What soundtrack makes vodka taste better? Here’s Looking At You Kid Spirits (HLAYK) is the brand new Melbourne distillery seeking to answer that question.
An impromptu enrolment in a gin masterclass, while on a trip to Scotland, was the catalyst for head distiller (and chef/early pioneer of Melbourne’s food truck scene) Liz Beech’s interest in making spirits. “For part of the class you had to come up with your own recipe after smelling all the different botanicals,” explains Liz, “I handed it to the teacher and he said I’d come up with the original recipe for the first gin ever made in Scotland!”
This natural knack for flavour soon led her to Moonshine University – “it is a real thing! when you graduate you get a certificate and a breathalyser” – in, the heartland of bourbon, Kentucky. Here, Liz gained diplomas in distilling, botanicals, bourbon, whisky and rum and interned with heavy-weights like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Corsair. “The distilleries over there are just so huge they are little cities in themselves,” says Liz.
Now, with the founding of the HLAYK distillery and bottling shed in Melbourne’s south-east, Liz has brought a little of that Southern charm back home by installing a still from Louisville dubbed ‘Eliza Jane’. So far, Eliza and HLAYK have three main strings to their bow plus a palova-inspired Christmas gin. The star is a floral Wild Rose Gin (the label’s name is inspired by the iconic “gin joint” in the film Casablanca). For this, juniper is accompanied by strawberry gum, sweet orange, bergamot, cassia bark, lemon myrtle and, of course, rose buds. There’s also a Triple Distilled Vodka and the same vodka again; only this time it’s been aged.
The Barrel Aged Vodka is an intriguing prospect. It’s matured in charred ex-bourbon barrels that have journeyed all the way from Kentucky via Tasmania. After new American oak casks have spent years playing host to bourbon, the majority of the barrels get shipped off to Scotland to make whiskey. Liz says, “at Maker’s Mark they told me they sent some to Sullivan’s Cove for their award-winning whiskey. I tracked them down.” In goes her vodka and that’s where the soundtrack mentioned earlier comes in: they play not-so-soothing music during the process. They claim the vibrations help impart the flavours from the wood into the spirit. So, what kind of music makes good vodka? The distillery playlist includes Bowie, Queen, Blondie, The Temptations, a little Black Sabbath…apparently anything with a bit of gusto!