Belgrove Distillery is one of very few whisky distilleries in the world that grows all its own grain, malts, ferments, distills and barrel ages on site. Belgrove is the only Australian distillery that has released an aged Rye Whisky at time of writing. Located North of Hobart, Belgrove Distillery is the only bio-diesel powered still in the world.
I contacted Peter Bignell for an interview.
Hello, Peter. Can you please tell my readers who you are?
My name is Peter Bignell. I am a 6th generation farmer in Tasmania, Australia.
When and how did you get involved in the whisky industry?
I have been growing rye for about 40 years, mainly to feed sheep and cattle on the vigorous green plants during the winter. I harvest a small amount of grain occasionally to re-plant. About 8 years ago I had a really good crop of grain which I harvested to sell but couldn't find a buyer. I thought the obvious thing was to build a distillery and make whisky from it.
In your role, what do you enjoy the most?
100% Rye Whisky is my main product but I very much enjoy developing new spirits to add to my range.. I also like building my own stills and distillery equipment. Currently building a larger capacity still and a larger malting / peat-smoking drum.
How would you describe the house-style of Belgrove ?
They are packed with flavour but there is a subtle theme that runs through all of my products. A slight smoky sweet back pallet that I think comes from the direct firing of the still. The base is very hot and creates a Maillard reaction inside the still (think toasting marshmallows over a fire).
What is it that make Belgrove special in your opinion?
To me it is special because I built and run the distillery with my own hands. The products are special because every step in the process is about driving great flavours into the bottles, it has nothing to do with the yield of alcohol or the number of bottles I can fill from a ton of grain. Visitors find it special because they see a lot of old equipment that I have re-purposed to make a very innovative and functional distillery. Also the distillery and farm are both powered with used fryer oil. Very environmentally friendly.
Your five favourite whisky that you have not been involved in?
Lagavulin because it was the first whisky that made me realise there were some amazing flavours to be explored.
A recent acquisition Corsair Oatrage because of the experimenting with non-traditional grains and malts. (Oats and dark malt)
Redlands Distillery Tasmania, malt whisky aged in 20 litre cask, second release. Amazing depth of flavour when compared with several Scotches I had tasted earlier one evening.
The last 2 would be Tasmanian but I can't pick them out from Lark, Overeem, Heartwood, Mackey, McHenry or Sullivans Cove. My favorites keep changing.
Favourite moment in your career?
Noma Restaurant from Copenhagen had a pop-up restaurant in Sydney earlier this year. They chose 5 different Belgrove spirits to serve to their patrons.
Have you tried any swedish whisky? If so, what did you think of it?
Yes, several single malts from Spirit of Hven, including the Tycho´s Star. Very enjoyable with a pleasant amount of peat without hiding the fruity plum notes.
Which three people would you invite for a tasting, and why? (alive or dead)
Doug Clemment, founder of Kingsbarns Distillery Scotland because he has flown me to Scotland several times to help promote his distillery with my sand sculptures on St Andrews Beach.
Henric Molin from Spirit of Hven Distillery, Sweden. I have met him several times at conferences. He is very focused on the science of whisky production whereas I am more into the art and creativity even though I have a science background. I enjoy discussing the science with him.
Bill Owens from American Distilling Institute. I enjoy his company and I would like to thank him for flying me to USA several times to speak at his conferences (where I met Henric).
If I could have a fourth guest it would be the late American Professor Julius Sumner Miller whose TV show Why Is It So? inspired me to think about the science in everything we do.
Do you have any advice for my readers?
If you or any friends who are new to whisky tasting but are having trouble adjusting to the alcohol burn then try this. Put one small drop on the back of your hand then lick it with the centre of your tongue. No burn, and it is surprising how many flavours beginners can detect.
Finally, anything you would like to add?
If you take time to taste and really think about the flavours in your drinks you are less likely to drink to excess.
All pictures belongs to Belgrove Distillery© and is used with permission.
Thanks to Peter for his cooperation.