Got Rum Magazine November 2018 | by Margaret Ayala
Exclusive Interview with Brian and Helen Restall, Founders of Lord Byron Distillery in Byron Bay, Australia
Q: Please state your full name, title, company name and company location.
My name is Brian Restall. My wife Helen and I founded Lord Byron Distillery which is located in Byron Bay, Australia.
Byron Bay is where the pacific breeze first meets the coast of Australia. Looking at a map of Australia you can find Byron Bay by looking for the most easterly point of Australia. We make aged and unaged rums, vodka and liquors.
Q: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the name of your distillery?
Byron Bay is a place of great natural beauty, where the rainforest meets sweeping pristine beaches. It attracts people wanting to reconnect with nature and has a real bohemian romance about the place. Byron Bay is named after Admiral Byron, who led the English Navy at the time when the English claimed Australia as their own. Admiral Byron was the grandfather of Lord Byron. Lord Byron decided that he would completely change the direction of his family’s legacy and as a result of his confidence and also his ability he become one of England’s greatest romantic period poets.
At school, I studied Lord Byron’s poetry and was drawn to his love of life and his determination to follow his passions. Having the conviction to follow your dreams is so important. I have seen it time and time again that if people are doing things they love, they are more likely to be exceptional at it. When my family decided to commit to opening a new distillery it seemed like a logical name, given the location and personal lessons I had learnt from the poetry of Lord Byron.
Q: Is your distillery family-owned and operated? And if so, what are each of their roles in the business?
Lord Byron is family owned. My brother, Kris is the head Distiller. My wife and I are the co-founders. We have a young family as well as run a distillery. It’s a juggling act that is working now but as we continue to grow we will need to bring on staff to help. In fact we have just employed our first non-family member, one of Australia’s leading female bartenders to run the cellar door, local market stall and also help with getting our product into local bars and restaurants.
Q: One of your mantras is that “people deserve to know where their drinks come from and how they’re made”. Do you feel this is a new trend and are craft distillers, such as you, in a better position than large companies to deliver that knowledge?
Many years ago, we went out for dinner as a family and when the bill came it dawned on us that we had been worried about where the food had come from and how it was prepared but we didn’t apply the same concern to our drinks. At that moment we realized that just like food, we should be vigilant about what we drink. we should care about what ingredients are in our drinks and understand how they are made because we are putting them into our bodies.
All Lord Byron Distillery drinks are made with no added artificial flavours, colours or preservatives. everything is hand crafted on site from locally sourced ingredients. our water comes from a spring on our local farm and the molasses comes from the local farmer-owned, sugar milling cooperative.
I don’t feel that what we are doing is a new trend. We’re just respecting the local ingredients we have available to us and following artisanal methods of distilling to make a drink that we think is “naturally better”. Sadly, the more I see of the existing industrial scale drinks industry the more I worry about what all consumers are putting into their bodies. All of our drink labels have a statement on it confirming “no artificial flavours, colours or preservatives have been added to our drinks”. Have a look at your next bottle of spirits you sample and see if what you’re drinking has the same statement on it.
Q: You are using two very different types of pot stills, a traditional all-copper Alembic still and also a rectifying stainless steel pot still. Can you tell us why you decided to purchase both types?
Lord Byron Distillery hand crafts rum, vodka and liquors from locally sourced molasses and spring water. Our stills are tailored to the drinks we make. All the fermented wash goes through the alembic copper pot stills first. For our rums, we rerun half of the collected first distillation product through the pot still and half through the column still. We then collect this for maturing. The alembic copper pot stills produces a fuller flavoured rum than our column still. Prior to maturing we collect some of this for bottling as our unaged silver rum. To make vodka, we triple distill and double filter.
Q: Where do you source your raw materials to produce your products?
All our drinks are made from molasses, water and yeast with no added artificial flavor, colours and preservatives. We source the molasses from the local farmer owned milling cooperative. This farmer cooperative has been awarded the international Bonsucro sustainability accreditation for its growing, harvesting and milling methods.
We source our water from our family owned farm. our family owns a working cattle farm in the Byron hinterlands and the water we use is either collected roof water or from a natural spring that we have on the farm.
We are truly blessed with incredible locally sourced ingredients. We feel it is our responsibility to respect them by hand crafting them into the drinks that our customers enjoy.
Q: Most craft distillers in other countries have the benefit of dumping their spent wash down the drain, to let the municipal waste water treatment plant deal with it, but things are a bit different in Byron Bay, correct? Can you tell us about what you are able to do and not do at your distillery?
Byron Bay is a place where people come to so that they reconnect with nature. I have spent 15 years of my career in the renewable energy industry. When our family committed to starting a distillery we started researching and visiting distilleries and the one thing we couldn’t get comfortable with was the treatment of waste. Luckily, both my wife and are engineers. I was confiding in my wife that the industry may not be for us because I couldn’t reconcile my belief in sustainability with what i was seeing in the treatment of waste at many other distilleries. In true Helen style, she said to me “You’re an engineer, fix it”. It was the jolt I needed. We spent 2 years perfecting a zero waste, carbon neutral distilling process. We take our spent waste, balance the pH and add further nutrients to make a saleable liquid fertilizer. We currently use this to help increase production on our farm and in time we will be sharing this with our customers too so that they can use it in their gardens at home.
Q: Most rum consumers in North America and in Europe are not familiar with Australian rum brands. is this an obstacle or an opportunity for your distillery?
We have always loved rum and when we were younger we had the opportunity to travel extensively and live abroad for 8 years. Rum is such a diverse drink that reflects the region that it is made in. There are so many great rums that remind me of happy times spent with the people I love in exotic locations. Byron Bay is one of those places and i hope that people have a chance to drink our rum and taste the unique spirit of Byron.
A great friend of mine who knows how much heart and soul our family puts into the distillery told me that the real spirit of Byron is doing the things you love with the people you love. This really rings true to us but I still think you can definitely taste the region in our drinks.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about your products?
Lord Byron Distillery makes a Silver Rhum sold at 40% and 63% alc. This is a molasses based unaged rum. In Australia we needed to call it Rhum and not Rum because to call it rum it needs to be aged in wood for at least two years.
We called it Rhum so as to not fall foul of this historical law. Our Rhums have been double distilled, once in the alembic copper pot still and once in the column still.
Our stills have electric heating rods inside the stills and we find that during the first distillation there is localized caramelization around the heating rods giving our drinks a unique and natural vanilla/caramelized toffee flavor within the spirit. The alembic copper pot still also provides a beautiful purity because of its shape. Our 40% Silver Rhum is good to mix with soft drinks and sodas whereas as our 63% Silver Rhum is very popular for cocktails.
Lord Byron Distillery also makes a pure cane vodka by distilling one more time through the column still. This purifies the spirit further and after a double filtration process the vanilla and caramelized toffee flavours entice the taste buds in a lovely clean pure drink. Interestingly too, because we start off a molasses base the mouth feel is viscous and bartenders are really enjoying using the pure cane vodka in espresso martinis.
The vanilla and caramelized toffee flavours along with the viscous mouth feel greatly compliment the creaminess and bitterness of the coffee.
Lastly, we have also imported an aged rum to give our customers a sneak peek at what we are trying to achieve. We call the aged rum, the promise, because we hope it’s the promise of things to come. This is a lovely sipping rum and makes a damn fine rum old fashioned.
Q: Where can consumers purchase your products?
Lord Byron Distillery has a web store, a cellar door and sells through the local farmer markets.
Q: You’ve been open for a few months now, what is the reaction from the people who’ve come to the distillery to get a tour and to taste your products?
We love doing what we do and it is always a pleasure to show people around and help them understand where their drinks come from and how they’re made. The reaction to our drinks from discerning consumers and some of the best bartenders in Australia is amazing. Seeing what truly great bartenders can do making cocktails with our drinks is a real joy.
Q: What is the best way for people or companies to reach you?
Our philosophy is to be an open book and we have a website, www.lordbyrondistillery.com.au that has a lot more detail about our passion for what and how we do things. This is the best place to start.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
We know your readers are very knowledgeable about rum. We have been avid followers of “Got Rum?” for quite some time now and believe that the courses your team does educating the next generation of rum distillers is really important to the continual evolution of the industry.
We are very humbled that you have taken the time to interview us as a small family owned distillery in Byron Bay, Australia.
As our business grows we know we will get to know many more of your readers, but in the mean time I want all your readers to know that if they ever visit our little piece of paradise that we would really like them to drop in and have a drink with us.
Margaret: Helen and Brian, thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you. It is great to know that there are wonderful people such as you, producing rum the right way. I wish you and your team much success.
Cheers! Margaret E. Ayala