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Journal/Campaigns/RAISE A GLASS TO HIM

RAISE A GLASS TO HIM

22 Aug 2023

KathrynRobson

This Father’s Day, Eddie Brooke, CEO and Co-Founder of Cape Byron Distillery, teaches us about the incredible world of spirits – the unique stories of how they are produced, his family’s work to regenerate the rainforest, and his love of showcasing native ingredients.

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Tell us about yourself. How did you and your family start Cape Byron Distillery?

I was fortunate enough to grow up on our family farm in the hinterland of Byron Bay. From a young age, my brother and I worked on the farm and regenerated rainforest. Whilst some may call this child labour, this was the best education I could have had. I learnt about the importance of caring for the land and was immersed in the world of native bushfoods (botanicals); this upbringing is where my passion for balancing flavours and incorporating native ingredients was born. My parents, Pam and Martin Brook, purchased a 96-acre run-down dairy farm in the hinterland of Byron in 1988 (when Byron Bay was a lot different). They decided to plant macadamia and in the process of learning how to care for land, they fell in love with the idea of regenerating land and rainforest. They planted 40,000+ rainforest trees, and the land today is now a regenerated rainforest teaming with wildlife, native rainforest botanicals and rich in biodiversity. From a young age, I have been fascinated with flavours and business. My parents started a premium macadamia muesli company in 2000 called Brookfarm, with the notion of value-adding and celebrating the macadamia nut. As a family, we would produce the product, label it and sell it at the local markets, Brookfarm now proudly employs 65 people in our region.

My career went into the world of alcohol. Whilst studying, I worked in some great cocktail bars in Brisbane. I had the opportunity to become an ambassador … I educated people about the incredible world of spirits; how they were produced and their unique stories. This led me to a career in the spirit industry. In 2015, I was working for a spirit company in Australia, importing and distributing great spirits from around the world. Two of the brands that I was representing were Bruichladdich and the Botanist Gin, produced by legendary master distiller Jim McEwan. Jim was an idol to me. For those that don’t know, he is one of the world’s most awarded scotch whisky distillers. He is known as the Bruce Springsteen of single-malt whisky and is a legend of his craft. I had the honour of orchestrating a 22-show sell-out whisky tour for Jim in Australia. During this tour, we formed a great friendship; he was fascinated with our family’s life work of regenerating rainforests and showcasing native ingredients. On the tour, the seed was planted. I was lucky enough to be trained and mentored by Jim and in 2016, we launched our distillery with our award-winning Brookie’s Byron Dry Gin.

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You’re not exactly working a standard 9-5. What does a regular day at the distillery look like for you?

Running a distillery, I don’t think there is ever a standard day … but I love it. My days could involve sampling through a variety of whisky barrel samples (sometimes as many as 40 in a day), working on new gin and spirit recipes, trial distillations, meeting customers, educating customers, project work and working with our team. There is never a job too big or too small. We have an incredible team, from finance, marketing, sales, production and sustainability … the majority of time is spent with the team working through projects, challenges, and direction but always ensuring we take time to celebrate with a drink. 

As a new dad, what lessons did you learn from your dad that you would like to pass on to your little one?

Those who have met my dad Martin, aka Brookie, would describe him as a charming, cheeky character, who could talk to anyone, has a genuine interest in people and oozes passion. Now a father myself of our gorgeous baby boy Jude (born 26 July 2023), my father has taught me the importance of relationships, a genuine connection to people and a love for the environment. 

Not many people grow a business from the ground up with their father by their side. Do you have a favourite memory of starting the distillery with your dad?

We’ve shared so many great memories from the distillery. It always helps to create great memories and great times when you produce your own alcohol. One that stands out to me is when we had just started the distillery. I took Dad on the road with me for the first sale of our Brookie’s Gin and to meet our customers. The excitement in the air when we sold our first bottles of gin to our local customers … it’s something that I’ll never forget. We were buzzing … and to do this with Dad made it damn special.

There’s obviously a shared love of a good gin in the genes. What else do you have in common, and in what ways are you different?

I’d like to think I have picked up some great traits from Dad. We are both driven, curious and passionate but also enjoy having a laugh, not taking ourselves too seriously and having the ability to see the humour in different situations. One of the greatest traits I’ve picked up from the old man would be the love for storytelling and genuinely connecting with people in all walks of life.

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Your family’s history with macadamias has certainly influenced some of your recipes. In what other ways has starting a business with your family inspired your creations?

Growing up farming macadamias, Mum creating mueslis and macadamia recipes … there was the smell of roasted macadamias in the air. This was the inspiration for creating our MacLiqueur which is a roasted macadamia and wattleseed liqueur. The nose from this liqueur takes me back to mum’s kitchen growing up. It is bloody delicious. When I’m creating a new spirit, I like to draw on great flavour memories as well as family recipes. One that we created is a cumquat gin called Shirl the Pearl in honour of Grandma Shirl's old recipe. Shirl used to famously make a bootleg cumquat gin by infusing backyard-grown cumquats into locally made gin. The gin is an explosion of citrus, orange and orange blossom.

You grew up regenerating rainforest on your family farm in the hinterland of Byron Bay, where the distillery now lies. Now, you’ve woven an environmental ethos into your business. What have you learned in the process?

As a business, we talk about sustainability being in our roots … in our DNA. As a family business, first came the regeneration of rainforest and a love for the environment and then came business. As a result, our sustainability practices and values are embedded in the culture of our business and each day in each department, we work on ways to improve the business and improve our sustainability practices. I am a big believer that business should be a force for good, we work hard to share knowledge to other distilleries in Australia and last year, we achieved B Corp certification which is an international level of sustainability accreditation measuring a business’s environmental, social and corporate governance impact.

There’s a pretty tight-knit culture in Byron. How has the local community in your part of the world inspired Cape Byron Distillery?

A big part of the success of Brookie’s Gin and now Cape Byron Whisky has been the local love for our products. We have worked hard to ensure our brand is embedded and loved in our community. Where possible, you’ll find us at all local events and festivals, supporting as many fundraisers and initiatives as possible. We love the area of Byron Bay and are blessed to be able to operate the distillery here and call it home. We’d like to think we are capturing the spirit of our local region and ensuring that our unique environment shines through in our spirits.

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The distillery uses a wide range of ingredients, including macadamia and wattleseed, as well as a host of other native ingredients. What are some of your favourite ingredients to use with gin, and what ingredients would you like to use in the future?

Growing up with an education of the rainforest and using native ingredients, I get very excited to showcase these in our spirits. I am a firm believer that our (Australia’s) food and drink culture should be highlighting and showcasing the unique native ingredients that we have on offer. One of my favourite ingredients is the Davidson plum (ooray plum). This rainforest plum is endemic to the rainforest of Northern Rivers and has the most incredibly vibrant and tart flavour. This is the main ingredient used in our Brookie’s Byron Slow Gin and is one of my favourites, especially for a springtime drink.

From the Melon and Cucumber Slushie to the Rusty Mac, there’s no shortage of innovative cocktails at Cape Byron Distillery. If you were to make a gin cocktail inspired by SABA, what would it be?

When I think of SABA, I think of classy, and traditional, yet bringing in some fun and vibrant elements. For a gin cocktail, I’d be doing a riff on a Classic Negroni. Take 20ml Brookie’s Dry Gin, 20mls Brookie’s Slow Gin, 30mls of premium Australian vermouth and 30mls of Adelaide Hills Bitter Orange (substitute for Campari). Stir down over ice and serve in a rocks glass on a big chunk of ice. Garnish with a twist of orange zest and an orange blossom leaf. 

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