Meet the makers from Victoria’s High Country

GT speaks to the unique chefs, brewers, and distillers behind the region’s burgeoning culinary scene.

The High Country, spread across the north-east of Victoria, is an alpine menagerie of regional villages, national parks, and snow resorts. Combined with the allure of ski fields and crisp mountain air, the seasonal food and drink offerings make it a destination primed for winter travel.

The unique topography of Victoria’s High Country inspires a distinct culinary scene; visitors can experience paddock-to-plate dining, taste locally made spirits, beer and wine, and sample regional produce from the farm gate.

The region is brimming with passionate and innovative makers, including winemaker Rowly Milhinch, distiller Leigh Attwood, chef Emma Handley and the brewers behind the High Country Brewery Trail. We speak to these producers on how they bring the distinct flavours of the region to their menus and drinks lists.

Muscat Gin

Distiller Leigh Attwood (left) and winemaker Rowly Milhinch (right).

From an unlikely encounter between a winemaker and distiller in Victoria’s High Country at a second-hand barrel sale stemmed an even more unlikely collaboration. Scion Wine’s Rowly Milhinch and Backwoods Distilling Co’s Leigh Attwood were bidding against each other for oak barrels when they met. This fortuitous run-in brought the craft producers together, leading to their creation of muscat gin.

“Fruit-based gins are really gaining momentum, and this fits into that category. Some traditional gins like sloe berry gin are made in a similar way, but muscat gin is completely unique to our region,” Attwood says.

The Muscat Gin is made by soaking handpicked muscat grapes from Scion’s vineyard in the Rutherglen wine region with Backwoods’ small batch gin for eight weeks, before basket pressing.

“Because we do a really late pick of the muscat grapes, they’re very sugary and the gin does a really good job of extracting that yummy sugar and balancing it out with the native Australian botanicals,” says Attwood.

Templar Lodge

Templar Lodge chef-owner Emma Handley is committed to sourcing local produce from Victoria’s High Country.

The sophisticated menu at Templar Lodge is just what you’d expect from chef-owner Emma Handley, previously the executive chef at Huski Dining in Falls Creek, and before that at the hatted Villa Gusto in the Buckland Valley.

Shaped by seasonal produce, each dish boasts local ingredients along the lines of goat braised in porcini mushroom, fennel and orange with torn pasta, or coffee-cured kangaroo served with celeriac mash, black cabbage, and homemade marmalade.

For true paddock-to-plate dining, Handley plucked the vegetables for this salad from her garden.

“Produce that’s local and in season simply tastes so much better. At the moment, I have goat on the menu from Tawonga South Butcher and beautiful cheeses from The Peaks Cheese. I like to keep it in the valley, and in turn they come in and support me,” Handley says.

As for drinks, the beverage list is steered by sommelier Ben Edwards, who selects local wine labels such as Fighting Gully Road, Mayford, and Feathertop. Set in a historic timber building in the Kiewa Valley with mountain views, Templar Lodge is just the place to savour a glass of wine by a warm fire in the cooler months.

High Country Brewery Trail

Relax by the fire at King River Brewing.

The High Country Brewery Trail consists of seven breweries, each offering a unique range of hand-crafted beers and all unified by their passion for beer and the region.

Dotted on the hills and in the valleys, the breweries weave a scenic path across Victoria’s High Country and their collaborative annual release — available on taps and in cans — is named ‘Rule 47’ after the Velominati rules of cycling. This year, King River Brewery are the chosen brewer.

Alongside the new craft brew, there are over 50 different beers to taste along the trail, ranging from core varieties to seasonal beers, all highlighting the distinctive high country hops. Out of the seven locations, Billson’s Brewery in Beechworth is the latest addition to the line-up.

“It was founded in 1872 and all of our products are made with water from a spring-fed old brick well,” says brewery owner Nathan Cowan.* “It’s a physical venue so people can experience it — talk to the brewer and see it all being made — and hopefully it gives them a memorable experience.”

Brought to you by Victoria’s High Country.

Related stories