18 November 2023

The spirited history of Berry comes to life with Tara Distillery pop-up

| Lucy Ridge
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man and woman make a toast outside their business

Husband-and-wife team Ben Stephenson and Alarna Doherty run Tara Distillery. Photo: Ainsley McNamara.

Nowra Hill’s Tara Distillery has teamed up with co-working space WorkLife in Berry for a summer tasting bar.

Alarna Doherty and Ben Stephenson are the married partners behind Tara Distillery. When Alarna found herself bored with corporate life, she turned to her lifetime love of Irish culture to inspire her.

“We visited some distilleries while on holiday in Tasmania and they were making incredible whiskey. I realised that if they were making great spirits, then maybe I could do it too,” Alarna told Region.

Ben jumped on board to support Alarna’s dream and they took their family to visit distilleries across Ireland and Scotland to learn the ropes. Three years ago, they started distilling with a 5-litre copper pot still made in Griffith. Now they have a whopping 2400L still for their spirits!

Bottles of clear Poitin and yellow limoncello on a shelf

Tara Distillery is the first legal Poitin distiller since the days of Berry Moonshine. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

In addition to barrel-ageing their whiskey, they are proud to be making the first (legal) poitin in Australia. Poitin, pronounced “pot-cheen”, is also called white whiskey or Irish moonshine and is essentially unaged whiskey. This clear spirit has a history that dates back to sixth-century Irish monasteries, but there’s a surprising local history too.

“In the late 1800s, this region was settled by Irish immigrants who made illegal poitin in the Cambewarra Ranges. It was known as ‘Berry Moonshine’ and shipped from Berry and Bombaderry all over the colony,” Alarna explained.

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These clever distillers lit fires to misdirect the police, used local cabbage trees to purify their spirits and even hid their stills behind waterfalls to mask the smoke. More than a century later, Alarna and Ben are continuing this proud local tradition of Irish Poitin. The base for this spirit is made with a mash of malted barley and oats, which they triple-distil for the purest flavour.

Alarna is one of only a small number of Australian female distillers and is proud to be the driving force behind Tara. She says it’s still common for people to visit Tara and ask her if they can speak to the distiller. “That would be me!” she tells them.

People drinking on a verandah with a sign for Tara Distillery hanging above

After the working week is done, co-working space WorkLife becomes SocialLife, a gin bar. Photo: Ainsley McNamara.

Alarna also makes gins, vodka, and limoncello using local ingredients. Ben explained they forage for local lemon myrtle and even sea lettuce, which adds a creamy texture to the spirit. They also make a coffee liqueur with coffee sourced from Nowra roaster Hyper Hyper Coffee. Their pink Blooming Gin uses Nerriga rhubarb and Clyde River berries.

“We’re combining those west European distilling traditions with an appreciation for local flavours,” Ben said.

Tara Distillery is also focused on sustainability, with any waste products going back to feed local cattle, or composted and used on their property. The spirits are made with harvested rainwater and they’re careful to conserve water.

A bartender hands a glass of gin and tonic, garnished with a strawberry, across the bar

The tasting room will feature a menu of cocktails, gin flights and more. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Customers can now enjoy the local flavours of Tara Distillery at its pop-up gin bar. Opening Friday nights and through the weekend, the bar makes use of the WorkLife co-working space once the freelancers have logged off for the weekend and the space transforms into SocialLife!

“We really wanted to give people the opportunity to engage with our spirits in a different way,” Ben said.

“We’ll be offering flights of our spirits, cocktail-making classes, blend-your-own sessions, and meet-the-maker events.”

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In addition to selling the range of Tara spirits, Alarna and Ben have included their own impressive whiskey collection on the menu. The current plan is for the pop-up bar to operate for summer, but they’re open to continuing the collaboration year-round if there’s demand.

Tara Distillery Tasting Bar is at SocialLife Berry, 3/68a Albert St, Berry, NSW. The bar will be open on Friday from 5 to 8 pm, Saturday from 11 am to 8 pm, and Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm.
Visit Tara Distillery’s website to learn more, or follow it on Facebook or Instagram.

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