Aaron Anderson works as an exhibition manager at an art gallery in Zetland four days a week. Every other day, he’s either distilling corn liquor or mixing cocktails in St Peters at his microdistillery, Crooked Tune.
“I’m doing a six-and-a-half-day week at the moment… I’m usually at the distillery on a Friday from the early morning until 10pm when the bar closes. Then I’m back again on Saturday evening to run the bar. And then again on Sunday to do some more distilling.”
Anderson’s hectic schedule is the main reason why you won’t see Crooked Tune’s wares on a bar menu outside the inner west. From distilling to sales, the Kansas native does it all. And not only is he entirely self-taught, he also designed and built Crooked Tune’s beautiful two-pot copper vessel himself.
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“Having an art and sculpture background, I hadn’t done a lot of that sort of welding before. But I had the confidence to give it a go. It was fun learning how to do that.”
A gleaming piece of steampunk paraphernalia, the thing looks like it crash-landed from another time. That’s not far off the mark. Anderson is one of the only people in the country making corn liquor – perhaps better known as moonshine in Australia – as it’s been done in America since colonial times.
“Moonshine sounds like a bit of a touristy name. The traditional name for it in the States is corn liquor, so that’s what I go with.”
Crooked Tune’s dram is made with a blend of – you guessed it – corn and barley, before it’s bottled and sold straight up. A smooth and slightly sweet spirit, it’s also the base for most of the distillery's range, including the botanical-infused Mountain Gin and Cherry Bounce (double distilled with cherries and spice).
Distilling has deep roots in America’s Appalachian states, where the first Scottish immigrants brought over the tradition. Anderson says that, if he was making his corn liquor in the US today, it would be classified as bourbon. “But here in Australia, it has to be in a barrel for at least two years to even call it whiskey.”
For that reason, he’s currently aging the stuff in 120-litre new American-oak barrels. And this time next year, Crooked Tune will be the only whiskey distillery in the inner west.
But right now, it's easily one of the smallest distilleries in the country. The bunker of a space below Precinct 75 doubles as a speakeasy-style bar. Americana is crammed into every corner, with guitars and Anderson’s banjo hung above a cosy green-velvet couch.
“It’s literally an underground operation,” he says. “It’s kind of a word-of-mouth thing, which is a double-edged sword. It keeps it cool, but it’s also a problem if no one knows about it. But people stumble across it and end up staying for three hours.”
Bookings are strongly advised (but not mandatory) to get a spot. Anderson mixes up to 25 different cocktails, showcasing the range. So what’ll it be, partner? A smooth and stiff classic, like a Sazerac with barrel-aged corn liquor and Green Lightning absinthe? Or a zingy Peach Cobbler Margarita with a spicy Tajin rim?
Crooked Tune Distillery
2/08 Mary Street, St Peters
Fri to Sat 6pm–10pm