During the last two years researching and writing The Guide to Australian Gin (due out in October), I have met many interesting and friendly distillers and their teams. Many have revealed to me the whys and wherefores behind launching their enterprise.
It turns out that they generally fall into a limited number of categories. Here are three of the more common:
- Former corporate employees with savings and possibly a severance package to invest and maybe the kids have grown up and flown the coop.
- Current and ex-winemakers, wanting a new and hopefully more lucrative business, because everyone knows it’s hard to make a buck out of grapes these days.
- Former liquor industry employees who trust themselves to be happier, and maybe even richer, doing it themselves rather than making money for multinational companies.
Have you heard the one about how to end up with $1 million from a winery? Start with $2 million. Well the same applies to a distillery. Those shiny stills and all the other kit is very expensive.
I didn’t mention one special group: The Hipster Distiller. The reasons for this bunch of mad buggers to start a distillery is rather different from the average “pot still polisher”. Actually, more like same same, but different.
Like all of the new distillers, they have to give birth to the idea, draw up the plan, study and practise, buy the still, apply for a licence, create a brand, design labels, make their gin, find someone who will buy it and then pay the excise to the tax man every week, on time, or they get shutdown. So why are the Hipster Distillers different?
Picture this: You like a drink or two. Actually, you do a lot of drinking. Not bingeing, just regular-like. Maybe two or three times a week – excluding trivia nights. Not at home much – it’s too small. Right now, it’s late and you are sitting in the bar with friends and colleagues after work. In fact, you might be sitting in your workplace because the bar is your work.
There aren’t many punters left, just a few nerds, hippies, academics, a couple of Karens and an eshay eyeing off the tips jar. You and your hipster mates are chewing the fat and solving the problems of the world. You all know and love your spirits, you chat about trends, what you’ve tried and what you want to try. Your tastebuds are sharply honed through regularly sipping the best, as well as the worst.
One of your mates has some extra space on their debit card. They want to shout a nip of the newest nectar and wave their card casually in the direction of the EFTPOS machine hoping it will be approved. It is. You taste, nod, smile, exclaim its virtues and failings and then you look longingly into the glass. In a relaxed, wistful and dreamy state you realise that you have had enough of the unpaid overtime, the crazy busy work and the late nights of the hospitality industry – maybe all three.
A few months ago, in a moment of weakness, you shared your dream of one day “going craft”. But definitely not craft beer. Not now! Let’s face it, everyone at the table has a craft brewer living next door to them. They used to be called Hipster Brewers, but that boat has well and truly sailed so now they are just brewers.
You’re unmarried and thoughts of ankle biters are far off, even non-existent. You hardly ever see your better half, even if you have one, still. You were programmed by mum and dad to save money and you have a modest stash. There is no reason why you couldn’t become a craft distiller. Now doesn’t that sound great: an Australian craft distiller. Wow.
This night, one of your more serious mates, Sam, turns and says, “Hey Mac, were you serious about that distillery thing?”.
You laugh nervously “why?”.
“Let’s do it.”
You reply “You’re mad.”
You all laugh.
The scene repeats itself in various permutations, until one day between the desperation of needing a new job, the romance of artisanship, the booze and the potential love interests it could attract – or retain – you and Sam decide to jump into the deep end of a pool full of craft spirit.
So, like all the new distillers, you draw up the plan, study and practise, buy the still, apply for a licence, create a brand, design labels, make the gin, find someone who will buy it and then pay the excise to the tax man every week, on time, or you get shutdown. Now you have no money left, but you have a lovely shiny still.
You no longer have time to drink with your mates, but you pour more drinks than you even have. You also wonder how long will it take before you hate the unpaid overtime, the crazy busy work and the late nights of the distillery industry – maybe all three. But for the time being you absolutely love it.
So ends this tale. It is not one of sympathy or sarcasm. These brave entrepreneurs and their endeavours are to be highly respected. Not all gins are going to be to your taste, but that should never detract from what they are achieving.
So, visit our website, look at the distillery finder, put in your address and look for your local Inner-City Hipster Distillery. Text some friends and invite them to join you. Visit these poor, but happy, people. Get to know them and try their craft spirits.
Ask them all your questions and please don’t leave without buying a bottle of their finest.