There’s a diminutive set-up behind a nondescript roller-door in Coburg North, where a new small-batch gin is distilled, blended and bottled on site. Some is aged in whisky barrels.
“It’s ugly, but it works,” is how Cedar Fox Distilling founder, Craig Westwood, describes his mish-mash of equipment, sourced by scouring eBay and Gumtree. He also fabricated some of the piping and tubing himself.
“After work and in my weekends I’d come down here and chip away at setting up the site,” he says. “It took me about three years until I actually had the product in my hand.”
During those years he was – and still is – working at Richmond’s Mountain Goat Brewery.
“When I was building this, I really didn’t tell a lot of people about it,” he says. “I never wanted to be the guy who said he was opening a brewery or a distillery and I’m going to do this or that. I wanted to be the guy who could say ‘I’ve actually done this. Ta da!’”
Fans of late ’90s Australian metal will know Westwood from bands including Christbait and Dern Rutledge. His first job in the drinks industry was at Geelong’s White Rabbit Brewery after years of homebrewing.
White Rabbit’s head brewer, Jeremy Halse, “happened to be a fan of a band I was in aeons ago” Westood says. “It was kind of cool that I managed to get over the line in the interview because of the band my mum said would never get me anywhere.”
After time there, and then Temple Brewing Company, Westwood took a job at New World Distilling (now Starward). He applied skills honed in whisky making at Mountain Goat, which had just begun a barrel ageing program. (The first of the beers from that program, a barley wine, won Champion Beer at the Australian International Beer Awards that year.)
At Cedar Fox, Westood is making gin using skills gleaned in beer and whisky making.
“My approach is simplicity,” he says. “It’s like when you record a good song. When the foundations are right, you have to do a lot to screw it up.”
His gin contains just 10 botanicals, where other distilleries may use 20 or 30. His include juniper, Lebanese cucumber, szechuan pepper and rosemary. The cucumber is a nod both to classic gins and his wife Ran’s Lebanese heritage.
Cedar Fox also draws on that culture: the Cedar of Lebanon is one of the country’s emblems and features on its flag.
The distiller currently makes a dry gin and a barrel-aged version, but Westwood hopes to outgrow the space and add more spirits to the line-up, including whisky, rum and absinthe. For now, you can find Cedar Fox gin, and the oak-aged version, at Westgarth Liquor, Carwyn Cellars, The Old Bar, McCoppins Abbotsford and online at Nicks Wine Merchants.
Look for the label with a fox and skulls beneath a tree. If it seems like something you might see on a rock album, that’s because it could be. Westwood called in a favour with New York-based Melbourne artist Seldon Hunt – who has worked with numerous bands including the Melvins and Sunn O))) – for the label.
“He was a fan of my music and always offered to do artwork for me,” Westwood says. “Sure enough, I contacted him a number of years later.”
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