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Hemp, Sustainability & Natural Distilling

When we first began making spirits, it came from a place of passion and curiosity – we’d always loved a dram of whiskey, and that was the natural focus for our efforts. Through experimentation and persistence, we achieved an excellent recipe – that whiskey is now in the barrel, maturing nicely.

We soon realised that we had the talents to distil great spirits, but to get a whiskey operation up and running can take the best part of a decade (often longer). To create a sustainable distillery that serves the local community, we had to put on our thinking caps. The answer soon came to us.

 

Hemp

Hemp became legal in Australia back in November 2017, a couple of years after Rhys (Natural Distilling Co’s Founder & Director) first began distilling. It’s no secret that we’re committed to distilling our spirits in the most natural way possible, with a focus on sustainability and healthy ingredients.

The path was clear – hemp was the way.

Before we go any further, let’s get something out of the way: hemp is not a drug. It will not get you “high”, which is a common misconception due to the fact that hemp comes from the cannabis plant. A different variety of the cannabis plant is used to produce marijuana, which is high in mind-altering psychoactive compounds – the chemicals which make people feel “high”. Hemp is not medical marijuana, medicinal cannabis or THC – none of these things are our concern, as we’re solely interested in growing hemp for use in our hemp spirits. Nevertheless, it can still be referred to as cannabis alcohol, as hemp is a variety of cannabis.

 

So Then, What Is Hemp?

It’s perhaps the most sustainable plant in the world. Once upon a time, industrial hemp (aka Cannabis sativa) was a major industrial resource, used all over Asia, Europe and the Americas for paper, rope, cloth and fuel. After being legalised by Australia, the United States, Canada and a host of other nations in recent years, it’s coming back in a big way. It’s an excellent food source, and indeed one of the only plants in the world that can supply the human body with every nutrient it needs – you could theoretically survive (and thrive) on hemp alone.

Many people are familiar with hemp oil (made from hemp seeds and sometimes called “hemp seed oil” – not to be confused with CBD oil, which can also be made from industrial hemp), while hemp protein and other hemp foods in Australia are becoming increasingly popular. Hemp leaves can be juiced or eaten, as they themselves are a superfood and a nutritional powerhouse. Packed with antioxidants, they have anti-aging effects and protect against disease, containing powerful cannabinoids such as CBDa and THCa (neither of which will make you feel “high”, and both of which have considerable medical and health benefits).

 

Hemp For Sustainability

Natural Distilling Co are not the only innovators who are cultivating hemp for use in ground-breaking new ways – all around the world, sustainable & biodegradable hemp materials are starting to appear, with everything from hemp plastic, hemp clothing and even hemp car parts now on the market. As climate change reaches crisis point, we absolutely have to find sustainable alternatives to fossil fuels, plastic, cotton and other products which deplete the planet’s resources.

Hemp is basically a weed, meaning it requires no pesticides and very little water to grow – great news for Australia. Hemp plants capture carbon dioxide, grow on very little space and even improve soil by returning nutrients to the ground as they grow. Hemp produces 680 kilos of fibre per acre compared to cotton’s 225 kilos per acre and every part of the hemp plant can be used: the stalk for textiles, rope and paper; the oil for plastics, adhesives and paints; the leaves for food and juice. There is no other plant in the world that is so environmentally friendly while having so many applications.

 

Terpenes – The Secret Ingredient

While we use other elements of hemp in “the wash” (the first stage of distillation), terpenes are what gives our range of spirits their signature smoothness and body…but what are terpenes!?

Hemp terpenes (aka cannabis terpenes) are the natural chemicals which are unique to Cannabis sativa. These are what gives hemp its distinctive taste and aroma, while research is beginning to show that they are responsible for some of the most noteworthy health benefits of the plant too. You can imagine our delight when we discovered just how well they complement our distillations.

Those beautiful citrus notes from our gin?

That’s the terpene Limonene.

That delicate balance between earthy and fruity in our vodka?

That’s Myrcene.

The spicy kick that defines our forthcoming rum?

Beta-Caryophyllene.

It took 12-16 rounds of experimentation and sampling before we came to the final product you taste in the bottle, as we wanted to craft a mature-yet-nuanced spirit that wasn’t too heavy on the terpene flavouring while retaining a unique identity – something that people could drink and enjoy as they would with more typically-flavoured spirits. From what people tell us, we achieved it.

 

Bringing It All Back Home

Sustainability with a natural approach is the approach we take when distilling. We’re currently planting and harvesting hemp ourselves, moving away from other more water-dependent crops that require huge amounts of fertiliser so that we can make our alcohol even more eco-friendly. The next step will be finding ways to source other local ingredients from the Wilson’s Promontory and Gippsland community, allowing us to develop new spirits with more sustainable crops that require less water, no fertiliser, and minimal (or no) pesticides / herbicides.

To bring it full circle and close the loop, local farmers in our community have begun investigating growing hemp themselves, both for our production needs and for wider consumption. Yes, a couple of larrikins have asked “do you grow weed on the farm!?” and a lot of people still think that hemp = marijuana, but aside from that we’re happy to say we haven’t encountered any stigma. In fact, we often find ourselves in the role of Educator, opening peoples’ minds to the benefits of hemp and giving them fresh perspectives. We find it’s a great conversation starter and often inspires them to get onboard with the Founders Club and try our beautiful spirits!

 

If you haven’t yet discovered our creations for yourself, now is the time to experience the inimitable taste of The Natural Distilling Co – grab a bottle here.

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