Q&A with Manly Spirits Co, producers of Australian gin and “North Fort” Australian whisky

David Whittaker, Manly Spirits Co Founder and Director

The Manly Spirits Co is one of Australia’s newest distilleries, having been established in April 2017.   

The Manly Spirits Co is located in Sydney, Australia. The distillery produces gin and botanical vodka, and it has plans to release “North Fort” Australian whisky in 2018.

In this post, David Whittaker, Co-Founder and Director at Manly Spirits Co, answers my questions about the distillery and its products.  

AC: Why did you choose to establish the Manly Spirits Co in April 2017?

DW: I have a long background in Chemical Engineering and spent 26 years working for domestic and international companies looking at design, construction and project management in petrochemical and oil industries.

A couple of years ago I realised a passion for engineering design and started looking at how spirit stills could be made more efficiently to deliver a super quality product. Then, it so happens that driving through the hills of Tasmania in late 2015, my wife and I came across a property for sale that featured a distillery. This discovery started us talking and 18 months along we have launched our debut range, and opened our new distillery, and tasting bar to visitors.

With a high proportion of spirits consumed in Australia imported from other countries, we believe there is a fantastic opportunity to showcase Australian craft spirits and we think that now is the right time to be part of this movement.

AC: Why did you choose to establish a distillery in Manly? 

DW: Vanessa (my wife, Co-Founder and Marketing Manager) and I are both Manly locals who live over the hill from the distillery. Vanessa has lived in Manly for most of her life, and we both love the local community support, the carefree beach life and urban sophistication that Manly is renowned for. Manly Spirits Co. is also Sydney’s Northern Beaches’ first artisan distillery and we know we can offer something different for locals and visitors to the northern side of Sydney Harbour.

AC: The possibility of owning your own distillery was discussed when you were, as you state, ‘[d]riving through the hills of Tasmania in late 2015’. What was it about your trip to Tasmania that got you to discuss owning a distillery?

DW: During our travels of Tasmania, we were travelling to The Mount Fidel National Park. We turned down a small road which ended at a home that was up for sale, and right beside this was The Redlands distillery. We felt that it was the right time for a career change for us both and this got us fantasying about the prospect. I have a long history of chemical engineering and process design, whereas Vanessa has a marketing, packaging and graphic design background. This industry is perfect for both of us.

AC: You say that your ‘range of Australian premium spirits are created using artisanal methods’. What artisanal methods do you use?

DW: An artisan and artisanal methods is defined as a person skilled in an applied art, a craftsman; and a person or company that makes a high-quality or distinctive product in small quantities, usually by hand or using traditional methods.

All the production that takes place at Manly Spirits Co. is carried out using traditional methods of whisky and gin production. Our Head Distiller, Tim Stones, and Founder, David Whittaker, work together to craft the highest quality product possible. From grain selection, preparing malts and weighing botanicals to skilfully switching between cuts on the stills, our process relies on the skill of our team. At Manly Spirits Co. we distil, bottle and label all expressions by hand before sending them out to be enjoyed.

AC: What makes your gin stand out in the market?

DW: Our award-winning Manly Spirits Australian Dry Gin is based on the traditional London Dry style, but with a contemporary Australian finish. Inspired by sunrise swims through the crystal-clear waters of Manly’s famed marine sanctuary, our gin is distilled using a combination of traditional gin botanicals, with Orange Peel, Sea Lettuce, Finger Lime, Anise Myrtle and Mountain Pepper leaf. These botanicals contribute to a bright, fresh citrus nose, balanced with gentle peppery notes on the palate to deliver a complex lingering and savoury finish.

Our gin and botanical vodkas are presented in custom designed gradient glass bottles with raised foil label features to create standout on the back bar and retail shelf.

Manly Spirits Australian Dry Gin Classic Martini. Image Alana Dimou

AC: What is the difference between your gin and your “botanical vodka”?

DW: Our gin and botanical vodkas are crafted using the same small-batch distillation method of adding the botanicals into the still for distillation. By definition, gin must be produced with the use of the botanical juniper, which our Manly Spirits Australia Dry Gin does. Our botanical vodkas do not contain juniper and use a limited number of sustainably sourced Australian native and forage marine botanicals.

AC: What local marine botanicals do you source and how are these used in your distillation?

DW: For Manly Spirits Australian Dry Gin we use sustainably foraged Sea Lettuce, and for Manly Spirits Marine Botanical Vodka we use sustainably foraged Sea Parsley and Beach-Cast Kelp.

These marine botanicals are then dried and loaded into the still with the other botanicals to be taken through the distillation process.

Manly Spirits Marine Botanical Vodka Botanicals. Image Alana Dimou. Image Alana Dimou

AC: You say that you use Holsten stills to make your white spirits. Why do you use these stills? 

DW: We chose the Holstein still as it is a beautifully engineered hybrid still that is capable of producing both macerated and vapour infused gins and botanical vodkas, but are also able to produce rums, brandies, eau du vies and American style whiskies. We will be producing an exclusive range of American style whiskies starting 2018.

Manly Spirits Co Distillery and Tasting Bar. Image Alana Dimou

AC: You are currently maturing your “North Fort” Australian whisky. You say that you use copper pot stills to distil the new make, and then you age the new make in a ‘selection of French or American oak casks before’ finishing the spirit in ‘classic Australian wine varietal casks’. How would you describe your whisky’s distillate character? 

DW: The cereal notes of our Australian malt barley delivers an elegant rich character with a full bodied and lingering finish. 

AC: Where is the barley that is used to make your whisky sourced from? 

DW: The barley used in the distillation of our whisky is 100% Australian grown and primarily sourced from across NSW. 

AC: What type of Australian wine casks do you use to finish your whisky, and where are they from? 

DW: We will be experimenting with a number of types of Australian wine casks during the finishing process of our whiskies. To start with we have are looking at what characteristics Pinot Noir and Shiraz impart on the matured whisky. 

AC: What three words do you want people to associate with North Fort whisky?  

DW: Hand-crafted, innovative, and approachable.


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