It's an exciting time to be a distiller in Australia. The emerging craft spirits scene means there are now more than 90 registered craft distilleries across Australia.
Four Pillars co-founder and distiller Cameron Mackenzie noted in The Independent last month: “Australia produces some cracking wines, and for a long time we were seen as a beer-swilling nation. That’s one of the hardest battles for us – getting people to realise that incredible spirits are being made right here in Australia.
“And these are producers that have been awarded medals at some of the most prestigious spirit competitions around the world. Our Australian spirits are up there with the best of them in terms of quality and taste, and now we’re taking them to the world.”
Many of the labels also have talented female distillers at the helm. Here are five of the best.
Genise Hollingworth, Black Gate Distillery
Husband and wife team Brian and Genise Hollingworth opened the Black Gate Distillery to the public in 2012, Based in the Central West of NSW, Brian acts as whisky distiller, while Genise distills the rum.
Last year, Genise was selected to speak at the prestigious 'Tales of the Cocktail' conference in New Orleans. She discussed with a global audience of bartenders and liquor industry professionals what makes Australian spirits so unique – everything from production methods to the native ingredients used, the sustainable practices and the characters behind the brands.
"I am a mother of three girls, I live in a small rural town with a population of 400 people," Genise notes. "In 2009 my husband Brian and I decided to make a big change and build a distillery. While still working full time, we had the shed built and then proceeded to do all the internal fit out ourselves. I went from being an administrator in a school to learning how to install a mezzanine floor, tech screw, install insulation and fibro and to plaster walls and ceilings.
"Living in such a rural town, sales weren't the best when we first opened so we decided to take our product to the people, so every weekend we became "Gypsy Marketeers" traveling to different markets around the district. This worked well for a while and then we met Kathleen Davies from Nip of Courage. Since then sales have picked up and so has production.
"I have always helped Brian in the distillery and in particular the brewing, but recently, with him concentrating on making our very popular single malt whisky, I have taken over the reins of the rum production. I am still only relatively new at it but I'm slowly becoming more confident. With more and more people world wide realising how good Australian spirits are, the potential for growth and expansion is phenomenal. This is an exciting time for the emerging Australian craft spirit industry and I am chuffed to be a part of it."
Black Gate also made its debut last month as one of the ingredients in The Aussie Tipple Company's range of pre-mixed, bottled cocktails. The Rum Old Fashioned is a mix of Genise's Black Gate Single Barrel Rum, Mister Bitters and Commissary Syrup.
Sarah Lark, Kangaroo Island Spirits
Sarah and Jon Lark's honeymoon on Kangaroo Island wasn't just the setting for a romantic holiday, it also inspired the couple to establish a gin distillery in the coastal community of Cygnet River.
Kangaroo Island Spirits specialises in handcrafted premium Australian spirits, including award-winning gin, vodka and liqueurs. Sarah's ‘Old Tom’ traditional gin, flavoured with native plants, took out the Champion’s Trophy in the 2016 Australian Distilled Spirits Awards.
Distilling runs in the Lark family - Jon's brother Bill founded renowned Tasmanian whisky distillery Lark - and Sarah's grandmother is a die-hard gin fan.
"It started early on drinking gin and tonics with my Granny, and then on our wedding day my husband was having a drink of Dutch courage with Granny and we then had the idea that we could actually produce it ourselves," Sarah told ABC News of the couple's decision to become distillers. "Jon had a degree in aquaculture, so he had the knowledge with plumbing, water quality and chemistry that would all come in handy in starting a distillery."
Kristy Booth, Killara Distillery
When Kristy Booth (pictured above) became Lark's head distiller, she was one of the world’s youngest female distillers.
Now the daughter of the “godfather” of Australian whisky, Bill Lark, has started production at her own Hobart distillery - Killara - becoming the country’s first female owner-distiller.
Booth admitted to The Hobart Mercury that there was “a certain amount of pressure” given her pedigree, but she's been careful to take things slowly.
“I’m not out there to take over the world. I’m just focused on quality,” Booth says. “My whisky will be a Speyside-type style: unpeated, smooth, quite rich – the port and sherry will add a touch of sweetness.”
“I know I can do it. The whisky I produced for Lark won awards. And sure, they are big shoes to fill, but I’m stepping into them.”
While Booth waits for her whiskey to mature in the barrels, she's distilling a gin and selling her new-make barley spirit to independent bottlers to age.
Her gin, Apothecary Gin, includes individually distilled botanicals such as juniper, coriander and lemon.
Holly Klintworth, Bass & Flinders Distillery
When Bass & Flinders Distillery lost its co-founder Bob Laing last year, partner Wayne Klintworth decided to team up with daughter Holly Klintworth to keep the artisanal distillery running.
Holly has a long history in the drinks industry, including a stint as cellar door assistant manager at T'Gallant Winemakers and Lindeman's Global Brand Assistant at Treasury Wine Estates.
Overseeing sales, marketing and cellar door operations, Holly's broad business responsibilities cover distillation and product creation through to client relationship management and consumer-facing cellar door sales.
Mel Davies, Loch Brewery & Distillery
After spending six years planning, Craig Johnson and Mel Davies moved to a beautiful old bank building in Loch village, South Gippsland to fulfill their dream of handcrafting spirits and beer.
"I didn’t really follow a conventional education path and spent my early adulthood as a musician in an indie Melbourne band," Mel reveals. "I travelled for a while and eventually found my way into visual arts which became my professional road for some time. Craig and I discovered single malt whisky together, this along with inner city pub culture lead me into the craft beer and spirit movement."
After studying with master distiller Bill Lark in Tasmania, Craig and Melinda launched Loch Brewery and Distillery in 2013. Alongside brewing beer, the couple create gin using a base of junipers and adding a range of botanicals, including rose, lime and cumquat from their garden.
“Every day Melinda and I look at each other and think ‘what the hell have we done’ but then a few seconds later we think we can’t believe we’re actually doing this," Craig told The Weekly Times. “It’s been quite a seismic shift.”
When asked by The Annoyed Thyroid what is her proudest achievement, Mel says "Making headway in a male centric industry is certainly up there."