A YEAR after opening their doors the Hepburn Distillery has won a gold medal for its vodka.
Basil Eliades and his family were recognised with first prize in the vodka category at the World Spirit Awards in London.
It is a huge achievement for the tiny, family-run operation.
"We sent three bottles to the UK (for judging) some months ago and basically forgot about it," Mr Eliades said.
"We were just working away trying to do a beautiful job. Then I found out the judging had happened and got an email saying saying we had got gold. I was genuinely running around the house. We were pretty rapt.
"We have been trying hard to make something special and really top grade and got some really positive comments from anyone who tried it. To be ranked like on the world stage is amazing."
Mr Eliades said making his vodka, whiskey and gin from scratch is a one-man operation with his wife and daughters helping with administration and design.
"My wife does the look and design for promotions and I'm one lugging potatoes, blitzing and distilling," he said.
"It's a very local operation. The farm we get our organic potatoes and strawberries from - Wombat Forest Organics - for our gin is 60 seconds from our front door, really immediate. Adam Bremnar, who runs it, is a fourth or fifth generation spud farmer."
"Whiskey, vodka, gin are our three main things we do and we make everything from scratch."
Mr Eliades said vodka should be soft and effortless to drink.
"What looking for in vodka is super soft, sweet, effortless drinking with a nice mouth feel and a flavour that stays on the tongue," he said. "We want people who try it to go wow, I wasn't expecting that."
Hepburn Distillery had a quiet start after opening its doors in early 2020 before the pandemic hit. But the family persevered and are reaping the rewards with a growing reputation.
"Every person in the industry has been wonderful," Mr Eliades said. "It's been very difficult but people have been very positive. We are certainly building and building as more people become aware of our product.
"We've had invitations to sell in Europe, the US and Japan but we are going to stay small and produce high quality products.
"For me (the product is about) about terroir - the environmental factors. It's about the place and raw products and water. One reason I can't possibly do this in Europe is because it's different water and potatoes."
Mr Eliades learned to distill at a young age but only recently began following his passion.
"I started learning about (distilling) when I was 15 and living in Sweden in 1982. But I have only really been doing it properly for a couple of years.
"I'd had a pretty tough 2019 and said to my wife was going to chuck it all as an artist writer, teacher and lecturer to plant trees and make cider.
"My wife and best mate said 'wouldn't I rather make whiskey' which takes years but we will have whiskey available this Christmas."