Dream of starting a boutique distillery? Australia’s pioneer shares his tips for success.
Phillip Moore didn’t set out to be a distiller.
He didn’t plan on creating the first Australian-made gin and he definitely didn’t anticipate winning a gold medal at London’s international wine and spirit competition which, in his words, is “the Olympic games of gin competitions”.
But when life hands you botanicals, sometimes you have no choice but to craft spirits. That’s essentially what influenced Mr Moore to start Distillery Botanica in 2006.
“I had a wholesale herb nursery for about 20 years prior to the distillery,” he says. “I’d written a book all about herbs and their flavours and how they all combine together.”
Slowly but surely, Mr Moore began to realise that he could do more with his botanical knowledge.
“Going into gin and liqueurs became a fairly obvious move,” he says. “I had a vast knowledge of herbs. I’d spent a lot of time considering flavours and really developing my palette. I was also a very keen collector of spirits and wines. I’ve put a huge amount of effort into our Moore’s Gin. I put in years of work and hundreds of trials just to get to that.
So he bought a small still and taught himself the art of spirit and liqueur distillation, building up his skills enough to start bottling and selling his botanic creations. Now, 15 years later, Distillery Botanica has grown into a large operation on the NSW Central Coast. The cellar door and distillery boasts lush gardens, a tasting room and even a gelato bar and cafe.
There’s also a core range of seven products – vodka, raspberry, lemon myrtle and cold brew coffee liqueurs, and three gins including the flagship Moore’s Dry Gin, which won the gold medal in London.
“I’ve put a huge amount of effort into our Moore’s Gin,” he says. “I put in years of work and hundreds of trials just to get to that.”
Obviously, it’s a lot to manage. To support his day-to-day operations, Mr Moore relies on the help of his 14-person team as well as MYOB online accounting software.
“It’s a very easy system to use,” he says. “You get the profit and loss, you get the balance sheet, you get the sales information, you get the receivables which enables you to do debt control. But I really value the reports because it allows us to make wise decisions on whether we spend money or not.”
Whether it’s a question of buying new equipment, using more premium products or hiring new staff, Mr Moore and his team rely on MYOB to tell them what’s within parameters.
“Prior to having that sort of sophistication, it was like, ‘Let’s take a gamble and see if that pays off.’ Now you don’t have to gamble because you can see exactly what you can afford to do.”
That’s particularly helpful for Mr Moore given his ethos that good gin should be crafted without sacrifice. That means using the very best quality ingredients and not skimping on price.
“We don’t want to save money on a product if it’s going to make the product inferior,” he says. “It’s short-sighted to do that because people will only buy one bottle. We plan to have everybody who buys our drinks say, ‘That’s so nice, we want another.’”
Price isn’t the only thing that factors into crafting the perfect gin. Provenance also plays a big role. Most of Distillery Botanica’s products are made with local ingredients and many of them are even grown right on the distillery property.
“In our Roots and Leaves Dry Gin, eight out of the nine plants (which include kaffir lime, lemon verbena, mandarin and curry) come out of our garden,” Mr Moore says. For his liqueurs, he also uses lemon myrtle from trees grown on the property as well as coffee beans roasted on-site. The day I use anything artificial is the day I put the business on sale,” he says. “I like to drink all my stuff and I don’t want any chemicals in my booze. They’re developed around the Japanese concept of kaizen, meaning many small improvements over a long period of time.
On any given day at the distillery, you can find Mr Moore doing research and development – not just to craft new products, but to make his existing ones better.
“I like to have very few products, but they are very high quality,” he says. “They’re developed around the Japanese concept of kaizen, meaning many small improvements over a long period of time.”
Those small improvements do not just apply to the products. The Distillery Botanica property is also undergoing some changes.
“In about a month or so, we’ll have a brand new visitors’ centre that will have our largest still in it,” Mr Moore says. “People will be able to come to do tastings and stand almost directly beside the still as we’re distilling juniper or coriander or whatever we’re doing.”
There are also DIY gin classes in the works which will see patrons going into the property gardens, mixing and matching a few herbs of their choosing, and using them to distil their very own take-home spirits.
“About an hour-and-a-half later, you’ll have a bottle of gin,” Mr Moore says.
If you’re planning a visit to Distillery Botanica, you can visit for a meal, tour or tasting Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm.