by Elise Strydom
When Adam Freeman and Alison Sloley packed up their life in Adelaide and went off in search of a new home, they’d never heard of Yamba.
“We drove up and down the coast a few times and completely missed it!” laughs Alison.
An incredulous friend nudged them in the direction of the coastal town, and they discovered it was indeed their perfect match. Wrapping up projects in Adelaide – Adam and Alison have been in hospitality most of their working lives – the couple relocated to the Clarence Valley. They found a welcoming and supportive community and began to brainstorm ideas for their next business.
“We both absolutely love gin, so we decided to get into distilling,” explains Alison. “We have no experience with premium spirits but we’re always up for a challenge!”
Adam began practising with a 20 litre still, adding botanicals and observing the flavours that formed over two hours. The jump to a 300 litre still took some getting used to and he says the first seven batches had to be ditched.
“A lot of different flavours emerge in a 14-hour distillation process,” Adam observes. “I sent each batch to our tasting team who would make notes and send them back to me.”
“We did that until I got something we were all happy with and then I put it in the bottle.”
Keen to get hands-on and commit to a more ‘analogue’ process, Adam sought out quite a unique still. Wary of the lead content and computerisation of certain apparatuses, he turned his attention to a particular company in Portugal.
“This still was made in Portugal by a few old gentlemen; it’s hand beaten and it’s a work of art,” Adam says matter-of-factly. “Apparently the company has been going for 300 years.”
Every good still needs a moniker and this one is named Mrs Jordan. Its namesake was the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, a lively character that Alison clearly finds fascinating.
“Mrs Jordan and the Duke were together for 20 years and had 10 illegitimate children,” she explains. “She was a comedian and performer, a bit of a party lady!”
With the aim of incorporating local botanicals and supplying their gin to venues and businesses in the area, the name Clarence Distillery made a lot of sense. The Clarence Valley was named in honour of the Duke of Clarence, who went on to become King William IV, rather unexpectedly. Alison says he was known as a larrikin while also being an approachable and hardworking monarch.
The Duke Dry Gin is the first of their offerings while a pink ruby gin will be released soon. There are plans to collaborate with Clarence Valley farmers on short runs, too.
“Solum Farm supplies our vetiver, the strawberry gum leaves come from Tenterfield and The Peach Farm have given us some kefir lime,” Adam says. “We are looking into doing a peach gin with them.”
Alison and Adam appreciate the growers’ enthusiasm and their willingness to provide ingredients. All of the local additions are helping Clarence Distillery achieve the goal of producing a gin that not only tastes good but reflects the flavours of the Valley.
The distillery in Yamba’s industrial estate is open to the public every Friday afternoon from 3:30 and on Saturdays from midday. Adam is usually hard at work, but says the aroma draws curious visitors in and he’s happy to provide simple tours and tastings.
Clarence Distillery is a welcome addition to the region’s thriving agri-food (and drink!) sector. The Valley’s farmers and producers make an extraordinary effort and provide strong economic value. That’s something we can all raise a glass to!
Find The Duke at local restaurants including Karrikin, Yum Yum Angourie Café and General Store , Drift Pizza Bar, Sandbar, BarBaresco and more. Be sure to say hello to Adam at the Yamba Farmers and Producers Market and the Grafton Twilight Farmers Market.