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International Women’s Day - celebrating women of Australian distilling

Distilling is an industry that’s dear to our hearts, but one that’s also historically male-dominated. With that in mind, it’s so impressive to see more women not only gaining footholds in the industry but seriously bossing it too.

So to celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re sharing the insights of four of these inspiring women making world-class gin, rum, whisky and vodka right here in Australia.

Ally Ayres, owner-distiller at Karu Distillery, Alarna Doherty, owner-distiller at Tara Distillery, Carla Daunton, head distiller at Young Henrys and Lisa Truscott, distiller at Archie Rose Distilling all spoke at our International Women’s Day lunch at the beautiful Bloodwood restaurant in Sydney.

L-R: Alarna Doherty, Ally Ayres, Lisa Truscott and Carla Daunton

Their messages highlighted the power of unity, the importance of equality, and how these things can lift the bar on Australian craft spirits and the world at large.

Ally Ayres - Karu Distillery, Grose Hill, NSW

Q: What’s been the biggest highlight of your career in distilling so far?

It's really difficult to highlight just one thing as the biggest and it comes in stages of my career so far.

The first BIG highlight for me was discovering the combination that is now our Affinity Gin, that was the base of everything I had learnt so far and the "stop starting and start finishing" moment.

Another to date is falling in love with rum which was a spirit I never thought I'd even like, now it's the spirit I spend 85% of my time with.

Q: How are you challenging the distilling industry?

Being a woman in any industry has its challenges and trials; a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. I don't particularly like to take an aggressive approach and I don't believe that is the way to create a lasting impact, so I choose to patiently play the long game.

Normalising women working in the industry is important. I was told: "charring barrels is a man's job" so I got a photo of me charring a barrel and posted it.

I was told I would "never be more than the brand ambassador" and here I am behind the scenes getting it done and have 35+ awards across the world. (That is hard to say but feels nice).

The women in this industry are such strong and brave individuals that I am so proud of and celebrate their achievements and share our stories with others.

It feels nice to embrace and be embraced, and that is worth sharing around because this industry is VERY hard work.

Q: What do you think the impact of having more women in distilling is having on the industry?

Women and men detect different profiles of flavour which is something I find really interesting and we have put this to the test many times at Karu Distillery.

Since the industry is having a rise in female distillers we are seeing a lot of different flavours coming through from what you'd typically expect, it's exciting to see where this will eventually lead.

Alarna Doherty - Tara Distillery, Nowra Hill, NSW

Q: How are you challenging the distilling industry and yourself?

I feel that being a woman that not only founded a distillery but also manages a distillery challenges a lot of what people perceive how the industry has been run until now. More and more there are incredible women taking the lead in the industry, but it is still seen predominantly as a bit of a boys’ club (particularly in the whisky scene).

I’m challenging the flavour profiles here. I was determined to have a gin botanical from each culture that Tara Distillery represented (Australian, Irish, Newfoundland) and I was able to bring that all together successfully in my small craft distillery right here in Australia.

To have a favourite botanical from each of our heritages really connects us. Tara gin is the perfect expression of place, tradition and heritage.

I think I’m also challenging the perception of what women’s and men’s drinks are. I myself drink both gin and whisky, and I think whisky is still seen as a predominantly male drink.

In terms of ‘collecting’, I’m starting to see more female collectors and investors (including myself) and I think traditionally this has also been more of a male activity and investment strategy.

Q: What innovations are you driving in the distillery or from a more general industry perspective?

I am very excited about continuing to forge links between the exciting things happening in both the Irish and Australian distilling industries, and to create fabulous spirits that reflect this.

In Australia, most distilleries employ traditional Scottish, English or American production techniques. Drawing from my Australian-Irish cultural background, I was really interested in crafting spirits that looked to Irish production methods, so I talked to and visited as many Irish distillers as I could and I’m really excited about bringing those Irish techniques to mainland Australia.

Innovation is always important and welcome, but I am also very conscious of maintaining a strong connection through to the traditional practices that have gone into crafting our approach to each spirit over sometimes hundreds of years.

Carla Daunton - Young Henrys, Newtown, NSW

Q: What’s been the biggest highlight of your career in distilling so far?

Becoming head distiller at Young Henrys and our Noble Cut winning gold at the San Fran spirit awards last year.

I started as a brewer three years ago so my growth in the company was rapid and very much encouraged. The new challenges of a massive increase in production, and innovating and managing the department is thrilling.

Q: How are you challenging the distilling industry and yourself?

In regards to the industry, simply existing as the head distiller of the second largest independent brewery in Australia can be seen as challenging the norms within it; especially as the classic image of YH is tattoos and beards.

Despite both brewing and distilling being predominantly male spaces, Young Henrys has always had a strong female influence in the brew team that I was proud to be a part of from the moment I stepped onto the brew floor (and onto the kegging line).

As for myself, I'm always striving for better and am always hungry to learn and experiment. I'm excited to develop in this role and to continue to lift the distilling of Young Henrys with it.

Q: What do you think the impact of having more women in distilling is having on the industry?

Firstly it's unlocking more talent that might not have felt like this was a viable option previously. We're showing those who might have previously struggled to see representation in this field that this is something that is possible as a career.

We're also carving space for ourselves in an industry that is still very much male dominated. In doing so, we’re forcing the uncomfortable conversations around inclusivity, bias that's both inherent and overt, and challenging preconceived notions of what a distiller is and what they look like.

Ideally these questions will be rendered obsolete as gender parity becomes the norm. Until then, we're just gonna kick on kicking ass.

Lisa Truscott - Archie Rose Distilling Co, Rosebury, NSW

Q: What’s been the biggest highlight of your career in distilling so far?

It is incredibly hard to pick just one! I've been very fortunate to work all over the world and that has allowed me to expand my experiences.

If I had to pick, it would be in 2017, winning the Best Visitor Attraction in Edinburgh, the Lothians & Borders.

Unfortunately, I had left Scotland the week before the award ceremony. I went back a few years later to hold the trophy. A really proud moment for me.

Q: How are you challenging the distilling industry and/or yourself?

2020 was probably my most challenging year professionally. We commissioned the largest whisky and gin distillery in the Southern Hemisphere. And without any technical advisers onsite to assist.

We commissioned the distillery with countless phone calls, emails and a VR headset. It has really allowed me to expand in a foreign skillset and build my knowledge to incorporate large scale production.

Commissioning a distillery is a rare thing within a distiller’s career, definitely challenging and yet, very rewarding. I'm very excited how the spirit I produce today will impact the industry in five to 10 years time.

Q: What do you think the impact of having more women in distilling is having on the industry?

Women have been the primary producers of whisky since whisky was discovered. The act of distilling and the design of the alembic still were both through female scientists.

It has only been since the Industrial Revolution to the turn of the 1900s that men have taken more of a share in the industry. Distilling was always seen as women work since it was repetitive, followed a recipe and done in the household.

So more women entering distilling is just bringing distillation back to its roots.


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