Distillery Focus - Baker Williams Distillery
Mudgee might be gaining a reputation as a growing wine region but amongst the vineyards, one micro distillery is getting into the spirit of things by…making butterscotch schnapps. We take a closer look at Baker Williams Distillery and the maker of the liqueur that puts the butterscotch in our Butterscotch Eggspresso Martini Easter Egg collaboration with Bakedown Cakery
Who AND what is Baker Williams Distillery?
Named after its founders, husband and wife Nathan Williams and Helen Baker met at university in Newcastle, where Helen was studying law and Nathan business. Originally from Mudgee, Helen was teased mercilessly by Port Macquarie-born Nathan about coming from a country hick town….until she brought him home to visit and showed him what the area had to offer.
After graduating, the pair spent some time in the US before settling in Sydney with conventional corporate jobs - Nathan working in international sales for a magnetics technology company and Helen doing contract management work for a telecommunications company. Like the sea change stories underpinning the beginning of so many Australian micro distilleries, both of them yearned for something more creative, hands on and aligned to something they enjoyed. Along the way, Nathan had developed a home distilling hobby and passion for whisky, which he was keen to explore. Having spent many weekends in Mudgee by this time and seeing the town develop a thriving food and wine scene, the pair spotted a gap in the spirits/liqueurs market, and decided to (as Nathan put it), “lets give this a go!”
The pair set up (modest) operations (aka a large shed) behind Vinifera winery in 2011, before opening up their cellar door to the public in September 2012. In a fairly unusual decision for a distilling start up, their first product for sale was a butterscotch schnapps, though if Nathan had his way, this would not have happened. He said, “Three weeks before we opened, we'd had a plan on making vodka & a coffee liqueur as our starting point. Helen walked through our front door and prophetically stated that 'we should make butterscotch schnapps'. Internally I died a little bit. I saw butterscotch schnapps as that horrible stuff you pour down peoples throats at the end of an evening to send them over the edge.” At the time adamant that it was a bad idea, Nathan countered by saying he didn’t know how to make schnapps, to which Helen responded by saying SHE would make it. And make it she did, coming up with the recipe and production herself.
The first day they opened, they sold out their first batch and in their own words, “it's been crazy ever since.”
But what is schnapps?
Depending on your background, schnapps could mean very different things. European drinkers will identify with schnapps as being something like an eau de vie, that is more similar in style to a lightly flavoured vodka or a fruit brandy. Americans however, often think of schnapps more in the style of sweetened fruit liqueur, where flavour and sugar is often added to the spirit and the fruit macerated instead of being distilled.
What is the Baker Williams butterscotch schnapps?
The Baker Williams’ butterscotch schnapps probably falls closer to a sweet liqueur than an eau de vie. It is however, a masterful balance in flavours without descending into the sugary sweet mess that defines so many cheap commercial brands. This particular schnapps somehow manages to achieve a burnt toffee caramel flavour with just the right amount of char without losing the kick of the underlying alcohol.
As to how it is made? Nathan remains tight lipped about the process, guardedly saying when pressed, “I don't know. It's Helens little secret but in broad terms she makes a real butterscotch and then blends that with spirit. I just get to filter and bottle it with her but that’s about it!”
What other spirits do Baker Williams produce?
As far as initial releases went, the butterscotch schnapps was nothing if not, a sign that the Baker/Williams can knock out some full flavoured spirits. Since then, they have released the vodka and coffee liqueur Nathan wanted to start with, as well as more liqueurs, gin, rum and a whisky, with others on the way. Their butterscotch schnapps remains unrivalled on the market in our view, and their seasonal cumquat liqueur is another to watch out for; with fresh, zingy citrus sweetness balanced beautifully against the bitterness of the fruit. The gin meanwhile is a highly aromatic citrus driven liquid using cumquats and oranges in its mix.
What’s coming up next for Baker Williams Distillery?
Although they started off part time, Nathan and Helen have now plunged into working at the distillery full time. Both wear a number of hats in the business, with Nathan doing the distilling (except for the butterscotch schnapps) and claiming to be the Chief Executive Officer while Helen cracks the whip as Chief Operating Officer, covering everything else from finance, legal and HR. For the pair however, the reality is that its very much a team effort, saying, “we talk about work at breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as last thing before going to sleep, It's all consuming like a baby i guess but that's what we signed up for. “
The operation has also expanded to cover a few more people doing a raft of things from cellar door sales, creative design, wholesale sales and more, but business is growing sufficiently that they have plans to build a bigger distillery in the coming year. As Nathan says, “We're in dire need of more space, largely because we now make many more products than we ever planned to. We have a new property about 800m from the current space where we'll build the new Baker Williams global HQ.”
In terms of new releases, the distillery will be unveiling its second whisky on Good Friday 2019 alongside the seasonal cumquat liqueur around the same period. They also have plans for some interesting gins and more whisky later in the year but if you love the butterscotch schnapps, you’ll want to sit down with this next tidbit - the distillery will soon be releasing a chocolate liqueur that Nathan has been fighting with for the past 3 years.
Where to buy the Baker Williams butterscotch schnapps and its other spirits in Australia
Most of the distillery’s releases are available at the cellar door or direct from their website, although you may be able to find some at selected bottleshops in the Mudgee region and other parts of NSW.
The Butterscotch Eggspresso Martini Easter Egg is now available for order via Bakedown Cakery