Dean Lucas on starting a spirits brand in Australia


We’ve all heard how tough it can be to get a craft spirits brand going in Australia, thanks in large part to the strict regulatory environment and the crushing tax regime. But despite this there are some pretty outstanding spirits being produced right here in Oz. That begs the question: how do they do it?

We spoke to Dean Lucas, who launched 666 Pure Tasmanian Vodka five years ago and found international acclaim, and asked him to give us an idea of how he got the brand going.

Can you tell us how 666 Pure Vodka came to be?

After working for over 20 years in bars and restaurants in Melbourne, it seemed very strange that with all the spirits behind the bar, there really weren’t any Australian made premium spirits on offer. So I thought if Australia can produce some of the best wine and beer in the world, then surely we could make a great vodka.


How long did it take you to go from idea, to the finished product? 

About two and a half years until we had made and bottled our first commercial batch.

How did you go about overcoming any barriers you faced in getting your vodka to market?

We are highly regulated, so there are many hoops you need to jump through. I did plenty of research and applied for all licences and permits during the two and a half years of product development — patience and persistence is a big part of the process.

What was it like to win a gold medal at the WSC in 2010?

To win at the time of our official launch was so fantastic as it gave us independent assurance that what we have made is world class. We were the first Australian made spirit to win a gold medal at the WSC. Although it is only five years ago, the perception even then was that Australia doesn’t make premium spirits. We like to think we’ve helped turn that thinking around.

Just how important are the base material ingredients to the finished product? 

With anything, quality ingredients are required to make a quality product. As we are 100 per cent pot distilled, 666 has strong flavour characteristics, so the quality of the barley is very important. The water makes up 60 per cent of every bottle – that is why we source our water from Cape Grim.

You’ve since launched two unique flavours. Why those flavours and not others?

Our 666 Autumn Butter Vodka came about because the distillery is next to a dairy. We found out that each autumn the rich grass the cows feed on produces very rich and creamy milk. The excess cream is ideal for making a rich butter. As the dairy can’t make butter for commercial purposes, only seasonally, they would discard it. Our 666 Autumn Butter Vodka is a unique product and the first commercially available fat wash spirit in the world.

With our newly launched 666 St Ali Coffee Vodka, we wanted to again create something very special and unique. We didn’t want to make a coffee liquor; we made a full strength coffee vodka where we extract the amazing flavour of St Ali coffee directly into our vodka, working closely to create the right blend and roast.

With the development of both flavours, we engaged top bartenders from all over Australia to get their feedback on the flavour profiles. So there are about 20 bartenders with direct input into those two products.

How do you see the Australian craft spirits industry progressing over the next few years?

As more and more consumers realise the quality of Australian craft spirits, I see the industry experiencing huge growth both locally and for export.

Could you give us three pieces of wisdom for bartenders out there?

Firstly, don’t listen to everyone telling you it’s too hard and can’t be done. Secondly, take your time getting the liquid right. The fanciest packaging and marketing won’t help if the quality of the liquid isn’t great. Thirdly, have lots of patience and expect to work harder than you have ever worked before.

What’s next for you and 666 Pure Vodka?

We will continue our work with Australian bartenders in developing new flavours that they see as relevant and keep pushing the message the Australia does make world class spirits. We are also very excited about some further export opportunities we have been presented, so we can help spread the message of the quality of Australian craft spirits to the world.

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