Release of 15-year-old vintage rum a toast to Kimberley agricultural pioneer Spike Dessert
By Courtney Fowler
It has been six months since the unexpected death of Kimberley distiller, Raymond ‘Spike’ Dessert III and his daughter says his legacy lives on with the release of his distillery’s oldest vintage rum.
Kalyn Fletcher said the Hoochery Distillery’s 15-year-old rum was a nod to her award-winning father who never got to see his reserve blend hit the shelves.
“It is a project close to our heart, I think mostly because Spike was very proud of the blend,” Mr Fletcher said.
“He tasted it, he chose the barrels himself, so he was completely involved in this product but unfortunately the labels did arrive after he passed away.
“It has been a long time coming — 15 years in fact — but we’re very happy with the end result.”
A well-loved local figure
Known for his distinctive Californian accent, braces, and wide-brimmed hat, Mr Dessert was a favourite among Kununurra locals and highly regarded in the industry as the pioneer of Western Australia’s oldest legal distillery.
Landing in the Kimberley’s Ord Valley to set up a seed business in the early 1970s, Mr Dessert established his distillery in 1995 to take advantage of the skyrocketing expansion of sugar cane in the region.
Ms Fletcher said her father was a visionary farmer who had seen the potential in locally-crafted spirits long before the recent spike in its popularity.
“Spike was the Hoochery.
“He came up with this idea long before distilling was fashionable, and it took him six years to be granted a license,” Ms Fletcher said.
“I think most people in that timeframe would have given up, but not Spike.
“He was one of those fellas who didn’t just have a thought for today or tomorrow, he was always thinking ahead.”
World class rum
Spike Dessert died before the release of his 15-year-old aged rum. The Hoochery have left the bottles unsigned as a mark of respect. (ABC Rural: Courtney Fowler)
The Hoochery Distillery’s location, nearly 3,000 kilometres north of Perth in the far-east of WA’s Kimberley region, makes it ideal for both distilling and the fermentation of spirits.
Kununurra sits at roughly the same latitude — on the opposite side of the equator — as global rum hotspots in the Caribbean.
The combination of the tropical conditions and a near-limitless supply of fresh water has been perfect for making rum, with the Hoochery Distilery becoming a dual gold medallist in the World Spirit competition.
“In the maturity room during the heat of the day the rum evaporates out of the barrels … it’s a beautiful smell and in the industry is called ‘the angelsmith’,” Ms Fletcher said.
“Dad used to always laugh, he would say our family is going to go to heaven because we’ve got happy angels around here.”
A legacy of ideas and inspiration
Ms Fletcher said it had been a bitter-sweet process completing her father’s life work but a lucky discovery of a series of his distilling notes tucked inside a filing cabinet will ensure Mr Dessert’s legacy lives on.
“It’s two inches thick of notes, papers, drawings and research,” Ms Fletcher said.
Key ideas to emerge from Mr Dessert’s notes include a recipe for his 100 per cent corn whiskey — a rarity in Australia — and a new sorghum whiskey; potentially a global first.
“Although he’s not here to put that one through, there’s some really interesting ideas on paper and we hope as a team here at the Hoochery we can pull those off for him,” Ms Fletcher said.
“Deciphering that in one element has been sad because he’s not here, but in another way he is here stamped on everything and it’s a nice feeling to try and continue on what he was doing.”