It’s 2pm on an overcast Thursday and the Wild Brumby is packed. Rain and wind on the alpine peaks mean poor ski conditions and many skiers have fled the slopes to stay inside.
What better way to warm up than in this cosy, funky Schnapps distillery which doubles as a cafe/restaurant?
Set up a few years ago by Brad Spalding and his wife Monika, Wild Brumby is situated eleven kilometres from Jindabyne, NSW, in a valley on the Alpine Way, a 100Km stretch of road which winds its way through spectacular scenery.
The valley lies just beneath the snowline and is full of wild brumbies, kangaroos, emus, parrots and kookaburras. It’s also home to a diverse mix of eco-friendly and up-market accommodation and an excellent restaurant.
As soon as you enter the Wild Brumby park, you become aware of a unique sense of style which makes spectacular use of the stark khaki and brown colours of the landscape – and which successfully marries Austrian and Aussie influences. Man-made ponds, expertly polished boulders and rusty sculpture balls greet the eye.
The path leading to the distillery is studded with stylish rusted outdoor lights and not far from the front door is a life-size sculpted wild brumby.
All this before you’ve even tasted Brad’s schnapps and Monika’s Austrian food.
Brad is a likeable and eccentric character who occasionally dons a wig and plays Austrian folk songs on the accordion for guests.
A former ski instructor, he learnt the art of distilling schnapps in Austria, and now makes a wide variety of flavours to exacting European standards, from high quality Australian fruit.
Flavours include organic raspberry (grown on their property), Peach (fabulous with champagne), Pink Lady, Butterscotch (sweet and very popular), Mango, Pear William (fantastic), Peppermint and Sour Apple. Flavourings are subtle yet unmistakeable. Never having drunk Schnapps, I became an instant convert.
“A shot of the peach schnapps marries perfectly with champagne”, he tells me.
Brad comes from a family of cooks (his family ran a country pub near Albury for many years) which explains his interest in experimenting with different flavours.
Production involves choosing fruit of the highest quality with rich flavours; the fruit is de-stalked, sliced, diced and processed by machine with the stones and pips remaining whole. The fruit is then crushed, a necessary step for successful fermentation which takes place in vats at controlled temperatures in a cool room for specific periods of time. The fermented pulp is then loaded into the imported ulrich kothe still and distilled.
“This is a critical point in the process that has been perfected to produce a crisp clean schnapps,” says Brad. “The spirit from the still is aged in vats then blended and is now ready to be bottled, and enjoyed.”
Since opening a decade ago, Brad has added world-class gin and Kosciuszko Vodka 101 to the list.
Monika runs the kitchen and her presence can be felt in every nook and cranny. We tried the soup of the day (cauliflower), the veal schnitzel, served with potato salad, and Kassler (pan fried loin of smoked pork) served with sauerkraut and rustic mashed potatoes. All delicious and just the thing to cheer you up on a cold bleak day, washed down with a glass of Benz Zee Knees wine and a shot glass of Brad’s Schnapps.
For dessert or afternoon tea there’s an irresistible array of cakes to choose from, including Monika’s famous Mountain Snow Gugglhupf (an Austrian lemon and almond cake with an icing reminiscent of snow-capped peaks), a flourless chocolate torte and stained glasshouse cake and vanilla cupcakes.