Local Spirit at heart of Manly Distillery

Local Spirit at Heart of Manly Distillery | The Cultivator Spring 2018

Sourced locally and capturing the unique essence of Australian botanicals, the gins, vodkas and whiskies made at the Manly Spirits Co Distillery rival the best in the world.

Taking inspiration from the marine environment of the NSW coastline that surrounds their distillery on Sydney’s northern beaches, Manly Spirits uses a world-class grain-neutral spirit produced locally — by Australian agribusiness Manildra Group — to create artisan spirits with a distinctive Australian flavour.

Founders David Whittaker and Vanessa Wilton first discussed the possibility of owning their own craft distillery while driving through the hills of Tasmania in late 2015.

In a “light bulb moment”, the pair realised their complementary skills of “creativity and practicality” would be ideal for such a business opportunity — Mr Whittaker being a chemical engineer and Ms Wilton a designer by trade.

After intensive research exploring distilleries in the United States and Europe, including Scotland, the pair committed to their plan and sought hands-on training from a leading distillery in Tasmania.

“With our skillset, we knew we could work well together to make great booze with great branding and packaging,” said Mr Whittaker.

“We realised the craft spirits industry was following a similar path to the beer industry, with consumer demand growing a spirit renaissance. This was an opportune time to enter the craft spirits business together… plus it’s not hard to love gin and whisky.”

Eighteen months later, their dreams had come true. With the launch of Manly Spirits in April 2017, the couple “risked everything”, Mr Whittaker said.

“Starting Manly Spirits was like playing poker – we were all-in.”

Their premium Australian spirits are created through an in-depth understanding of the intricate distilling processes, native and traditional gin botanicals, chemistry, equipment and timing.

A trademark of the Manly Spirits team is experimentation with flavours, equipment and techniques to ensure they craft a distinctly Australian premium spirit. “Innovation is at our core,” said Mr Whittaker.

“All our products have a twist – we take traditional European spirits such as English gin, Scotch whiskey and Limoncello (Italian lemon liqueur) and we re-invent them. We take the best of their history and re-create them into Australian spirits, with flavours of beautiful floral and marine coastal botanicals.

“We recently bottled our first Limoncello in collaboration with Manly Green House, which is packed with native flavours of lemon myrtle and lemon aspen. Due to our climate, our Australian fauna and botanicals are slow-growing in nature, resulting in intense flavours and high oil content.

“Last year, we collaborated with renowned Public House Group Head Bartender Kurtis Bosley and our Head Distiller, Tim Stones, to create a distinctive Australian gin, Coastal Citrus Gin. Manly Spirits has also collaborated with renowned Australian forager and chef Elijah Holland to sustainably source local marine botanicals for distillation in their spirits.

“Elijah’s knowledge is integral to the brand as he knew what botanicals worked with food flavours. Elijah gave me tubs of all these weird and wonderful seaweeds, coastal and marine botanicals and locally foraged plants, and with Manildra Group’s grain-neutral spirit, I played with flavours to establish a botanical library.”

Manildra Group Head of Ethanol Debra Forster paid tribute to Manly Spirits’ creative flair.

“It’s terrific to support and work with like-minded, Australian-owned businesses such as Manly Spirits,” said Mrs Forster. “David and Vanessa’s approach is Australia first, then take on the world – which is right at the heart of Manildra Group’s philosophy, too.”

Manly Spirits’ commitment to quality and craftsmanship has already been recognised by peers. The craft distillery’s Australian Dry Gin earned double gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2018; their Terra Firma Botanical Vodka a gold at the London International Wine and Spirits Competition 2018; and their Malt Spirit best in category at the Australian Spirits Awards 2018.

Mr Whittaker said the awards validated customer feedback, which has become a key component of Manly Spirits’ business model, through their expansion into tours of the craft distillery and in-depth tasting experiences.

“Interacting with customers is integral to our business,” Mr Whittaker said.

“We’ve built a beautiful cocktail bar and placed substantial emphasis on customer experiences and education of our products.

“We have tastings and tours weekly and take pride in educating consumers on our story – how we craft what’s in their glass, where their alcohol is sourced – and part of that story is the pure grain-neutral spirit made locally by Manildra Group from Australia’s finest wheat.

“We make Australian spirits, so we want locally produced and sourced Australian product. Manildra Group’s grain-neutral spirit has a soft and lovely mouth feel, with a perfect neutral base for craft distilling.”

With Manly Spirits’ range stocked in Dan Murphy’s nationally, the craft distillery’s current focus is expanding their Australian distribution network, including national food and wine festivals.

“We’re also looking at attractive export markets. So far, we’ve exported our products to China, Austria, Japan and Slovakia,” said Mr Whittaker.

The truly neutral-tasting and odourless grain-neutral spirit mastered by Manildra Group is produced at the world-class Shoalhaven Starches distillery in Nowra on the NSW South Coast.

Local Spirit at Heart of Manly Distillery