11 August 2023

Meet the Makers: Hold Fast Distillery distills liquid gold in historic hotel

| Lucy Ridge
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Still and Hold Fast sign

The still – nicknamed Johne – makes a range of spirits in the cellar of the Braidwood Hotel. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

The Braidwood Hotel is the oldest pub in a town of old pubs. Since it was licensed in 1859 it has had a storied history of bushrangers, battles and brews. One former hotel owner even believed that notorious local bushrangers, the Clarke Brothers, had buried their stash of gold under the pub. He was wrong, but his excavations made space for a new kind of treasure: Hold Fast Distillery.

Descending weathered stone steps, you’ll find owner and distiller Gavin Gillin making craft gin, vodka, and whisky in the excavated cellar.

Exterior of the hotel

The historic Braidwood Hotel was first licensed in 1859. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Gavin spent his early career in the Navy, which is where the inspiration for the Hold Fast name comes from. ‘Hold fast’ is a nautical term which means to stay the course, or stay strong in the face of adversity. It’s a term that has served Gavin well as he has built up the brand from scratch.

“I just had a real thirst for knowledge. I loved working out why certain botanicals would shine,” he told Region.

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Gavin’s gins are all nautically themed from his Sea Breeze Maritime Gin, which features elderflower and local saltbush for a floral and salty flavour, to the Man O’ War Navy Strength Gin. Gavin explains that traditionally, Navy strength gins have a much higher concentration of alcohol because they were stored below deck with gunpowder. A high alcohol spirit could be spilt on gunpowder without affecting its ability to burn: known as ‘gunpowder proof’.

Gavin holds a bottle of gin in front of the still.

Gavin Gillin is a Navy veteran and the owner and distiller of Hold Fast Distillery. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Gavin does all his distilling in a 500-litre, four stage, steam jacketed still. The indirect heat of a steam jacket creates a gentler distillation process.

“Other stills use a direct element which can burn or scald the botanicals,” he explained.

“I have a balanced and uniform heat around the whole boiler which leads to better extraction from the botanicals and a more unique flavour profile. There’s also a much better fusion of flavour with the spirit.”

Gins on a shelf

Gavin’s range has expanded to Sloe Gin, spiced Christmas Gin and more. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

In his Navy days Gavin spent time in Japan, where he spent as much time as he could learning about distillation. His passion for whisky and gin led him to start a distribution business called Whisky Enlightenment.

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This led him to a friendship with legendary Tasmanian distiller Bill Lark, who convinced him to start a small-scale distillery of his own.

These days Gavin makes eight gins, a few vodkas, a lemon verbena liqueur and has recently released his first whisky, called The Mermaid. He still has more whisky to release, but he admits “it’s just a waiting game for now”.

Pub interior with fire in the grate

Relax by the fire of the Braidwood Hotel with one of Hold Fast Distillery’s gins. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Those French oak barrels of liquid gold are ageing nicely in the cellar. Better than a bushranger’s gold any day.

Hold Fast spirits are available via the website, the Bungendore Farmers Market, or at select regional bottleshops.
Hold Fast Distillery is located at the Braidwood Hotel, 180 Wallace Street, Braidwood, NSW.
Follow Hold Fast Distillery on Facebook or Instagram.

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