Ian Henderson, founder, LíráH


Have you ever considered the behind-the-scenes chemistry of a bottle of vinegar? In the case of LíráH, much of that chemistry is Ian Henderson’s love and passion. LíráH operates from a state-of-the-art, purpose-built vinegar-making ‘winery’ on a 70-acre farm at Ballandean in the Southern Downs region. Starting in 2005 with four barrels and a 40-year-old starter culture of vinegar bacteria from his Italian father-in-law, Ian and his wife Robyn had a vision to preserve many traditional techniques and practices, including the use of old oak barrels for ageing a large range of LíráH’s vinegars. ‘The Mother’, as the culture derived from the original family vinegar barrels in known, is the source of all the red wine vinegars that LíráH makes and connects LíráH vinegars to the famous Italian culture of wine, food and friends. The Weekend Edition touched base with Ian this week to discover more about making vinegar, using vinegar and the products to be showcased when Southern Queensland Country comes to Eat Street Markets on April 17–18.

You were trained in Europe in the art of vinegar making thanks to a prestigious Churchill Fellowship, but tell us about your previous role in the wine industry?
I worked for eight vintages as an assistant winemaker, graduating to winemaker and eventually export manager for a family winery on the Granite Belt in Queensland. I have an Associate Degree in Winegrowing from Charles Sturt University where I graduated with distinction in 2002.

What inspired you to move from wine making to vinegar making?
I had drifted away from hands-on winemaking and saw an opportunity to use my cellar skills and business acumen in a new field. Initially I made vinegar because I could, but after a vinegar tasting one day with one of my mentors I started making vinegar because I wanted to, because I loved it!

What do you love most about the vinegar-making process?
Good wine makes good vinegar. I know that’s simple but its true. When other winemakers offer us wine to buy that’s not good enough to sell as wine they tell me it will make great vinegar.  I simply ask if they expect great wine from inferior grapes, the answer is of course no, so I reply why would I use inferior wine? Plus, I get to talk food all day to amateur cooks and professional chefs. I love being able to travel around the country and eat amazing meals prepared by some seriously talented chefs, and this is even more special when I get to eat at establishments that use my vinegar – it’s very satisfying and humbling.

What vinegars will LíráH be presenting at Eat Street Markets on April 17–18?
I always take my favourites, sweet chardonnay and sweet apple vinegars. They are five years aged, sweet, luscious and drinkable on their own. We will also have all our caramelised balsamics there of course, but these are my first vinegar loves.

How do you use vinegar to enhance the food experience?
Vinegar is like salt, it’s a condiment, you don’t use it to flavour food, you use it to change flavours in food. Just a dash will acidify the food and release new flavours that weren’t there before. Dishes that are too sweet or too oily need a splash of acid to balance them.

What favourite dish best demonstrates this experience?
A few drops of great vinegar to fresh, lightly steamed beans. They taste nice, until you bring in the vinegar and then you can smell beans and they taste so fresh and alive.

What is your favourite morning/dusk ritual?
Earl Grey tea when I get to my desk first thing in the morning. On those rare days we get off, a glass of bubbly watching the sunset form our deck overlooking the vineyard.

What innovation in the food industry has caught your eye recently?
It’s so simple but I am still amazed at fresh bagged salads. So fragile with such a short shelf life and they last for so long. And there are no preservatives in there, its just quick processing, careful handling and absolute attention to detail in packaging. Its real food, preservative free, that’s super convenient.


Sign up for our weekly enews & receive more articles like this: