May 28, 2008

Timboon: Ocean Road spirit

A new whisky distillery on the inland route to the iconic Twelve Apostles is transforming Victoria’s Great Ocean Road hinterland into a cosy winter escape.

By Melissa McConachy

Producing a wee dram for the wee hours was not foremost in Tim Marwood’s mind when he and wife Caroline Simmons settled in Timboon, at the centre of Australia’s prime milk producing region, 14 years ago.

After shelving professional careers in Melbourne to relieve Tim’s father on the family dairy, ideological differences sent them down the ‘value added’ path, and with financial backing from their parents they launched Timboon Fine Ice Cream in 1999.

Synonymous with natural ingredients and country hospitality, the award-winning ice-cream quickly became a crowd pleaser on the Victorian events calendar and at farmers markets.

A retail hub was inevitable, but conscious of the seasonal stigma attached to ice-cream, Tim and Caroline suspected the venture would not be sustainable during colder months and mounted a search for a “winter tide-over”.

They did not anticipate finding the solution in the Great South West’s murky past.

“I was in discussion with the locals when I happened on the history of illicit whisky distilling in Timboon,” Tim says. “A rummage through historical records took us back to the late 1890s, when Irishman Tom Delaney established an illegal whisky trade because he was “agin” oppressive government”.

According to fable, Delaney’s partner in crime, James Love, struggled to provide for his wife and five children and participated in the profitable pastime to ease his financial burdens.

When production peaked, the pair was reportedly producing 100 gallons of “Mountain Dew” a week. Cheekily badged with the Government stamp, it was a common tipple at local weddings and country race meets.

The gentlemen maintained an affable relationship with the local constabulary, whose ration was put through the still twice. But when the Government stamped out the practice, law and order fell
into the hands of former boxer Detective Inspector John Christie, who raided the lamp-lit shanty where Delaney and Love were at work. Christie seized the still, but the men escaped and were outlawed before turning themselves in.

The illicit occupation was brought to a standstill, but demijohns of Delaney’s whisky were uncovered in nooks for many years. Tales surrounding his infamous drop are legendary, largely promulgated by local descendants who have continued their forbears’ farming tradition, leaving the ‘trade’ in the capable hands of Tim and Caroline.

On a fact-finding tour of Scotland, Tim talked to the whisky greats before mastering his craft under Australia’s micro-distilling expert Bill Lark, who revived the practice in Tasmania after a 150-year hiatus.

Like Bill, Tim and Caroline recognised that the essential components of world-class whisky were at their doorstep: a reliable barley supply, access to soft water and the ideal climate.

They commissioned Knapplewer Engineering in Hobart to manufacture a 600-litre copper pot still based on the Scottish McClellan model, and use traditional production methods to create a spirit that will rival any ‘uisghe beatha’ (water of life) from the Scottish heartland.

Timboon whisky is distilled from single malted barley using a customised wash produced by the Red Duck microbrewery at Camperdown in the Western District. It is aged in oak resized ex-port barrels – anywhere from two to 25 years – and diluted with ancient limestone filtered sub artesian water, then bottled at 40 per cent alcohol/volume.

“Each single malt whisky has its own nuances and distinct character which is part of its allure,” Tim says. “While it might be acceptable to use mixers with blended whiskies, there is only one way to drink single malts – neat.”

Like the ancient Celts, who proclaimed that whisky held medicinal powers, as a former nurse Caroline is happy to wax lyrical about the spirit’s mystical properties. “Whisky is a panacea for anything,” she says.

The couple has forsaken the clandestine practice of distilling by kerosene lamp, instead recently converting the disused railway shed at the centre of Timboon into an upmarket boutique distillery, café and outlet for regional produce. Undertaken with assistance from Regional Development Victoria, the renovation has retained the building’s rustic charm, creating a relaxed modern interior within the original structure.

Located 15 minutes from Port Campbell and the Twelve Apostles on the main connector path from the Great Ocean Road to the Princes Highway (the alternate route to Melbourne), the Timboon Railway Shed Distillery is Victoria’s only operational boutique facility.

Visitors can see the distillation process underway while sampling the product range, which includes the flagship Christie’s Single Malt Whisky, named in honour of the detective credited with Delaney’s surrender.

Consistent with their philosophy, Tim and Caroline also use local ingredients for other popular spirits. Love’s Strawberry Schnapps, a tribute to Delaney’s industrious business associate, is produced using strawberries from Timboon-based Berry World, while Baxter’s Coffee Cream, named after Timboon’s tenacious turn-of-the-century blacksmith, is a smooth blend of spirit and cream sourced from local dairies.

The Schnapps embodies a unique Australian style with an upfront, fruity palette and contains only half the alcohol content of European varieties. The Coffee Cream, with a hint of hazelnut, is described by locals as “dangerously drinkable” and is the distillery’s most popular drop.

All spirits are finished and bottled on the premises, where a pictorial display brings the characters inspiring the region’s distilling trade, their guises and anecdotes, to life.

Drawing on regional produce, the café/restaurant puts a strong emphasis on freshness and quality, serving light lunches in front of the open fire and a la carte one evening each month. Visitors can also enjoy tasting plates, coffee, Timboon Fine Ice Cream and boutique beverages, or stock up on local wine, handmade Belgian-style chocolates, sourdough bread, cheese, strawberries, smoked trout, eel paté and honey.

It’s a best-kept secret that the rugged beauty of the shipwreck coast is at its most romantic in winter, when the hordes vanish and chimney smoke radiates from hillside cottages.

“The Great Ocean Road hinterland is so dramatic; every season is different and spectacular in its own way,” Caroline says. “The area should be appreciated year-round.”

The Timboon Railway Shed Distillery provides another reason to take the ‘long and winding road’ south in winter. And don’t be surprised if you stumble across Delaney’s kith and kin sitting by the fire near the still, sipping amber nectar and big-noting the legendary outlaw who started it all.

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The Timboon Railway Shed Distillery is in Bailey Street, Timboon, and is open 10am to 5pm daily and for seasonal dinners. For more information visit:

Timboon Distillery spirits are available directly from the cellar door or through email order:

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