Tasmania’s first boutique rum distillery is in the pipeline, with a $3 million development proposed for the former mental asylum at Willow Court.
Concept plans for the New Norfolk Distillery were sent to the Derwent Valley Council by Justin Derksen and his family, who propose to buy, restore and develop the state’s historically significant site.
Mr Derksen said rum was experiencing a resurgence in the Australian boutique spirits market.
“There are 35 distilleries in Tasmania, producing scotch, whisky, vodka and gin.
Some of them produce rum on the side but none of them are rum focused,” Mr Derksen said.
“Myself and my two younger brothers, one who is a distiller, were sitting around over a fine quality glass of rum and said ‘why don’t we build our own distillery?’ The family had an appreciation for rum, and we also thought it could be used as a good drawcard.”
The development would occur in four stages, where the Allonnah, Occupational Therapy and Carlton buildings would first be restored, and a distillery, bar, function area and bond store eventually built.
It would be located near the nationally acclaimed two-hatted restaurant Agrarian Kitchen, which also has plans to relocate its cooking school to the Willow Court precinct.
Mr Derksen, who lives in New Norfolk and runs a local construction business, said the family was disappointed that many of the Willow Court buildings had sat vacant and neglected for decades.
“We are keen to see the buildings repurposed and revitalised. It is not just upsetting for us but for Tasmanians in general that Willow Court didn’t get the national heritage listing that it so desperately sought, but if these buildings aren’t used and preserved, we are going to lose our heritage forever,” he said.
“In Allonnah, or the A-ward, which housed the high risk female patients, there is a courtyard surrounding the internal part of that building where we propose to build the distillery and outdoor entertaining area … in the occupational therapy building we are looking to revitalise with a function room, kitchen and tasting area.”
The proposal hangs on a decision by council but Mr Derksen said the family hoped to start producing rum within the next 12 months, and receive visitors at the updated Willow Court in 2020.
Under Australian law rum needs to be in barrels for two years, and then bottled for a further two years and three months before it will be correctly classified as rum.
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