Schnapps-happy Dean

DEAN Metcalf is a Tasmanian plant pathologist, highly considered for his work in finding micro-organisms to control plant diseases without chemicals.

The Molesworth resident has been working on developing biological control methods for three decades. “A little while back,” he says, “I began to ask myself: the development of biopesticides is very seasonal. What can I do in the other part of the year? “We needed something that took up the slack, a backup plan. So we diversified into making schnapps and gin!”

He says that while he didn’t have much money for the venture, he did have some old copper lying around. The first job was to make his own still. “The next part of the distilling equation, of course, was suitable fruits.

“We decided on cherries, drawing on the surplus from around the Derwent Valley. In that way, we’re unique in the state for using something that would otherwise end up in landfill. The result is cherry schnapps, usually called Kirsch, a clear, colourless type of brandy that uses the stones as well as the fruit of the cherry.

“They are mad for it in Germany,” says Dean, who has just returned from a trip there. “Our kirch vassa, as they call it, is held in very high regard.”

He also used his time in Europe to visit the famous Glenfiddich Distillery, in Scotland. His visit to Glenfiddich confirmed the difference between Tasmanian distilleries and those in whisky’s homeland.

“There is a serious business,” notes Dr Metcalf, about a plant that produces millions of litres of single malt whisky per year. “Around Tasmania, we create a careful trickle, while theirs is industrial scale… a whisky firehose!

Late last month, he and his Metcalf Distilleries wares were in Adelaide at a gin festival. In addition to the kirsch, he produces a sloe gin, much appreciated by gin aficionados at trade shows like this one. Gin is generally made with the juniper berry, but the tiny sloe berry grows on a blackthorn plant, a member of the rose family originally used for hedges. It makes a particular type of gin that is hugely popular in Europe. And the only place the sloe berry grows in Australia is – you guessed it – Tasmania. In order to bring its particular flavour to his distilling, he has figured where to forage for the wild berries, much of it along the roadsides of the Derwent Valley.”

And with an eye to the future, Dr Metcalf has begun propagating plants to grow the sloe berries as a crop at Molesworth.