Shannon Kellett loved a gin and tonic at the end of a hard day. She also had an equally soft spot for the village of Wee Jasper, just outside Yass, with its stunning views of the Brindabellas and closeness to the Murrumbidgee River.
Seems that the two were destined to go together, like, well, a G&T.
With her mother, Jennie Kellett, the two women have just opened Wee Jasper Distillery and cellar door, selling gin and vodka Shannon makes, using local botanicals.
Although they are now welcoming guests to the distillery at weekends, setting up such a business didn’t happen overnight. In fact, they first seriously started work on the project back in 2018. Both living and working in Canberra, Shannon in staff management and Jennie a physiotherapist, the duo had earmarked a small old dairy shed on a Wee Jasper property run by brother and son Nathan Kellett.
“The idea was that we’d set up a little business for when Mum retired,” Shannon said. “I even bought a book on how to set up a distillery for under $50,000 – but that turned out to be a work of fiction,” she joked.
But when the council told them the piece of land on Nathan’s property wasn’t big enough for their planned enterprise, as things happen in the country, a friend told them of a property nearby, zoned light commercial, that was available.
The next thing they knew, there was an architect on board and plans were drawn up for the distillery, complete with cellar door and cafe.
“When we saw what the architect had drawn up, we just couldn’t say no to the distillery with the killer view of the Brindabellas because we wanted it to be a place where we could share such an amazing sight.”
The family did its homework before a sod was turned on site. They had been going out to Wee Jasper – about 90km from Canberra – for 20 years on camping and fishing trips.
“Our brother had set up a rural property there and I guess Mum and I just tagged along – and as is often the case, things happened that we just couldn’t say no to.”
Shannon, who did a number of classes to learn the art of distilling, including at the Whisky Academy in Tasmania, as well as studying various business courses, said it had been a long process to get where they were today. Apart from learning the age-old art of making spirits, she also realised there was an even more complicated art when it came to the many licences required to just think about distilling their first drop.
She also discovered distilling was a rapidly growing business.
“When we started planning this back in 2018, there were about 450 distillers in Australia; now there are more than 1400.”
Yet, she said, Australia distilled less than 1 per cent of the alcohol sold in Australia. Shannon said with so much of the industry based overseas, she was happy for the Wee Jasper operation to stay, for the time being, as a local family business.
The two women split the workload, according to their complementary skill sets.
“I do the distilling,” Shannon said, “while Mum does all the R&D – and everything else. She works harder than me – everything from the gardening to mopping the floor. She’s simply awe-inspiring.”
And, in her spare time, she said, her mother also ran marathons.
For the Kellett women, it’s more than just making a good drop of gin – and vodka – it’s about not letting anything go to waste. With leftover citrus, they also produce natural cordials.
“We also want to encourage people to come out to Wee Jasper,” Shannon said. “We want them to see where we make it, how we use local botanicals in the production.
“Our plan was always to be part of the community and at the end, to have something we produce that we can be proud of.”
The distillery also offers light refreshments to visitors, simple local produce that goes well with a good G&T, including cheeseboards – “and importantly, we’ve all been trained how to pour the best coffee so we have that for visitors as well”.
Wee Jasper Distillery is open from Fridays to Sundays, from 10 am to 4 pm.