SITUATED on the border of the Southern Midlands, Shene Distillery is creating award-winning whisky and gin in some of Tasmania’s most storied colonial buildings.
David and Anna Kernke have owned the Shene homestead property for 15 years.
They say their “responsibility to preserve a property with a rich and varied history for future generations” is driving the restoration of the estate to its former glory.
The Shene property dates back to a land grant from Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1819 to Edward Paine, a grandson of King George III.
After time back in England and backed by investments from his brother-in-law Gamaliel Butler, Paine returned to Van Diemens Land and was granted a larger portion of land.
However, he drowned in the River Derwent in 1822, which led to Butler making his way to the colony to run the property with his sister and her family.
By the mid-1800’s, Butler’s youngest son Francis, an architect, had emigrated to Van Diemens Land and was tasked by his father to design and build his family homestead on his Pontville property.
The existing granary was built in 1846 and work had begun on the huge stable complex in 1850-1851 but it was to be the only significant building in the plans that neared completion as the Victorian gold rush effectively robbed the property of workers who headed north.
Throughout the almost-completed buildings are reminders of the beliefs of some of the original occupants, marks burnt on timber and hexagram symbols on window frames, done to keep the building safe.
Shene was operated by the Butler family until 1874 when it was purchased in an auction by the Westons, a prominent farming family, who owned it until 1954.
A handful of other owners then held the property, even converting the granary into a shearing shed, until the Kernke family took hold of the homestead in 2006.
At its peak, the Shene Estate comprised 8000ha of grazing land stretching across Pontville.
After visiting Tasmania for the first time in the 1990s, the Kernke family, including daughters Myfanwy and Ceridwen, moved to the state when the opportunity to buy Shene came up, Mr Kernke having had a career in property valuation.
In 2014, the family formed Shene Distillery, with Mr Kernke taking on a new career path alongside then business partner Damian Mackay.
“With Damian, I became an apprentice distiller. I was 62 and just loved it,” Mr Kernke said.
The process involved building a distillery that could house their equipment.
While the granary was considered and initially approved, they decided to build period-matching sheds, most of which were built from hand-cut timber.
Since then, Shene has picked up momentum in its distilling volume, currently holding around 500,000 litres of cask-strength whisky. A new partnership was formed with John Ibrahim who was involved with several distilleries in the Southern Midlands.
Shene now boasts a 4500-litre wash still, a 2000-litre first spirits still and a 1100-litre second spirits still in addition to its original 300-litre copper pot.
It is on track to make around 220,000 bottles of whisky this year. Shene aims to keep things as close to home as possible.
“From a single grain, mashing, extracting the sugar, fermenting, distilling, barrelling, aging and bottling, we do all of it here.”
“We use a locally grown grain from the Midlands. It’s malted in the north of the state, we crush it and we ferment it here for seven days, and then we triple distil all our whisky.
“By doing what we are doing, doing our own fermentation and making our own wash, it’s like building the foundations of our own building, you can control from the grain, all the way to the profile of the spirit that you are making.”
The last part of the process that shapes the flavours of the whisky is the barrels Shene ages its spirits in.
Barrels previously containing port from Portugal or oloroso sherry from Spain are sent to Tasmania to combine the unique flavours of European fortified wine barrels with a climate that is unlike any other.
“By comparison to Scotland, we get colder, but we also get hotter, that makes a lot of changes in the air pressure systems, lots of highs and lots of lows.”
“This means inside the barrels, the pressure is growing and dropping, the spirits are seeping into the timber at low pressure and out of it at high pressure at a much higher rate.
“It means we can age whiskey much quicker, but it really takes the life out of the barrels, it means we are getting one use per barrel.”
Since 2016, Shene has picked up at least one gold at every World Spirit Competition for its gin as well as six double-gold medals at the 2021 competition for its whisky line.