Master Creator

“Nature is the manifestation of divinity, for heaven’s sake,” smiles Roger McLean. He sits calm and collected. His white hair quiffed. His water-coloured gaze pulling the room apart - recalibrating something spiritual. Roger McLean is not interested in alcohol for alcohol’s sake. In the Middle Ages, medicinal practices were referred to as natural magic - Herbal Lore distillery evokes that diminished practice.

“You could describe it as magic,” the dim-lit backdrop is cluttered with knightly swords and bottles of Roger’s Herbal Lore liqueurs. The room; drenched in medieval symbolism. “As long as people don’t assume magic is Harry Potter. It’s a very serious business. I have worked the liqueurs in alchemical law. I’m not an alchemist, I’m a student of alchemical practice.”

The word spirit, in reference to alcohol, comes from Middle Eastern alchemy. In the quest for elixirs, the vapors given off from rare botanicals would be collected as spirits of the original matter. When you start dealing with herbs, it’s important to understand that they are older than the ancients.” Modern alchemy is the art of purifying the soul. “The purpose of the distillery is to make the purest alcohol in the world because from the purest alcohol, we can put it through our medicine and herbal liqueurs. Alcohol is the quickest way of getting the herb into the bloodstream.”

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A shot of Midnight Desire works the body like an aphrodisiac, the seductive flavours from the Damiana leaves flirt on the palette as the liqueurs warm essence slowly sinks you. Roger’s charm is like a natural sedative, “Midnight desire took me 13 years to make because everything we do is on the moon cycle.” The flavours, like his thoughts, are naturally in sync.

 “I have a huge apothecary with hundreds of herbs for various styles of treatment. You learn how to pray to them. How to talk to them. How to listen to them. You become psychic, or intuitive,” his thoughts, like his process, are naturally curious. “In the apothecary, it’s me in my home. It’s where I study, pray. It’s where I’m at one.” Although he talks about Damiana, he imagines Queen Guineve, “Damiana is the most bitter herb I’ve ever worked with. Because the herbs have a story to tell. And the story of Arthur is the story of strength and power, that’s my herbs.”

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“Everything we do is to maximize the extraction of goodness from the herb. That’s the most important thing.Herbal Lore is healing potions in action. Every one of them is a potion. People can drink it to get drunk, I don’t mind. If you’re drinking it for the reason I made it, you’re having 10ml-20ml but not consecutively - Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday type thing.”

 But Roger has a treat for the more committed drinkers too. “We make gin, because I like playing around.” Terra Australis Distillery is an ode to the Portugese discovery of this land, “they called it the great southern spiritual land - Terra Australis.” His alchemical synthesis, juggling intuition and practice has resulted in a world class gin. “The first two gins we made got second in the world and third in the world, Lady Suzzane and Navy Strength.”

“Everything we do is to maximize the extraction of goodness from the herb. That’s the most important thing.Herbal Lore is healing potions in action. Every one of them is a potion. People can drink it to get drunk, I don’t mind. If you’re drinking it for the reason I made it, you’re having 10ml-20ml but not consecutively - Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday type thing.”

 But Roger has a treat for the more committed drinkers too. “We make gin, because I like playing around.” Terra Australis Distillery is an ode to the Portugese discovery of this land, “they called it the great southern spiritual land - Terra Australis.” His alchemical synthesis, juggling intuition and practice has resulted in a world class gin. “The first two gins we made got second in the world and third in the world, Lady Suzzane and Navy Strength.”

 As Roger walks us back to the bar, his spirit lights up. “But the true reason for the distillery is natural medicine,” pouring a shot of ginseng liqueur, there’s a deep sense of dignity that comes with it, “People just don’t understand Herbal Liqueurs. The reason I pointed alchemy out to you is because I’ve been called an alchemist before. Which is probably very true, but it’s offensive to the three or four genuine alchemists that are left.”

 Edward Burne-Jones’ painting The Beguiling of Merlin springs to mind - an ode to the misunderstood Merlin, the wizard who summons the birth of King Arthur through magic and enchantment. “There are cornerstones of the alchemical science, one of them is astrology, one is the jewish kabbalah and one is geometry; triangles, circles. So a student of alchemical practices is a loving way of respecting my seniors.”

Roger McLean

Herbal Lore Distillery

Lot 2 Railway Cres, Daylesford

(03) 5348 1920

STORY BY MAHMOOD FAZAL, PHOTOS BY @inkdfotogrfa.daylesford

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