It was a holiday to the French Caribbean that sparked Paul Messenger’s love of cane juice rum and prompted him to build Australia’s first and only Agricole distillery. You’ll find Husk on the family farm nestled in the green caldera on the north bank of the Tweed River at Tumbulgum, a town in northern New South Wales, Australia. The distillery is run by Messenger and his wife Mandy, plus daughters Harriet, Edwina and Claudia.
The distillery was completed in 2019 after a long and difficult construction complicated by the most devastating flood in 100 years as an aftermath of cyclone Debbie. It’s probably best known for producing Ink Gin, but its primary output is Agricole rum.
This includes Husk Spiced Bam Bam. It’s a three-to-four-year-old expression flavoured with wattleseed and native ginger, both which grow wild on the farm. The recipe also includes mandarin, orange peel, cinnamon quills, vanilla beans and a sprinkle of sea salt. The line-up also features Husk Triple Oak. This premium sipping Agricole rum was matured in ex-Port, ex-bourbon and new American oak casks.
The making of Australian agricole
The brand’s signature product, however, is Husk Cane Rum. The family describes it as being “the most pure expression of our region”. It can only be made from freshly crushed cane juice. This restricts production to the harvest season from August to November. Once harvested, the sugar cane is transported to a mini sugar mill designed and built specifically to make rum.
Here it is crushed and transferred to the fermentation tanks for inoculation. “We are farmers first, distillers second. This means we make rum from the finest quality, freshly crushed cane juice grown on our farm,” says Messenger. “Drawing inspiration from the traditional, our production methods were designed to complement our provenance and local cane varieties and to suit the Australian palate.”
Fermentation starts with a special strain of yeast which is propagated onsite over 48 hours prior to pitching. To best control fermentation, closed, jacketed beer fermenters are employed. As was an intelligent cooling system that maintains the temperature of the brew at 32-34˚C. The brew is fermented for 100 hours, quite a long time, and produces a fruity, nutty wash. This is then distilled in a 6,000-litre Scottish Forsyth still which arrived on the farm back in 2018. It was built in Rothes, Scotland to the brand’s specifications that were drawn up over six years of experimenting, travelling, tasting and learning. At the time of writing, it’s the only Forsyth still to venture into the Antipodes.
Husk Distillers even went so far as to build its own dephlegmator (a device that sits at the top of the still to encourage more reflux). This provides head distiller and production manager Quentin Brival more control over the production process. Brival hails from French Martinique, the home of Agricole rum, and serves as Husk’s fountain of knowledge of all things Agricole.
Husk practices a sustainable approach to production that the family has termed ‘full circle distilling’. This means most of the waste made at the distillery gets put back into the farm. Around 30 cattle on-site eat the stillage, spent botanicals, cane tops and the high-protein yeast left behind after distilling. The family are also the caretakers of 12 hectares of remnant Gondwana rainforest, which is at the rear of the farm. Any leftover bagasse (what is left behind after the sugar cane is juiced) that the cattle can’t eat is used as mulch for the rainforest regeneration plantings dotted across the property. Or used as a compost base.
Husk Pure Cane was bottled at 40% ABV without any chill-filtration or added flavourings or colouring. What you will see on the back of each bottle, however, is the specific cane variety used and the harvest year. Seasonal variations are reflected clearly in this style of unaged Agricoles. Fans of provenance and terroir will appreciate this. It has exactly the kind of profile you want from a good Agricole rum. It’s vibrant, grassy and fresh – a good introduction to this beautiful and unique style if you’re not familiar.
Husk Pure Cane Rum
“Taste our rum and you will discover a body and character unlike traditional molasses rums. This sparkling, crystal-clear liquid exhibits an unparalleled freshness with herbal and floral aromas, light and fruity with sweet sugar cane and citrus notes and a well-balanced, pastry finish. A world away from many one-dimensional, almost vodka-like molasses-based white rums,” Messenger says.
If the taste is a little overwhelming initially, then get mixing. Some simple, refreshing serves you can try are classic rum cocktails like a Mojito or Daiquiri. The traditional Brazilian Caipirinha or classic Caribbean Ti Punch are also good options. Otherwise, you can keep things simple and mix with your Husk Pure Cane with soda water and a squeeze of lime.