‘A change from office life and engineering life.’ How the Melbourne Moonshine guys started their distillery

Melbourne Moonshine’s distillery.

Opening a distillery seems like a great idea, a romantic one (for a certain type of person); opening a ‘moonshinery’ has even more illicit appeal if you ask us. That’s exactly what Melbourne Moonshine mates Ben Bowles and Andrew Fitzgerald did when they opened their urban distillery in South Melbourne in 2015. They’re making moonshine here, and it’s not your typical hokey moonshine; this is a serious spirit, made from 100 percent corn, and backed with some proper engineering knowhow and great branding. So whilst many moonshines won’t cut it on the best back bars in town, that’s not a problem for these guys. Here, Fitzgerald speaks to us about the challenges in opening a distillery, and offers his tips for would be ‘shiners.

How did you guys get started?
Ben and I are both engineers, we worked together for many years. Ben’s from South Carolina and really always distilled, historically back home. We got to talking once, you know — a few drinks after work — and got into discussing making whisky. As years went passed we decided to make a business of it. Really it was spawned by two things: we really wanted a change from office life and engineering life, and two, we just had an interest in making spirits.

Why moonshine?
It’s an interesting question. My answer to that has actually evolved over the years to be honest. When we first started, the reason was we felt was we saw a spot in the market for it. When we first decided to start our business there were no other moonshines in the market in Australia. We were playing around making whisky, and Ben introduced me to moonshine in the garage, and I thought this was delicious. It tastes great, surely there’s a market for it? We’ve since been very educated on drinks trends and what it takes to make successful booze. I don’t think it’s as simple as it needs to taste good and no-one else is doing it — there’s a lot more to it!

Melbourne Moonshine’s distillery.

What are some of those things you discovered?
Look, the economics and the business behind spirits is one thing that I think caught us off guard. And I’m sensing this with a lot of distilleries opening up nowadays, they tend to think if you make something good it will sell. That’s really not right.

There’s a lot of not great stuff out there that sells a lot, right?
Yeah, there’s a lot of rubbish stuff that sells a lot, and there’s a lot of really good stuff that doesn’t sell much at all. I think the main thing to think about is understanding the drinks culture, understanding the bartender world, understanding that the whole economics behind how many bars are owned by the big guys versus what it takes to get on to a bar list,. And for products such as ours, we are 100 percent reliant on getting on a bar list; people aren’t going into bars ordering a moonshine and Coke, right?

What we didn’t understand when we started is how much work goes in to trying to get listed or be supported by bartenders and bottle shop owners to get that pull through — and how much work goes into educating the average punter what moonshine is.

Tell us a bit about the Apple Pie?
The Sour Mash goes into bars that like making cocktails, because it’s the most versatile of our spirits; the Apple Pie is the, grab a bottle I’m going to a party I can mix it with ginger beer. Or if you’re a bar like Heartbreaker here in Melbourne, it’s the shot of choice. The Apple Pie requires us to make a neutral spirit; all our spirits are double distilled in pots, for this we distil it a third time in a column still. We blend that in with two different types of apple juices — we buy the whole fruit through an orchard down towards the Mornington Peninsula. That orchard cold presses the apples for us and on the same day they’re pressed we blend it with the high proof booze. It goes from about 92% ABV down to 30% ABV with nothing but apple juice. We then use a spice mix, including cinnamon and nutmeg and things like that, and we steep that over a week — that’s our apple pie.=

Can you tell us how you make the Sour Mash?
It’s 100 percent corn mash. We use nothing but corn, and we get our corn from near Shepparton, again, direct from the farmer. We get to see the quality of the grain by going out there to see it before it’s loaded, and it’s also cheaper, right? If I buy grain through a grain broker, it’s more expensive. So as much as it sounds craft, it’s more that I don’t end up with a bunch of sticks and rats and stuff in my grain, but I also save a lot of money.

It’s a grain-in fermentation, then we charge it into our 1000 litre potstill, and it comes down our 1000 litre potstill, then we charge it through our 500 litre potstill and distill it through there. Each run, usually produces about 130 bottles depending on efficiencies, and takes us about three days for fermentation and distillation.

Do you have any tips for someone starting a booze brand?
I’d say two things: if you’re looking to make a quick buck, it’s not the game. So understand the economics really well, model everything, and go into depth on what it’s going to cost you. And the last thing that really matters is the distilling equipment. Forget about it, it doesn’t matter. What matters is your route to market, and how you’re going to get your product into the hands of a consumer. You can make 1000 bottles a day, but if you haven’t got a way to get that to someone who wants to consume it, it’s pointless.

Melbourne Moonshine’s Sour Mash Shine.

Meet the Melbourne Moonshine guys when Indie Spirits Tasting comes to your town this year. Visit indiespiritstasting.com.au to find out more, and click here to get your ticket to the Indie Spirits Tasting Brisbane now at Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall on Sunday, 27 May from 1pm to 4pm. The event features over 30 exhibitors showcasing more than 100 craft spirits, with master distillers on hand and free seminars going deep into the world of independent spirits. Tickets are just $55 (plus booking fee) and includes all samples and snacks.

Indie Spirits Tasting Tour Dates
Brisbane – Sunday 27 May 2018
Perth – Wednesday 18 July 2018
Sydney – Sunday 16th September2018

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