Mornington Peninsula, Victoria: Rum and whisky makers open up shop

Rum drinkers, your attention please. James McPherson wants you to know that you have been doing it all wrong. Not so much the drinking; more specifically, the savouring. That first deep inhale you enjoy before you lifting the glass to your mouth, to draw in the aroma of the rum? Your technique is probably flawed. At least, mine is.

"Bring your nose down," McPherson suggests as I inhale deeply, a glass of his rum beneath my nose. "Yes, right down to the lower rim. That's right. Now bring it up to the top rim." As I follow the instructions, it becomes clear why I'm waving my nose around. As my nose moves across the glass, different notes come to the fore. "Rum has a great spectrum of flavour, and 70 per cent of the taste is conveyed by your nose," McPherson explains.

The first rum distiller on the Mornington Peninsula is not just on a mission to make great rum, he also wants to educate Australians about the drink. "There are so many good rums out there. Australians don't appreciate the diversity of rum that exists."

McPherson is a long-time rum lover but a freshly minted distiller. Before he launched the brand-new Jimmy Rum, in Dromana on the Mornington Peninsula, he spent decades as a marine engineer. As he travelled around the world, he sampled a wide range of rums, and is aiming to showcase that diversity with the spirits that come out of his 1500-litre copper still.

His first few drops are, technically, not rum – "to be called rum, it needs to be aged for two years" – but rum lovers will find plenty to admire about both the Silver Premium Australian Rum and the Oaked.

"The Silver is very clean and smooth. Put it in oak barrels and you play up the caramel and butterscotch tones, but you lose some of the lighter tones, the vanilla and the grassy notes," McPherson says.

Then there is the Barbados, a French-style Agricole rum made in-house by blending three aged rums produced by one of Barbados' best distilleries. "Whisky drinkers in particular enjoy the Barbados," McPherson says.

The range will continue to grow and by mid-year, not only will there be a cocktail bar on site, but also a wider range of styles on offer including a spiced rum. One thing McPherson won't do is tell you how to drink your rum.

"Try it straight, try it with a couple of drops of water, try it on the rocks – every change brings different flavours to the fore," he says. "You may find you enjoy different styles depending on your mood." Above all else, he says, have your rum the way you like it. If someone tells you that's not the way to drink rum, "Then tell 'em to get stuffed."

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McPherson is not the only newbie pursuing his passion on the peninsula. While wine and beer lovers have long had plenty of cellar doors to visit, young distillers are now spreading their wings. Among them are whisky makers Naomi and Stuart McIntosh. They opened their Chief's Son Distillery in March, the first people on the peninsula to make single malt whisky. It's very much a family affair; when I speak with Naomi, her mother is in town to help with the bottling of the latest batch. "Nine hundred bottles is a lot of bottles!" she says.

Their single malt is available in two strengths, 60 per cent and 45 per cent. "The taste is quite different: in the 60 per cent, there's chocolate at the end as well as a slight aniseed finish."

The first release was named 25 Words in tribute to the label's unlikely backstory. You know those "25 words or less" competitions beloved by big brands? Stuart and his father won a trip to Scotland through a Chivas Regal competition, by explaining in short form why they should get the trip. (Their answer: My grandparents passed the love of whisky through my parents to me and I want to make sure my children pass it on to their children.)

That trip, seven years ago, inspired the idea of opening a distillery of their own, a dream which came to fruition earlier this year. As well as brewing up more of their first drop, the McIntoshes are working on a sweet peat and a pure malt. "The pure malt uses Vienna malt and has flavours of caramelised pears and stone fruit," Naomi explains. "The sweet peat has a smokier aftertaste."

Visitors to the distillery door can taste these works-in-progress as part of the whisky flights on offer in the tasting room. "We talk you through the whole process and give you an idea of what's coming up," Naomi says. She is not making any promises, however, about when those whiskies will be available.

"It will probably be towards the end of the year, but it depends on when they are ready. We are both quite patient – it's all about the whisky."

With these new players popping up, it is good timing for the Mornington Peninsula's oldest distillery to unveil its new premises in Dromana, just around the corner from Jimmy Rum. "We are so excited about our new space," says Holly Klintworth of Bass & Flinders Distillery's new HQ. The company is best known for its premium gins featuring Australian botanicals such as native pepperberries; it also offers gin masterclasses in which you can use different botanicals to craft your very own bottle of gin.

"We keep the recipe on file, so if you really love it, you can order more," Klintworth says.

For those who prefer drinking to making, the distillery bar is the place to sample Bass and Flinders' best drops, either straight up or in a cocktail. The menu includes unusual items such as a truffle gin – made with Mornington Peninsula truffles, of course – or a limited-edition fortified wine called Mistelle. What catches my eye, however, is an unusual bottle: a flat yet solid flask, with a label that I immediately want to stroke.

"A lot of people have that reaction," Klintworth laughs, as she hands me a bottle of Ochre. The thick glass and the hand-stitched leather label are indicators that what is inside the bottle is something truly special. This brandy, made with chardonnay grapes, distilled in a copper alembic still and aged in barrels made with 135-year-old oak, starts with soft sweet notes, deepening into richer tones.

Klintworth says that the brandy embodies what the company is all about. "Handcrafted spirits made with local ingredients, spirits with a real sense of place – that is what we do."

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/mornington-peninsula

visitmorningtonpeninsula.org

STAY

Jackalope is a boutique hotel that features degustation-only restaurant Doot Doot Doot and the Rare Hare bistro. Rooms from $675 a night include a la carte breakfast and valet parking. See jackalopehotels.com

TOUR

The Mornington Peninsula is a 90-minute drive from Melbourne. MP Experience offers bespoke chauffeur-driven tours of the area from $165 a person. See mpexperience.com.au

FIVE COOL BREWERS

DAINTON BREWERY

You gotta love a brewery that christens its mango-tinged session IPA D'Mango Unchained. There are plenty of other quirkily named brews in its range, from Red Eye Rye to Purple Sour, a beet and berry kettle sour. See dainton.beer

ST ANDREWS BEACH BREWERY

No matter how many craft breweries you have previously visited, we're pretty sure you have never downed a draught in a stall that once housed Makybe Diva. That is what is on offer at this former horse-training facility. See standrewsbeachbrewery.com.au

JETTY ROAD BREWERY

Make a lunch stop at this welcoming brewery, where there are eye-catching murals on the walls and a range that includes an IPA that the makers describe as "sunset in a can". See jettyroad.com.au

MORNINGTON PENINSULA BREWERY

Pale or lager, IPA or brown? Whether you like your beers classic or prefer something slightly more unusual, such as an imperial stout, Mornington Peninsula Brewery has a drop that will appeal. mpbrew.com.au

RED HILL BREWERY

These guys love experimenting. In a given year, they may make up to 20 different brews, some of which feature seasonal local produce such as cherries and truffles. redhillbrewery.com.au

Ute Junker travelled courtesy of Mornington Peninsula Regional Tourism.

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