August 28, 2017
“John Barleycorn was a hero bold, Of noble enterprise; For if you do but taste his blood, ‘Twill make your courage rise. ‘Twill make a man forget his woe; ‘Twill heighten all his joy; ‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing, Tho’ the tear were in her eye.” – Robert Burns
Iconic Scottish poet and freedom fighter, Robert Burns, referred to his beloved whisky as “John Barleycorn” in his ballad of the same name , the personification of “the Scottish drink” that made warriors bold and widows brave.
While the Barossa has seen many a warrior and widow in its pre- and post-colonial history, it’s not a region known for its whisky.
Settled predominately by Prussian Silesians the “Schluck and a Schnitter” reigned supreme in the Barossa –a draft of flagon port before and after a mettwurst sandwich responsible for the majority of boldness and bravery in the Valley.
That is, until now.
Ironically while our home village of Angaston was named after a God-fearing Baptist, George Fife Angas, Yalumba is home to one of the oldest operating whisky distilleries in South Australia.
Starting out as a brewer before deviating to wine, Yalumba’s founder, Samuel Smith – not being one to shy away from a challenge – took on the spirit trade in the late 19th century, with the establishment of the Smith’s distillery at Yalumba.
The large copper pot-still was installed at Yalumba in 1908 and expanded in 1932, when a chimney was added to meet production demand.
Yalumba’s brandy-man, Rudi Kronberger, made pot-still brandy in the classic double distillation technique – similar to that of Cognac – from the 1920s to the 70s.
He passed on his traditional techniques to David “Zimi” Zimmermann who continued to develop and refine the distillation and maturation techniques, resulting in the rich, complex and much sought-after Smith’s Brandy.
But as tastes changed to table wine in the 1980s, Yalumba got out of the brandy game and the beloved still was decommissioned.
It wasn’t until the late 90s – incidentally when Managing Director, Robert Hill-Smith, took a sabbatical – that the still was recommissioned, by then Production Director (and malt whisky aficionado) Peter Wall.
Remembering the “good old days” of the distillery, Peter nostalgically thought it would be “a bit of fun” to put a few charges through the ageing pot still while the boss was away.
But the experiment was met with such enthusiasm by Robert on his return, that three batches of Smith’s Angaston Whisky were distilled between 1997 and 2000. Even local South Australia brewer, Dr Tim Cooper, provided his expertise in sourcing extra-roast malted Franklin barley from Tasmania, for the rich, double strength “Scottish drink”.
Ten years passed before Yalumba eventually gave in to its customers pleas for another taste of Smith’s Angaston Whisky and the old pot-still was recommissioned and fired up again in the winter of 2011.
This time a double charge of whisky was distilled from Ardrossan-sourced Flagship barley then matured in French oak.
Now the ancient still roars into life most winters under the eye of a new crop of winemakers – Louisa Rose whose V De Vie “water of life” Viognier is now a summer favourite “on ice” or with a splash of tonic, and Kevin “KG” Glastonbury whose much anticipated 2014 and 2015 Smith’s Angaston Whisky is still waiting to be released from its oak sarcophagus.
To taste Yalumba’s V De Vie, or to take a tour of the distillery, visit our Angaston Wine Room, or purchase online today just in time for Father’s Day.