is a distillery run my ex- Australian Navy officer and other vets, and a “Bravo Zero” was a Naval signal sent between Navy units to indicate something had been ‘Well Done’. They’re located in Tarago, about an hour North of Canberra in the Southern Highlands.
Another new distillery, Clark & Kealey Distilling Company was established in 2020. We are small batch, artisan distillers located near Bungendore in southern New South Wales, about 30 minutes from Canberra. A partnership between Bryan Clark who has farming experience and Lucy Kealey and they are currently producing small batch gins. Their gins are produced by traditional distillation methods, using only the essential ingredients to make a traditional gin and featuring selected native ingredients.
Tim Reardon and his team is prolific in the range of spirits he has created since debuting in 2015. Starting with a London Dry gin, he now offers over 15 releases including a popular range of spirits including seasonal Gin releases, Blood Orange, Truffle Gin (Canberra region produces some superb truffles) and a hit seller in a French Earl Grey Tea made in collaboration with a local tea blender and a lifestyle magazine HerCanberra.
The newest addition to the national capital distilling scene, is a range of interesting gins (and vodka) from Winechest, called Dua Lada. The spirits are made under contract by the dynamic team at Headlands Distilling Co. located on the NSW South Coast.
Hold Fast Distillery was established in February, 2020, by Gav Gillin and his family. The idea of a distillery stemmed from a passion of good affordable gin and growing of botanicals. His gins are complex and delicious and look out for his cellar door experience coming later in 2021.
About 3 hours south of Canberra in the beautiful Snowy Mountains is the picturesque town of Tumbarumba. There you’ll find Ladbroken Distillery who produce a range of craft spirits inspired by the location and using locally sourced botanicals. Ladbroken was founded in 2020 by Robbie and Neil Ladbrook when they visited Tumbarumba and were quickly enchanted by the magic of the region. A love of whisky, gin, science and all things creative came together to create unique High-Country spirits and establishing a botanicals garden on site in town.
On a property near Yass, about 45 minutes inland from Canberra comes a new distillery opened in mid 2023 by brothers Matt and Geoff Hillman. They have released a Signature and Dry gins with others to follow no doubt. Using filtered rain water from the nearby Brindabella ranges, and 300lt copper still.
Poncho Fox is as home grown as it comes, and creates small batch spirits in a Canberra suburb. Pat Dillon latched the distillery in 2020 after years of experimentation in distilling and brewing led to the creation of Poncho Fox – “that embody the local plants, environment and people of Canberra.”
Once a pharmacist, now a distiller of fine rum and the region’s only whisky, Martin Pye established Riverbourne Distillery in 2015, with his first releases coming onto the market a couple of years later. Inspired in his rural setting some 40 minutes outside Canberra near the hamlet of Jingera, Martin also produces a Vodka and is often found at regional and local markets.
2017 was a landmark year in the local distilling scene with another distillery also launching, Underground Spirits. Located in an unassuming southern suburban shopping centre of Kambah, they’ve been creating refining spirits focusing on gin and vodka, and special releases since then. The polished packaging reflects a focus on quality and innovation.
Some 45 minutes scenic drive from Canberra is the charming hamlet of Wee Jasper. Recently the mother and daughter team and head distiller, Shannon makes a range of gins and vodka with a lovely cellar door to visit.
Head south a couple of hours and you pass through the Alpine town of Jindabyne, keep going, turn left onto the Alpine Way and you’ll find the beautiful Wildbrumby Distillery that was established in 2005. Well known for it’s locally foraged and high quality Schnapps, the passionate team also produce a range of gins, vodka and other special releases that are inspired by their location and a made with real passion.
Looking to purchase?
All these producers offer online sales, and there are a range of good stockists around Canberra to choose from who support local spirits, in addition to local markets. You can also find them at the Canberra Visitors Information Centre too.