The Changing Face of Spirits Production in Australia, with Bass & Flinders' Head Distiller: Holly Klintworth

Drawn from a love of classic brandies produced in France, what started out as a small passion project in the back of a local winery has developed into a desire to champion the best of Australian craft spirits production and the development of high quality, grape-based gins, brandies and liqueurs that show the world how good Australian craft spirits can be.

The Bass & Flinders Story

Following in the footsteps of her founder father Wayne, Holly Klintworth, Managing Director and Head Distiller at Bass & Flinders Distillery made the decision to move on from her marketing role in the wine industry and join the family business full time in 2016 but has always been involved since the very beginning, initially helping out with bottling, labelling or even lemon zesting. One of very few second-generation distiller’s in the Australian craft spirits industry, Holly is changing the face of spirits production in Australia.

Australian Craft Spirits

Passionate about creating small batch, distinctly Australian spirits with a focus on local provenance and sourcing of uniquely native botanicals, Holly is shaping the tastes, flavours and future of Australian gins, brandies and liqueurs. “My dad is my daily inspiration” Holly says. “When I first started my journey into wine, he was passionate about carving out a name for Australia as a world class spirits producer. His passion was infectious and inspired me to quit my day job and start working at Bass & Flinders Distillery.” 

Unique Production Methods

Taking the lead in a family business founded on the idea of blending old world techniques with modern technologies and flavour profiles, Head Distiller Holly is creating world class spirits with a local twist that embody the 'taste of Australia.’ Joining her family's distillery founded in the wine growing region of the Mornington Peninsula provided the perfect setting to pursue the dream. ‘We wanted to do something different and at the time, no-one else was using wine to make spirits in the region’ says Holly. Drawing inspiration from our coastal home, where the sea meets the wine-growing hinterland, the grape-based eau de vie spirit is hand crafted on site at the distillery using traditional Charentais distillation methods, modelled on the finest of French brandy producers and blended with new world creativity and technology.

These unique production methods celebrate the remarkable flavour and viscosity provided by the grapes and lie at the heart of everything we do. These techniques are highly labour intensive and require an enormous amount of attention to detail, but Holly continues to place importance on quality above all else. Bass & Flinders have control over the entire vine-to-bottle process, which ensures quality every step of the way - starting with sugar levels, acidity and pH of the grapes sourced from a single vineyard, right through to hand labelling of the finished spirit in a bottle. ‘We choose to go the extra mile to create a premium product with complex flavours and a smoother texture and mouthfeel’ says Holly.

Spirit of the Mornington Peninsula

Influenced by her time in brandy-producing regions of France and drawing on various facets of Australia's flavours and ingredients that are so unique, Holly believes there is a place for both traditional botanicals and native Australian botanicals in gin production, blending the old world with a distinctly Australian accent. Regulations and classifications aside, classic gin botanicals like juniper, coriander, angelica root, cardamom and others, create instantly recognisable aromas and flavours in a gin. These classic botanicals have been tried and tested over many years and create a great foundation for the spirit's flavour profile, while there’s over 10,000 native Australian botanicals, with many of them still unknown or unexplored.

This creates an incredible opportunity to use exciting new botanicals from our own backyard that define our country, our state or our region. Australian native botanicals can really add intriguing new flavour profiles to the spirit and as they are extremely aromatic, only a small amount is needed to really shine in the gin. Take for example Bass & Flinders’ Maritime Gin with the inclusion of botanicals such as locally foraged saltbush, sea kelp, samphire and native lemon myrtle in this salty delight that embodies the oceans, vineyards and bush surroundings of our home on the Mornington Peninsula.

Support Local

As managing director of the family business and a committee member of the Australian Distillers Association, it’s not hard to see how passionate Holly is about the future of the Australian craft spirits industry. Recent figures show that less than 0.5% of spirits consumed in Australia are made locally, which shows the majority of consumption is dominated by international brands. Our Australian distilling industry is changing, the level of high-quality craft spirit production is increasing and Holly mentions her hopes that an increasing number of Australians begin to choose local over international and support the craft movement in Australia.

Cocktail Culture on the Rise

The good news is that the craft spirits landscape is definitely changing. With cocktail culture on the rise, a whole new generation of drinkers are interested in artisanal, craft spirits. Looking to discover new tastes and experiences, discerning drinkers are looking for brands with a unique story to tell. The Australian craft spirits industry could not be more in line with this, having the creative freedom not found in countries with a more traditional approach to production such as the mandatory regulations for making classic London Dry gin or a French brandy.

How Great Australian Brandy Can Be

As a distillery founded from a passion to create fine brandies, and with the popularity of dark spirits on the rise internationally, Holly is seeking to change perceptions of this elegant spirit and prove just how great Australian brandy can be. Bass & Flinders are leading from the front with recent additions to the range such as the double trophy-winning Distiller’s Selection Single Cask Brandy, a seasonal Spiced Christmas brandy based on Holly’s grandmother’s Christmas pudding recipe and the luscious Madame Marmalade orange liqueur - produced to rival the best French triple secs and brandy-based liqueurs.

Every Vintage Tells a Story

Holly aspires to increase the availability of premium quality brandy in Australia, at the same time making it more approachable, while helping others to explore the category in less traditional ways - like mixing it with tonic, or ginger ale mixed with a spiced brandy. Time and patience are key to producing fine brandy and there is a beautiful merging of traditions throughout the process with the winemaker, barrel maker and distiller’s skills all coming into play. Every vintage tells a unique story.

Gin and Spiced Brandy Masterclasses

Like her father before her, Holly is inspired by the opportunity to share her knowledge and experience with others and help a new generation to explore the Australian craft spirits industry. The Gin Masterclasses and new Spiced Brandy Masterclasses designed by Holly and available at Bass & Flinders distillery are just one way of sharing this knowledge while having some fun along the way. Masterclass participants get to roll up their sleeves and create their own bespoke gin or spiced brandy, while learning all about these amazing spirits and more, and then take home a bottle of their unique blend to enjoy.

Gin-tastic!

And let’s not forget about the gin-tastic world of gin, an amazing opportunity for distillers to let loose with creativity and individual expression, with a freedom to explore an untold number of native botanicals and draw on flavours from local produce available in the region. Bass & Flinders’ gins are shining examples of something the French call ‘terroir’ - the grapes sourced from one single vineyard displaying their own unique regional character and expression. It’s our recognition of quality. A dedicated distilling technique rarely seen in the craft spirits industry.

The Future of Craft Spirits in Australia

On a constant journey of discovery, exploring new flavours and new botanicals, with a focus on sustainability and local provenance, Holly leads the team at Bass & Flinders with a passion to create the best possible versions of the spirits themselves. Combining the best of traditional knowledge and modern innovation, with a constant focus on quality and local inspiration, Holly steers Bass & Flinders on an exciting journey into a promising future, while helping to increase global recognition of the Australian craft spirits industry. 

What a gin-spiration!