Whilst I often try to fit some "whisky tourism" into my trips where possible (a distillery tour, bar or whisky show for example), I wasn't expecting to do so on a recent trip back to Australia, considering I was only there for 3 nights for a mate's wedding and to visit my folks in their new Southern Highlands home.
Turns out my parents had a different idea though, and had sneakily booked a tour of Joadja Distillery, in the historic town of Joadja (about 40 minutes from Bowral). The distillery wasn't open that day, but the lovely Valero and Elisa Jimenez (Directors, owners and operators of the Distillery and Joadja Heritage Tours) kindly agreed to open up and show us around.
Even if you're familiar with the Australian whisky scene, you may not have heard of Joadja before. That's because they haven't actually released a whisky yet - although they have produced whisky (and from what I tried, it was very nice indeed - more on that below).
The trip to Joadja takes you on ~10km of (relatively easy-going) dirt road, passing several ancient buildings hinting at the town's historic roots. Upon arrival at the distillery, Elisa and Valero (who also run non-whisky focused tours of the historic town) told us a little about the history of the area - founded in the 1870s as a shale mine and refinery, and staffed at the time by a large population of Scottish shale miners, who not only distilled shale oil, but also their own illegal spirit, or "sly grog", on the side.
So...historical significance - tick!
The Jimenez family (as the name might suggest) have Spanish heritage, with Elisa herself having a direct family connection back to Jerez, enabling them to source high quality ex-Sherry (Oloroso and PX) casks for maturing their whisky.
So, access to high quality sherry casks too - tick, tick!
It was these factors (coupled with some convincing from the Godfather of Australian Whisky Bill Lark) that convinced the family to establish the distillery in 2014, having purchased the site years earlier, seeking a change of lifestyle after running a backpacker's hostel in Sydney.
It's interesting to note that there was actually a distillery in Joadja previously, on the same site, which had all the equipment but never produced a drop. Those stills however were removed, and made their way to New World Whisky Distillery (aka makers of Starward), whilst Valero and Elisa procured new equipment for their distillery.
Soon after arriving at the distillery we were greeted by an immense downpour - so heavy that we couldn't even hear Valero speak. When things quietened down, and we were taken on a tour of the town, the local spring (supplying all the water used in the distillation) was flowing. No concerns about water availability then!
The distillery uses an 800L spirit still, and produces a powerful but nuanced new make. Maturation occurs in the same location, just a few metres away, mostly in 32L casks which previously held Oloroso or PX Sherry (the distillery also sells the sherry which came from the casks, and it's very tasty stuff).
As with most young Australian distilleries, Joadja are also producing and selling new make ("Outlaw"), Anis, and a Dry Gin, all of which are available now. Their whisky is not yet available, although Bottles #1 and #40 will be given away at the upcoming Brigadoon festival in Bundanoon - Bottle #1 to Scottish-Australian legend Jimmy Barnes, and #40 to be raffled off at the event. It's expected the whisky will be available for sale to the public this year.
I was fortunate enough to try a dram of the first cask (JW001), at a cask-strength 60.8% ABV, and whilst I've promised not to post detailed tasting notes (as what I tasted was still a 'work in progress'), I can confirm it was an impressive dram for only 2 years old, and reminded me very much of other Australian distilleries in their younger years - distilleries which have since gone on to produce world-class whiskies.
Certainly a distillery to keep an eye on.
Certainly a distillery to keep an eye on.
You can also see Kangaroos, and really, how many distilleries can lay claim to that!?
A huge thanks must go to Elisa and Valero for their immense hospitality during our visit, and for generously allowing us to taste their spirits. Personally I'm excited to see another NSW distillery producing high-quality spirit, and can't wait to see this distillery grow and no doubt go onto great things.