First, we had the craft beer revolution when entrepreneurial beer buffs and home brewers became connoisseurs, turning hobbies into thriving business and taking on the large breweries. Now, the spirit sector is bringing craft distilling front and centre as small, independent enterprises create innovative new twists on old favourites.
Today the resurgence of craft distilleries around the world is providing consumers with a variety of choices, styles, and flavours. Here we look at five exciting craft distilleries from the southern hemisphere to learn their stories, gain insight into their operations and discover what it takes to become a successful craft distillery.
Mr Black Roasters & Distillers on the Central Coast of New South Wales is the creative heartland of Mr Black, an award-winning cold brew coffee liqueur. Founded in 2013 by premier herb grower turned self-taught distiller Philip Moore – and designer turned self-confessed coffee-snob Tom Baker. Moore and Baker considered delicious coffee and fine craft spirits to be great on their own, and perfect companions when paired. The two also believed that coffee should be served into the night and from this belief Mr Black arose.
The magic happens on site in Erina, where Arabica coffee beans sourced from premium coffee producers are roasted and brewed before being blended with Australian wheat vodka and cane sugar. The resulting cold brew liqueur is then bottled by hand.
Mr Black launched in the US in 2017 and has gone on to become the biggest selling Australian spirit in the US market. The craft distillery has taken out gold medals in both London’s International Wine & Spirits Competition and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Their success hasn’t come without its challenges, however: with the craft distillery’s increasing volume came logistics issues.
To keep on top of this the distillery decided to invest in Unleashed software with its ability to handle manufactured items, its bill of materials functionality, and its ease of tracking inventory down to batch and unit measures. Unleashed also integrated with their accounting system and they felt had the flexibility to grow with their craft distillery’s operations.
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West Winds Gin
Founded in 2010, the spiritual home of West Winds Gin is in the Margaret River region of Western Australia. The vision for the craft distillery was to develop a range of gins that highlighted unique Australian native botanicals in a locality with a reputation for producing high quality food and wines. The vision took a full calendar year and some 45 distillations before officially launching on to the market with their first two gins, the Sabre, and the Cutlass.
West Winds sources ingredients directly from local growers to ensure the use of environmentally sustainable produce where possible. The distillery creates innovative craft spirits using native ingredients such as lemon myrtle, strawberry gum leaves, banksia honey and native bush tomatoes. Notably West Winds Gin is Australia’s most awarded Gin Distillery, and the first Australian spirit from any category to win a double Gold at the world’s most acknowledged spirit competition in San Francisco.
With the business being spread across Australia the company struggled with tracking, tracing, and the movement of all their raw ingredients and finished products. Having a distillery at Margaret River, the head office in Western Australia and a sales team in New South Wales, not to mention a canning facility in Melbourne meant that inventory challenges across these locations made it difficult to manage costs and to forward plan.
To overcome these challenges the company turned to Xero accounting services and Unleashed distillery inventory management, two cloud-based solutions that integrate seamlessly with each other. Implementing the software provided the craft distillery with a holistic view of all its operations and with access for multiple people, in real time at any time, from any location the craft distillery was able to better understand costs and improve cashflow management.
Distillery Inventory Management Software to Lift Your Spirits
Penni Ave Vodka Distillery
The Penni Ave Distillery is located on the southern end of the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Australia. In operation since 2020, Penni Ave craft distillery uses sustainably sourced native botanicals and, in a copper still named Walter, transforms fermented local grain into wonderfully smooth vodka that is uniquely Australian. Their Wattle seed and Burnt honey vodka recently won gold at the Australian Distilled Spirit awards.
Head distiller Genevieve Sullivan-Tailyour attributes Penni Ave’s success so far to a genuine passion for what they’d planned to achieve. “And we made sure to have as much fun as possible creating it. Which meant lots of day trips to other distilleries, talking to as many people as possible. But making sure to stick to what you intuitively enjoy and being careful not to follow anyone else”. Many people were confused on why they’d chosen to make vodka when the more popular gin was undergoing a renaissance. “But I love vodka, and we are one of very few dedicated vodka distilleries in Australia”.
A relatively young business, the distillery is currently focussed on the local market and getting their products into major Australian cities. “I am always amazed at how quickly things have moved since we started. Being lucky enough to have quite a busy venue has generated revenue to upgrade production processes and undertake renovations. We added a second floor to our bar to increase seating capacity. And wholesale has also grown, with the addition of a new range of canned vodka and sodas which will be available in Melbourne bottles shops soon. We would love to move into the overseas market one day. We are working on it”.
Genevieve acknowledges that there are always challenges. For her it was largely the difficulty of working part time and running a business with two young children. However, the craft distillery business has allowed her husband to resign from his job to help out running the house and shuttling kids around. “He was working long hours and missing a lot before, so he is really appreciative that our business has helped him take a much-needed break to be with the family.”
To be as sustainable as possible the distillery and venue runs on solar and they use only native ingredients, “nothing imported or introduced that can be damaging.” Genevieve’s advice for anyone else looking to get into the craft distilling industry is to start small and simple. “Start within your means so there are no really significant financial burdens that might hamper the experience. If it’s your dream job, then you should be able to enjoy every second of the journey, and let things grow organically. It’s one hell of a rollercoaster, but so much fun.”
Puhoi Organic Distillery
Located just 50kms north of Auckland, Puhoi Organic Distillery is the first and the only bespoke organic distillery in New Zealand. The Puhoi Organic Distillery is the passion project of a Ukrainian engineer and his wife, Doctor Iryna Kirichuk, who specialises in working with natural ‘adaptogens’. For those unfamiliar with the term, adaptogens are herbal pharmaceuticals that work to counteract the effects of stress in the body and on the immune system.
These organically grown herbs, premium organic alcohol and pristine water from their own deep bore next to the distillery are at the heart of the distillery’s unique recipes. They create a range of handcrafted whiskies, gins and vodkas in strictly limited quantities, making Puhoi Organic Distillery one of the world’s smallest commercial distilleries.
Although the distillery is operated by only a team of three family members, the trio produce an amazing range of products, which they ship direct around the world. The family’s array of bespoke exotic beverages has won them numerous prestigious awards within the craft distilling industry. These accolades, however, come on the back on of a challenging 11 years of non-commercial R&D before the Puhoi Organic Distillery first opened in 2015.
The distillery is also very environmentally conscious. They use custom-made equipment and gravity-flow techniques to move liquids around without pumps and the operation is 100 percent solar powered, helping to make it the only distillery in New Zealand that produces no emissions.
The Cardrona Distillery is a family owned and operated business located in the Cardrona Valley between Queenstown and Wanaka in New Zealand. Cardrona Distillery prides itself on combining traditional methods of spirit production with Kiwi ingenuity, and a willingness to experiment.
The worlds southernmost distillery, with a team of largely female quality craft distillers, the Cardrona Distillery evolved from Desiree Reid’s dream of making a New Zealand single malt whiskey to rival the best on the international stage. Her attraction to single malts started back in the late 90s while on a break from university. A fascination with a collection of single malts, sitting on the back bar of the Ladbroke Arms where she worked in Notting Hill, and a subsequent visit to Edradour Distillery in Scotland helped sow the seed.
However it wasn’t until 2011 that Desiree began her two-year journey researching whiskey distillation, travelling widely, and learning from many of the world’s master distillers. On her return to New Zealand in 2013 she sold her dairy farm, and after six months searching eventually found her distillery site at Cardrona. It took another 12 months gaining consent to build until eventually the first cask of whiskey was laid in 2015.
The craft distillery continues to employ traditional methods of spirit distilling using malted barley and two hand-beaten Forsyth copper stills brought in from Scotland to create handcrafted, premium single malt whisky. The whiskey is left to mature in its barrels with only small batch releases throughout the years.
While the whiskey is left to age, the craft distillery also produces a range of gin, vodka, and liqueurs using pure alpine water and locally foraged seasonal ingredients. Seasonal, small-batch releases of Rose Rabbit Elderflower liqueur are delivered every year, made using local elderflower handpicked by the distillery team.
Sustainable practices are at the core of everything the distillery does, starting with the use of natural earth-wool insulation in a building architecturally designed to recycle distillery heat to warm the visitor spaces. To further reduce its carbon footprint, spent grain from the distillery is fed to the neighbouring sheep, deer, and cattle on Cardrona Valley Farm Station. Glass packaging, paper wrapping, and wooden presentation boxes are used, and all are easily recycled, reused, or repurposed.