Tim Roxborogh finds more than 80 reasons to have a good morning.
Visiting a distillery in the morning seems like a slippery slope. If I'd used the saying, "Oh well, it's 5 o'clock somewhere," that somewhere would've been in California, Washington, Oregon, parts of Idaho and most of British Columbia. But it certainly wasn't the Gold Coast in Queensland. Besides, I was a little sceptical. How interesting could a trip to a distillery in a small, hillside settlement on the Gold Coast be?
This was going to be one of those times when the expectation-to-outcome ratio was off the chart. Destination: the Tamborine Mountain Distillery.
The setting should've been a giveaway that this was going to be special, irrespective of the notion of boozing in the morning. The Tamborine Mountain region is inland from the famed beaches of the Gold Coast and swaps out the golden sands and tanned bods for lush, oversized trees and artistic, nature-loving locals.
It was a little after 10am and I was due to meet a chap named Michael Ward. Pulling into a driveway dwarfed by subtropical jungle, I parked the car outside a Tudor-style mansion that looked straight out of a fairytale. A central courtyard overflowed with flowers and I made my way inside.
Inside was more Charlie and The Chocolate Factory than anything Shakespearian, with colourful bottles and wrapped chocolates everywhere. Behind the counter in a partially unbuttoned blue Hawaiian shirt was a shortish, balding man with long, grey hair and a beard. Looking like a trimmed-down Santa on his summer holiday, this was Michael.
Greeting me as if a long lost grandson, Michael was eccentric in the most positive sense of the word. Seeming genuinely thrilled to meet me, the same was true for all the tourists filing through a distillery that I was fast learning was really rather remarkable. As Michael posed for grinning selfies with guests, I had a quick look at one of the Tamborine Mountain Distillery brochures. Turns out no other Australian distillery this century has won as many international awards with the tally now more than 300.
Once the other visitors had left, Michael gave me a tour and a history lesson. Twenty-five years ago his wife Alla had fallen gravely ill. Deciding a move from the cool of Tasmania to the warmth of the Gold Coast would be good for her health, they also discovered the new climate was perfect for fruit trees. With more fruit than they knew what to do with, they decided to study fermentation, as much to be a hobby as anything else. The hobby grew and today Tamborine Mountain Distillery produces more than 80 varieties of liqueurs, schnapps, brandies, gins and vodkas.
As Michael spoke, I realised it was going to be idiotic to not at least have a small sample to see what all the fuss was about. Oh well, it was 5 o'clock somewhere. I'd stopped to look at a beautifully packaged bottle of wattle toffee liqueur (all hand-painted labels) and, whipping out a shot glass, Michael gave me a little taster. Made from the wattle flowers that grow in his back yard, this was pure liquid toffee, albeit liquid toffee with a kick. At 20 per cent alcohol it was half the potency of most spirits, but enough that you knew it was there. Neat or on ice, this was quietly glorious.
Michael then showed me the small distillery itself. I was so taken by the building's architecture that he then let me sneak a peek inside his home as well.
Huge, antique wooden desks and shelves, clocks and mirrors, ornate desks and tables, Michael's and Alla's house was also covered from floor to ceiling in art. I loved it. While admiring an arched, medieval wooden doorway, I was greeted with a hello from Alla. The yin to Michael's yang, it's clear the mountain air, the forest and all those fruit trees worked more than just a little magic. Michael and Alla are still very much alive and still very much a team.
Gold Coast eating and drinking
• If you need to eat when visiting the Tamborine Mountain Distillery, the nearby Three Little Pigs comes highly recommended. The signature dish — the pork belly — wasn't just spectacularly tasty, but was presented with such style that two lots of guests approached me asking what it was. 13 Main Street, North Mt Tamborine,
• For a place to dine that has a classic Gold Coast beach location, Rick Shores in Burleigh Heads is high-end Asian-fusion that's getting rip-roaring reviews. With white sands and waves in the foreground and the skyscrapers of Surfers Paradise as the backdrop, the setting is hard to beat. 43 Goodwin Terrace, Burleigh Heads.
• Further proof of the Gold Coast's image overhaul is in the popularity of the Night Quarter Market in Helensvale. Open every Friday and Saturday from 4pm-10pm, the market is now home to more than 120 food, fashion and craft stalls. The market has also become a popular live music scene.
• Just as fine dining is exploding on the GC, so too are micro-breweries. Places like the Burleigh Brewing Company in Burleigh Heads and the Balter Brewing Company in Corrumbin are run by passionate beer enthusiasts who also see the role their premises can play in the community. As in, both these breweries aren't just dedicated to the science of beer, but also to providing an atmosphere locals want to be a part of. This includes live music, food trucks and a notion that a love of craft beer isn't just for the ultra hip.
Tim Roxborogh hosts Newstalk ZB's The Two, Coast Soul on iHeartRadio and writes the roxboroghreport.com.