At The Bar with Cape Byron Distillery’s Matt Barnett

Cape Byron Distillery’s Matt Barnett has spent the last few years working on Brookie’s Free Spirited non-alcoholic ready to drink offering – upping the ante on a category that’s cluttered and often sugar heavy when it comes to the sober pour.  But in their capable hands at this iconic distillery in Byron Bay, a new sober movement has inspired them to come up with the Blood Orange Spritz  – defiantly bitter in its bid to challenge the Italians at what they do best – and yes it measures up.

While Cape Byron Distillery is known for distilling gin and whisky at its core, the shift to non-alcoholic premium is aimed at those keen to switch their boozy days for flavoursome others. There’s also a mock G & T with Pink Grapefruit added to the roster.

“The new Free Spirited drinks are a reflection of our values and include our signature rainforest distillate – and has our craft and quality about them,” says Matt Barnett.

“We’re a distillery making gin and whisky as our core, but we are also about balance and mindful drinking and definitely no stevia,” he says.

“And if sustainability is something you value and leaving the planet in a better position than you lived in it, we are one of the only distilleries in Australia that is Bcorp certified, our business is a force for good,” he says.

Matt Barnett speaks to The Write Drop for our At The Bar series – revealing the perks of living in Byron Bay, sharing fond Melbourne bar memories and a WA winery we all need to visit on our travels.

MY CITY

I’m very fortunate to live in Byron Bay. I love living here for the surfing and the community, the natural beauty, amazing quality food and beverage offering for a small regional town. I can wear Birkenstocks all year round is an added bonus!

FAVOURITE FOOD MEMORY

Freshly shucked oysters, natural, on a bed of ice.

FAVOURITE BAR  

Rae’s at Wategos cellar bar is the place for me. Straight off the beach and into a dry martini or a  cold beer and hot chip combo.

DRINK THAT DESCRIBES YOU

Currently, a Brookie’s Gin (obviously) Dirty martini is my spirit animal. A bit salty, strong, lets the gin shine through, icy cold and you get a little snack to go with the drink.

BEST HANGOVER CURE

A swim in the ocean, double espresso, followed by salty hot chips, no alcohol is the antidote for me or champagne.

BEST INTERSTATE BAR

I have a couple of old favourites, Rosella’s in Burleigh Heads – all Australian offering with some really creative takes on some Australian childhood classics- the Weis bar is an awesome example.

It’s been a hot minute, but in Melbourne, Elysian in Fitzroy for the whisky and the chat, and a negroni at Isola restaurant on Rottnest Island, WA.

FAVOURITE WINE

Lately I’ve been drinking 250ml cans from local wine brand Natural Order Wines which are pretty convenient when drinking for one. The ‘Mirror Twin’ Semillon/Viognier/Chardonnay is pretty easy drinking. But a memorable occasion enjoying a bottle of wine with friends was recently visiting Vasse Felix Winery in Margaret River and enjoying an amazing lunch with mates, the stand-out wine that day was the Idee Fixe Blanc de Blanc NV. 

 FAVOURITE WINERY

LS Merchants in Margaret River – minimalistic approach to winemaking. A contrast to many of the wineries in the region, not so serious and interesting varietals.

Go here for the ‘tasty banter, average wine’ – quoted from their cellar door signage.

NEXT DESTINATION

Hopefully somewhere to surf is always my ambition. We’re exporting to a few markets overseas now, including the USA, so hopefully to the USA to visit family in NYC and sell some Australian gin to the Americans.

What does Brookie’s bring to the non-alc RTD market

We have been making Brookie’s Gin & Tonic RTD’s in 275ml glass bottles for a few years now, so we have had the capacity to expand the range already. I feel the hike on spirits tax also put some pressure on diversifying our portfolio too. The concept was initiated at the start of 2023 and after a few delays, we finally released two non-alc RTDs in January 2024.

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