Spike Dessert is a distiller, farmer and family man with a head full of ideas and a shed full of rum.
Story By Nathan Dyer
Raymond Bernard Dessert III is an ideas man. The brains behind Western Australia’s oldest continually operating distillery and Ord River Rum, ‘Spike’, as he is known across the Kimberley, is positively brimming with them.
The office of the Stetson-wearing third-generation Californian seed farmer is a case in point. Piles of paper – letters, designs, sketches – crowd every available inch of benchtop. Empty rum bottles of every shape stand along one shelf, old seed tins line another, a three-dimensional cardboard model of a rum distillery leans against the window and bags of seed samples are spread across the floor. They’re all ideas, or will be.
It’s 6.30 on a hot November morning and Spike is sitting behind a big wooden desk in a Queenslander-style office lamenting another tough growing season in the Ord Valley. To make his point, he reaches into a pile of notebooks and retrieves one with rainfall figures scrawled across its yellowing pages. “Look at this, October 118 millimetres compared to an average of 17mm, November 125mm compared to an average of 67mm … it’s been wet alright,” he says in his deep Californian drawl. “But that’s the Kimberley, no two years are ever the same. Only fools and newcomers predict the weather up here.”
It’s a typical off-hand response from the larger-than-life farmer, rum distiller, shire councillor and dedicated community man who has become a Kimberley icon since migrating from the Colorado River region of California to Western Australia almost four decades ago.
The story of Spike’s Kununurra rum distillery, The Hoochery, is a classic Kimberley yarn. Hatched during a visit to a cellar door winery in South Australia, the original idea was to build a still that would use locally grown corn to make whisky. But The Hoochery’s raison d’être changed to rum when the Ord sugar industry was established in the mid-1990s.
The first batch of Ord cane spirit was distilled in December 1999 and two years later Ord River Rum hit the shelves. But disaster struck when the Ord sugar industry collapsed in 2007. Supplies of the key raw ingredient, molasses, dried up. Determined to maintain his 100 percent Ord River Rum, Spike started growing his own sugar. Today, The Hoochery is a vertically integrated operation controlling the distilling process from paddock to bottle, annually producing more than 25,000 bottles across nine separate lines, including the recently released Spike’s Reserve, which has been aged for 10 years.
This story excerpt is from Issue #81
Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2012