Every country has its folklore and its share of what might be called ‘colourful characters’.

Some are famous; some infamous; some have shone brightly in history; and others faded all too briefly.

Mel Jurd certainly made his mark on life – although information about this Australian entrepreneur isn’t easy to find.

In fact, we had to visit the historic eastern-Australian village of Wollombi to track down the details.

Wollombi is an attractive little place on the fringe of Australia’s Hunter Wine Region.  

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We set off from the coastal city of Newcastle and travelled via the villages of Bulga and Broke, driving through vineyards and stunning rural countryside into the Wollombi Valley.

Situated on a crossroad, Wollombi’s boasts a series of grand 19th Century sandstpone buildings that reflect its history along the Great North Road, a convict-built link between Sydney and the Upper Hunter.

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Early 19th Century sandstone building, Wollombi, Australia.

However we had come to visit a more humble structure – the Wollombi Tavern.

And it wasn’t for the beer, as fine a drop as that may be.

We were interested in the story of Mel Jurd, who apparently operated the tavern when it was called the Wollombi Wine Saloon and later the Wollombi Wine Bar.

Mel is somewhat of a legend in the area and locals explained that, in the 1960’s, he came up with the idea of creating a distinctly local brew that could only be purchased at Wollombi.

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Image courtesy of Wollombi Tavern website

Folklore has it that Mel took to collecting the leftover wine from each day at the wine bar and learning all he could about various brewing techniques.

A mate had mentioned a wartime ‘cure-all’ used by soldiers to ward off illnesses – something like a double-nip of port wine, mixed with a nip of brandy. 

When this was added to muscat or sherry dregs from bottles left on the bar and occasionally mixed with blackberry and goodness knows what else, it became the basis for a new brew.

Mel eventually called the finished product ‘Dr Jurd’s Jungle Juice’ – and, to this day, the brew can be purchased only at the Wollombi Tavern or ordered on its website.

The product has remained the trademark of the establishment ever since.

How does it taste? Such judgements are personal ideed – so why not order a bottle online or add Wollombi to your bucket list to see for yourself.

Mel Jurd eventually exchanged the title of ‘Dr’ for ‘Friar’ and moved to operate a local restaurant – before heading for a warmer climate in his retirement.

He left behind  both his jungle juice and a great story about a truly colourful character.

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