helped Bignell earn the reputation as a maverick—the term “mad scientist” has been uttered more than a few times—among distillers in both his home state and Australia as a whole. When most Tassie producers had been making a name for themselves producing Scotch-style single malts, Bignell would much rather be known for his 100 percent rye whisky made from grain grown on the 350 acres surrounding the distillery. “I don’t think anyone else [in Australia] is making 100 percent rye,” he says. “There are two that I know of that have corn and barley in theirs.” Bignell gets creative with some of Belgrove’s rye bottlings, offering everything from peat-smoked to Shiraz-barrel aged whiskies. That’s not to say Bignell hasn’t himself played with other grains. He’s produced a bit of malt, as well as oat whisky. He malts the grain himself in a contraption he fashioned out of an old clothes dryer (which
he demonstrated for me when I visited Belgrove Distillery a few years back). As the grain tumbles in the cylinder, sprinklers inside provide the necessary moisture. The device also doubles as a smoker. When he wants to produce a batch of peated whisky, he lights a fire and smokes some peat underneath the unit as the rye gently turns. Bignell has experimented with other smoke-able materials, namely dried sheep manure. He raises those sheep on a second farm about 20 miles away, feeding them spent grain from the distillery. “If they go in the shearing shed, their droppings go down to some slats in the floor to dry out,” he explains. “I shovel that up and use it instead of peat in my smoker. I’ve got a whisky now that’s not far off from being ready that’s been smoked with sheep manure. That’s just a bit of a fun project—I’m doing all of these sort of one-off things.” It’s certainly a sustainable practice, when you consider
that the sheep’s droppings are a byproduct of grain that had already been turned into whisky. Sustainability is in Belgrove Distillery’s DNA. Where many operations strive to achieve carbon neutrality, Bignell believes his has gone a step further. “I haven’t been audited— nobody’s come and run all the numbers—I just think I am carbon-negative,” he reveals. “I certainly use minimal fossil fuel.” Biofuel derived from waste cooking oil powers the still, and the distillery also taps into the local hydroelectric power grid. The abundant rye crop itself captures quite a bit of carbon. “There’s a huge amount of straw that [rye] produces,” Bignell notes. “One of the reasons a lot of people have turned away from growing rye is that it produces so much straw and not very much grain. It’s not very efficient as far as economics go, but it does tie up a lot of carbon and stores it in the straw.” Once the grain is harvested,
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