When we hear the word “moonshine” we all think of illegal booze from hidden stills in the hills.
Well, finally it’s true. Byron Moonshine Coffee has its own real illicit-style alcohol. And, in a world first, it is made from the fresh pulp of locally grown coffee cherries.
In creating Coffee Cherry Shine, owner Richard Kelly is drawing on elements of his personal history. Prior to becoming a roaster, he managed a local coffee plantation, so he is familiar with fresh coffee cherry skins, the outside of the coffee bean that is traditionally thrown away.
In the 1980s, his family ran a small brewery in Brisbane. Little wonder then that in 2021 Richard partnered with Sea Legs Brewery Co, conveniently located opposite the Moonshine Coffee store in Kangaroo Point, to create a limited release Farmhouse Ale that used coffee pulp in the beer brewing process.
In 2021 local coffee growers were hit with poor yields and a lack of local contractors to bring in the harvest. Any ideas about what to do with the harvest were welcome, so it seems the time was ripe for brewing moonshine with some of the local cherries.
Richard headed to the hills and collected a hundred and seventy kilograms of local coffee cherry pulp. He then headed straight to artisan distillers Art of Booze in Mullumbimby. Co-owner Matty Parkin was as interested as Richard about the possibilities of mixing fresh coffee cherry fruit and skins with a corn and rye mash in the still.
“I’ve been a big fan of Byron Moonshine Coffee for years,” says Parkin. “So, when Richard suggested we do a ferment with the coffee cherry flesh, I was super keen. Coffee pulp has a high sugar starch concentrate which the yeasts consume to make alcohol. It creates a very potent spirit, like a very strong barley wine with a lot of flavour,” he says. “It was very exciting to push the boundaries of what we normally do.”
The idea of putting Australian grown coffee cherries together with moonshine ingredients is a world first. Campos Coffee created a moonshine liqueur in 2016 from Costa Rican-grown dried coffee skins (also known as cascara, the Spanish word for husk). Using fresh pulp and skins of Australian coffee is a completely novel idea. And Parkin couldn’t be happier with the result.
“Richard’s brief was that he wanted a genuine moonshine, which is normally pretty much rocket fuel!” Parkin says. “We ended up with an alcohol content at 41 percent but also something smooth and soft. You don’t drink it and come up gasping for air.”
Moonshine is traditionally made with one hundred percent corn. Coffee Cherry Shine instead has 51% corn, 38% fresh cherry pulp and skins, and 11% freshly milled rye grain. “Interestingly, the rye grain has very similar notes to the coffee cherries themselves,” says Parkin.
The flavour result is a moonshine whisky with beautiful grassy and earthy notes, all topped with the distinctive flavour of fresh coffee cherry. “It’s a hard flavour to pick if you’ve never eaten coffee cherry fruit before,” explains Parkin. “It doesn’t taste at all like the roasted bean. It’s quite spicy - desert cake spicy - like pepper, caraway, cardamon, clove, but still fruity.”
The clear Coffee Cherry Shine is available in 500ml bottles in a limited release. And, for good measure, there are several barrels maturing at the Art of Booze in Mullum, taking on the tannic colours and flavours of mature oak. “Believe it or not, it’s actually getting sweeter in the barrel,” says Parkin. “It’s so smooth and easy to drink. It’s got a nice golden colour and at the end of two years it will be quite dark”.