In our upcoming March edition of Australian Bartender magazine (landing any day now), we chat to five women in the Australian hospitality industry and cover everything from workplace conditions to sustainable career paths.
So as a taste of what’s to come in print, we thought we’d share one of these interviews today.
Meet Ally Ayres
With numerous awards and titles under her belt, Co-Founder, Co-Owner and Head Distiller at House of Spirits and Karu Distillery shares her wealth of experience with us and her journey in the world of spirits thus far. From being one of the youngest female owner and operator of a distillery in the country and being crowned the recipient of the best contemporary gin in the world, Ally’s incredible skills and passion speak for themselves. We had a little chat to Ally to see what she does and how she continues to flip the stereotypes on their heads, and prove the doubters wrong.
Tell us a little bit about your distillery/brand. My husband, Nick, and I started Karu Distillery in 2018 after 3 years of research, development and achieving hands on experience. We are an independent brand so everything we do is authentic to the max, and very hands on. We reside in the Devils Wilderness at the foot of the Blue Mountains which sets a backdrop to the work we do and spirits we create. Being in our fourth year now, we are lucky to have a small team of hand selected legends to help us to continue to grow.
Why? What made you go into such a challenging industry? What were your motivations?
Pure insanity? No. I really love good spirits, it’s a journey you take. I was not from a background of alcohol or hospitality, and I never thought about entering that field until one day over a dram of whisky I started to ask myself questions that provoked my curiosity and a love for it all. All I really wanted from this was to create something that I liked and hopefully others would too and start to bring more of that cocktail and spirits culture to where I am from. You can’t predict where this industry is going to take you, in my five-year plan I was still meant to be working my office job, now I make gin, vodka and rum full-time sometimes 7 days a week. I love it.
“What I really love and appreciate are the women and men in this industry that have shown support for not just me but other women in the industry too. The ones who stand with you, stick up for you, encourage you and celebrate you. One day I would like to be “Ally Ayres the distiller” rather than “Ally Ayres the female distiller”.”
It’s International Women’s Day, so it’s a nice chance to shine a bit of extra light on women in the drinks industry (historically very male dominated). How have you found working in the Aussie distilling world as a woman?
Being in a relatively new industry it comes with its obstacles that you have to overcome and you have to find your own way over them. Some of those obstacles are truly difficult ones. I have had to fight very hard for my own identity in this industry, coming from starting out as the youngest female owner/operator of a distillery in the country to being the recipient of the best contemporary gin in the world from IWSC being the 2nd Australian to win that award ever in 51 years. I have had a lot of people talk past me, I have had people tell me I “should stick to sales because I’m young and blonde and that sells product” or “you’re the distiller?”. Or are you just saying you are because it’s “trendy”. The answers are No; I suck at sales and yes, I am the distiller, and wow that’s rude! The people in the industry have been mostly great to me which I am thankful for. What I really love and appreciate are the women and men in this industry that have shown support for not just me but other women in the industry too. The ones who stand with you, stick up for you, encourage you and celebrate you. One day I would like to be “Ally Ayres the distiller” rather than “Ally Ayres the female distiller”.
Have you had any female mentors that have inspired you?
I have so many women I look up to, enjoy their energy and have been such a breath of fresh air. My aunt who believed in me so much that she allowed me to share her part of the world with me to create Karu Distillery & House Of Spirits. Greta Papps, when I first started she reassured me when I had my first bad interview and I was so upset about it, she always made me feel that she was proud of me. Penny Sippe is my current mentor for the mentor mentee program through WOHO (Women In Hospitality – shout out to you if you see this) I can’t wait to learn more from her. My sisters and mum, they have been my biggest fans since the day I was born and really helped me define myself and my goals. Genise Hollingworth from Black Gate Distillery, she opens up her distillery and home to me quite often and is so hospitable to me when I am burnt out and need to get away. She has also been very supportive in my path with rum. The incredible team at WOHO for literally everything they do. I have so many and I am leaving so many out but I hope they know who they are, I’d be insane without them.
The Australian craft spirits industry is booming, why do you think this is?
In Australia the craft industry is still pretty new in the grand scheme of things, that’s why it’s going through its “boom” now. I think we are also finding out what sort of spirit our country is best known for and it’s hard to pin because we have had so much success with Australian spirits globally. My opinion (not to be mistaken as fact) we are killing it with Australian gins, I think that is going to be our most famous spirit. Why? Because we grow some great botanicals here, we aren’t afraid to go past what was already done. Good Australian distillers are innovative with flavour and gin is something you can do ENDLESS things with.
What’s a typical day like for you?
Most days I get up at stupid o’clock and get to Karu Distillery, more commonly it’s a rum production day for me. So, I give Calcifer (my copper pot still) a clean and try not to get drenched in the interim. Load him up with either ferment or low wines (the alcohol from the first distillation run). Whilst that is warming up, I will scrub fermenters and prepare them for new ferments. I wrestle with drums that weigh 200kg to fill buckets of molasses and get covered in it. Then usually I get chased by some bees or wasps, this will happen all day. I will spend a lot of the day being the poster lady of glamour by sweating in front of a boiling heat conductor, it’s very warm here. I’ll go back to mashing more molasses, finish that off and clean up ALL the mess I have made or at least try to. Apply my 6th layer of sunscreen and go fill a barrel with rum new-make and try to think of a clever name for it (they are all puns – Stavid Attenborough, Barilyn Monroe to name a few). Then distract my staff with some asinine questions, then get told to get back to work. Eventually I get to go home, have dinner and some tea and crash out. That’s my typical day.
Plans for the future?
We open up our bar House Of Spirits this month which will bring a lot of change and new things into my life but I am very excited about it. The thing that I am excited about the most is releasing our flagship rum. Rum feels as though it’s my life and I am very keen to see where it takes us and the people we will meet through it.
TOP 5 Tips on starting your own brand
- It’s hard work, imagine what you know about hard work…. quadruple that with no sleep, if you think you can do it, then you’re ready to start.
- There is no such thing as overnight long term success. Work at things, figure it out, do the hard yards because when you continue to succeed it feels awesome and you truly deserve it. Looking back at where you started is a great place to see how far you’ve come.
- Take care of yourself. That one is the most important and probably the hardest. You can’t do anything if you’re burnt out, I’m still practicing this one. Keep at it though.
- No one owes you their knowledge, so if someone is generous enough to lend you some, appreciate it. Their knowledge has come from a lot of time, dedication, practice, blood, sweat, tears, mistakes and successes, the least you can do is respect their craft to which they are more likely to share knowledge. A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
- HAVE FUN! Get excited about things, because it’s amazing to create and follow through.
Karu Distillery will be on show at Indie Spirits Tasting 2022. To buy your tickets visit: indiespiritstasting.com.au
The Indie Spirits Tasting Roadshow is back on for 2022. Here is a sample of some of our exhibitors who will be showcasing their Aussie spirits brands at our Melbourne event at The Craft & Co on Sunday, 8th May from 1pm to 4pm. Our Brisbane event will be in May and Sydney during Bar Week in September when we will also announce the Hottest 100 Aussie Spirits.