Tell us about your background and what led you to becoming a producer on the Central Coast
I have been a whisky aficionado for about 20 years, and for a long time dreamed of the possibility of establishing a distillery. In 2017 my good friend Phil Townsend, whom I met through a Central Coast astronomy club, offered to make his large rural shed on his property in the Yarramalong Valley available for this enterprise, and to go into business with me. We were very fortunate to have been able to forge a strong relationship with Six String Brewing Co at Erina, who have made all our whisky wash from the very beginning. As the first whisky producer on the Central Coast, it was a challenging process getting set up and then going to market in 2022, but we have been extremely fortunate with the level of support we have received from the local community.
What do you enjoy most about connecting with visitors to your business?
Visitors are amazed and excited to learn that the Central Coast is winning global gold medals and producing some of the very best whisky in Australia. We enjoy sharing our passion with visitors, explaining the process of distillation and barrel maturation, and sharing some of our award-winning whiskies. We are yet to have a visitor not like at least one of our whiskies, and most visitors become instant fans of our brand once they taste the quality of our product. Some people from the Central Coast and Sydney have become regular visitors as they really enjoy the friendly welcome they receive each time they visit (as well as the whisky itself of course!).
What makes your products unique?
Two things – our barrel choices and our response to climate. With barrels, we spare no expense, importing from Europe and America some of the finest barrels in the world. In particular, our Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry casks from Jerez in Southern Spain are 30 to 60 years old and revered around the world for their richness and character. Secondly, the Australian climate presents a challenge to ageing whisky for long periods of time as the heat tends to age the whisky more rapidly. Amber Lane is the only distillery in Australia currently using maturation and blending techniques learned from the Cognac region of France – applicable because our climate is so similar to that of South-West France – to manage these climate challenges. Our techniques are producing beautifully integrated and complex whiskies that are stunning whisky judges and whisky lovers alike.
What should people expect when they visit your venue?
Visitors are welcomed by the people who actually make the whisky, so visitors are in for a treat, and are able to go as deep in their learning about whisky as they want! We start with an introduction to the process of making the whisky, most especially focusing on the distillation process with our gorgeous 3,600 Litre copper pot still as well an explanation regarding our barrel-selection and maturation process. Secondly, we do a 4-dram whisky flight for $20 per head, with a full explanation of the differences and nuances in each expression. Every whisky slight will include at least one gold medal winning whisky, and usually several! Couples can share a flight, and no one is obliged to drink whisky if they would rather just listen to the presentation – without any charge. Lastly, because the views over the property are so beautiful, and the vibe is so relaxed, we find that visitors tend to stay for a while, seated comfortably to enjoy the views, sharing the exhilaration of what most people describe as an unexpectedly awesome experience. Anyone who wants to buy some of our whiskies is welcome to do so during their visit.
Are you able to give us a preview of any innovative projects (e.g., new products, experiences, promotions or collaborations) that you are working on?
Along with our core range of whiskies, we are always working on special small batch releases that push the boundaries of what Australian whisky is like. Amber Lane is having great success with the strategic use of virgin French and American Oak casks, as well as experimenting with unusual single cask finished, such as Islay peated barrels, French Liquor casks (eg Chartreuse barrels), and Pineau des Charentes casks. There is always something interesting to try if visitors want to taste something straight from the cask – just ask our staff during a visit.
What do you think makes the Central Coast such a great place for people to establish a food or beverage business?
The Central Coast is uniquely positioned midway between the two major cities of Sydney and Newcastle, with excellent transport links, and therefore in an ideal location for businesses looking to attract day visitors who are within an easy daytrip distance. The Central Coast has an excellent reputation as a holiday destination with magnificent beaches and holiday activities available. At the same time, with its continued growth, the Central Coast itself is becoming an increasingly sophisticated market for sales to local consumers. Many costs such as commercial rents are much lower than in major cities, making it easier for start-ups. As a community, the Central Coast is keen to support local businesses, with comradery rather than competition the established pattern between businesses in our area.
Who would you recommend as other ‘must try’ food / drink producers on the Central Coast?
We have a great respect for Phil Moore and his excellent gins at Distillery Botanica. We also love the work of Six String Brewery, who offer an excellent experience for those who love their beer!
What do you think is the best kept secret on the Central Coast?
The beautiful hinterland. Most people think of the beaches, but we would recommend that visitors take a drive west up Yarramalong Road beyond our distillery, and explore the inland more, including incredible hiking and bed and breakfast opportunities.
When you’re not making awesome food / drink, what do you love doing in your spare time?
I try to travel to Europe every year or two to enrich my knowledge of other barrel maturation traditions, which are often hundreds of years old. I also love reading about history and mythology, and astronomy remains a passion, along with precious time with family.