In what may be an Australian first, Perth-based craft distillery Whipper Snapper has taken the challenges of the new normal and turned them into a charity collaboration with the WA brewing community.
Guy Southern spoke to Whipper Snapper co-founder and head distiller Jimmy McKeown about the "Once In A Brew Moon" opportunity playing its role #keepinglocalalive.
“The COVD-19 restriction came in and suddenly our trade and a lot of others, particularly restaurants, bars and brewpubs, had to shut," Jimmy says. "So, we were in the same boat.
"All of our tours and tastings were shut down, and we were wondering what we were going to have to do. But then, being a distillery, we were in the fortunate position to be able to turn our production to sanitiser."
Knowing they couldn't produce enough of their normal whisky wash in a short amount of time – and that it would be "bloody expensive" to do so – they sourced some cheap wine to give them more high ABV wash from which to create sanitiser.
Having switched from producing whisky to sanitiser in six days, they managed to turn close to 55,000 litres of wine into just under 10,000 litres of sanitiser in six weeks. And, before making the move back to whisky they found time for one more atypical project...
“We’ve just finished up now and we’re back onto whisky because we knew the demand for sanitiser would be short and fast, before the big guys can get their supply back up and running," Jimmy says. "But, in the meantime, we were looking around for bulk product to distil and there were a few breweries that were talking about beer that they weren’t going to be able to sell – it was just going to sit around and expire.
"We knew that there was a lot of beer floating around the state that didn’t have a use and we wanted to see if we could help out.
"Financially, we were back on thanks to sanitiser for the short term, but we thought, 'What can we do to help some of the smaller guys for the short term that don’t have that kind of outlet?' We knew how to distil beer and we’ve done the Babooshka collaboration with Feral and Mane previously..."
So they came up with a solution that would help eat into the mountain of kegs left orphaned by the closure of venues across the country. Breweries were asked if they'd donate two kegs each. And donate they did.
Within a week 21 breweries had delivered a variety of kegs to the distillery, including many from the South West collected and delivered by Rocky Ridge.
“The challenge here is to showcase everyone’s beer, get some good characteristic and flavour out of spirit but make it palatable at the same time," Jimmy says, explaining how they separated out as best they could the different styles of beer.
"Just so we can see what each distillation run is going to taste like," he adds. "But, in the end, they are all going to be blended.
“There’ll be a lot of tasting and smelling going on about how much of the tails we bring through. That’s the end of the distillation and your tails bring a lot of esters. We are normally chasing those fruit forward characters for our whisky but as a young spirit they are not very desirable.
“We want it to be light and approachable but still full of character and flavour. It’s going to be the ultimate moonshine, really."
Completing the picture is the label artwork (pictured above) from Perth-based designer Jarrod Fuller of Zendoke, whose handiwork adorns beers from the likes of Nail, Margaret River Brewhouse and Boston Brewing. And, once launched in early June via the distillery's website and café, all profits will be returned to the 21 breweries.
“Ideally, I’d like to age it but that would be a three to four-year project," Jimmy says. "It’s about now and so we wanted to turn it into a ready-made product. It will be a collector’s item and a good fundraiser as well for each of the breweries, especially for those with hospitality-affected staff."
As part of the #keepinglocalalive campaign we're running Postcards from the Edge stories, highlighting the ways in which people are adapting to survive. If you've got a story you think is suitable – or have something to add to the campaign resources online – get in touch.