31 May 2023

The world is their oyster: South Coast distillers rewrite the rules with award-winning vodka

| Lisa Herbert
Start the conversation
man and woman in a shed with a dog

North of Eden’s Karen Touchie, Gavin Hughes and distillery dog Jim are thrilled with their new spirit – Oyster Shell Vodka. Photo: David Rogers.

Imagination and innovation have delivered an ‘impossible’ vodka, adding another world-class spirit to NSW distillery North of Eden.

Artisanal distillery North of Eden has officially released its brand-new Oyster Shell Vodka and it’s already an award winner, thanks to its combination of tradition and ingenuity, plus a little bit of alchemy.

Local restaurateurs, bar owners and celebrity foodies gathered at the rural cellar door just north of Bega to celebrate the release of the new spirit.

Known for its stable of renowned and medalled gins, this is North of Eden’s first vodka – a ground-breaking addition to the Australian vodka scene.

“Making vodka should not be possible with our kit here at North of Eden,” master distiller and co-owner Gavin Hughes says.

However, the judges of two international spirit awards and Canberra’s ‘Martini Whisperer’ say otherwise.

“What Gavin and Karen have done is craft something unique that speaks not only to their locale and its gifts but offers a deliciously complex vodka that is world-class through a perfect combination of innovation, experience and inspiration,” said Phillip Jones (The Martini Whisperer) at the Bega launch.

READ ALSO Hot in the City: Maji Japanese Cuisine dishes up a delightful dinner

In what is considered a world-first process for a commercial distillery, Mr Hughes stacks the columns of North of Eden’s small copper alembic stills with hundreds of locally sourced, hand-cleaned oyster shells.

Those shells then act as ‘purifiers’ in the distillation process, allowing this tiny regional distillery to create a beautifully smooth, unfiltered vodka.

“I thought it would be impossible for us to make a vodka because I know that premium vodka is generally only made on much larger and very specialised column stills. I actually thought Gavin was bonkers,” laughs co-owner Karen Touchie.

Premium vodka is generally made on column stills 25 to 40 metres in height.

“This height, combined with numerous specialised plates within the column, allows the distiller to achieve a smooth, clean spirit. The stills at North of Eden have a column height of only 1.2 metres,” explains Mr Hughes.

“What I love most about this vodka is not simply that we’ve been able to create a world-class spirit, but we’ve done it in a way that completely reimagines the distillation process.”

“Our process allows the spirit to retain the sweetness of the wheat of the base spirit as we don’t have to filter it, which usually denatures the spirit.”

Master distiller Gavin Hughes with North of Eden's beloved copper alembic stills. Photo: David Rogers

Master distiller Gavin Hughes with North of Eden’s beloved copper alembic stills. Photo: David Rogers.

The judges at the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC) and the San Francisco World Spirit Competition agree, with the Oyster Shell Vodka picking up a silver medal in both contests before its release.

On awarding the vodka a silver medal, IWSC judges noted the spirit displays “a clean nose with zesty citrus notes and a subtle grain character. Balanced, creamy texture with soft caramel, white pepper, herbal undertones and hints of vanilla on the finish”.

“It’s an artisan spirit in every sense of the word. Handcrafted with equal parts innovation and hard work, it really has been a labour of love to create a vodka of this quality using our alembic stills,” Hughes says.

READ ALSO ‘We need to adapt and we can do it’: Free ANU expert-led climate course for farmers returns

North of Eden Distillery is located on the NSW Far South Coast, near Bega, and its spirits are all handcrafted on two small 100-litre copper alembic stills.

Producing only 400 bottles at a time, the distillery was established in 2018 and also produces an award-winning range of gins.

The new Oyster Shell Vodka is available at selected bottle shops on the Far South Coast and Canberra, in many regional bars and restaurants, and from North of Eden‘s online store and cellar door.

Original Article published by Lisa Herbert on Riotact.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Do you like to know what’s happening around your region? Every day the About Regional team packages up our most popular stories and sends them straight to your inbox for free. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.