Getting your distillery started

Pat maguire showing I2D students around

At The Academy we have all kinds of people starting  their journey to work in, or own their own distillery. Whether its whisky, or something else like gin.

We share their stories, get to hear their tales and sometimes we’re lucky enough to share in their success – so we have a bit of an idea of some the challenges you might face when starting out in distilling.

Following are just some of the key decisions and points to think about when starting out.  But this is just the tip of the iceberg – it seems that for every decision you make, there are fours others waiting your attention.

Here are our top 5 things to think about before you turn on the still. Here goes:

  1. Know what’s needed
    • There are Various Licences you need from the Australian Tax Office (ATO) including one for the still, a licence to manufacture alcohol (they call them excisable products) and somewhere to store your products once made.
    • You probably also need a Development Approval from your local council for your site (and it seems the approach here is not consistent nationwide) and possibly and engineer to help with the safe assessment of the site
    • There are also other compliance and development requirements and the list is long and may include things like a liquor licence if you plan to serve your products onsite, workplace safety requirements, forklift licences, waste and water management etc.
    • Our advice – talk to as many people in the industry as you can before you start.
  2. Do your planning and get advice
    • Both your bank and the ATO will expect you to have a really good plan for your business, which also means understanding the costs involved, the impact of cash flow as your spirit matures and the surprising ongoing costs of running a distillery.
    • Again, we reckon the best people to talk to are the ones who have done it before. We find most are happy to share their knowledge over a dram or two, but if at first you don’t succeed then find a new distiller mate who will.
    • Our advice: you should seek professional help with your planning. A distillery is like any other small business (but probably with more cleaning) and needs the same rigour and careful planning. So talk to a professional including an accountant, tax professional, and/or other people who can help you with your planning.
  3. Don’t underestimate how much time or energy it will take
  • They say all good things come in time and this is certainly true of building a distillery. Typically people go through the following stages in the creation of their distillery:
    • 1. I’ve had an idea – when you’re testing the idea with friends and doing a test-drive course like The Foundations of Distilling just to make sure
    • 2. I’m doing my research – You’re reading lots, doing tours, doing a course, talking to distillers, doing some initial plans, talking to authorities, getting advice
    • 3. I’m getting serious – You’re downloading forms, you know what still you want, you’ve done your business plans, sought advice, are thinking about it day and night, you’re planning trips to Scotland and Japan
    • 4. I’m starting – You’ve done your planning, you’re buying stuff, you’ve spoken to the ATO and council and preparing licences, you’ve ordered a still,  your branding is underway
    • 5. Launch – You’re set up, your DA and licence is through, you have a label, brand and bottle, you know what you’re making and you’re hoping everyone will love it.
    • 6. I’m going – You’ve launched, you’ve celebrated that first spirit coming out the still, you’ve done your first lodgement to the ATO, It feels real.
  • There are a lot of decisions to be made along the way, and as you grow there are many to be made once you’re growing. While it is possible to get a dsitillery going in less than a year, most people if they are starting their own smaller operations usually plan for a year and then take at least a year before they are going. If you are making whisky then you need to wait at least two years (or longer) before your spirit is ready – so yes it is a long game.
  • Our advice – find the right people to help you with your planning and including some margins in your costs to account for additional expenses and additional costs (Such as increase in raw ingredients and barrels over the first few years). Then plan for it to take some time. 

4. Training and skills

  • There are a few stages where you will need to learn different things along the way. Some options for you
  • Self learn – For some it is possible to learn as they go and to educate themselves. At some point you might want to fill a knowledge gap or improve your skills. www.ibd.org.uk has a good curriculum for those interested to self learn, or
  • What don’t you know? We’ve built our Foundations course to provide an overview from idea to bottle. It does two things:
    • 1. Will help you identify what you don’t know, and
    • 2. Connect you to distillers who can help.
  • Certificate – Many Australian distillers are now doing our General Certificate of Distilling event – which includes content from the Institute of Brewing an Distilling General Certificate. The Academy runs these twice a year in March and September. They are ideal once you start distilling.
  • We also have a distillery business course in the pipeline – coming in 2018
  • Our advice: Find out what skills you will need for the size of business you will have and seek the skills to get there. If possible surround yourself with people who can help you. We also think the network is important and through our courses connect you to our alumni who are sharing similar journeys.

5. What gear do you need
Here’s a quick and dirty list to start you off. It is by no means a complete list but it should help get you started.

  • A place for your distillery
  • A collection of licences (covered above)
  • A plan (yes, sorry there it is again)
  • A still (pretty important)
  • Receiving/storage vessels – to receive your fours, feints and spirit
  • A bonded location – for storage of whisky/spirit
  • Barrels – if you’re making whisky, and a method of stacking
  • Pipe etc – for moving liquid
  • The right type of power – research options available
  • Water filtration – many use reverse osmosis systems. Research your needs first.
  • Hydrometer/thermometer – calibrated/specific to distilling (and probably a set of scales)
  • Alcoholometric tables – to measure alcohol by volume (ABV) in your spirit
  • Mashtun/lauter tun/sparge unit- if doing own mashing
  • Forklift – or other method for moving heavy items (trolleys etc)
  • Inputs – grain, other base material, water, botanical
  • Bottles – including appropriate labelling
  • Fan or CO2 extractor – research this first
  • Space for pallets (incoming and outgoing)
  • Computer resources – for record keeping
  • …..other things….. including enthusiasm and energy

We reckon the right path to take is to do a bit of research first, come and hang with us for a few days in Tasmania and do our Foundations course, get to know what others have done and then get going.

We’d love to host you and show you some of the sights and sounds of The Whisky Isle including time at Sullivans Cove Distillery and Nonesuch Distillery. Visit www.whiskyacademy.com.au/courses for more information

IMPORTANT: It is important to note this does not constitute advice.  When planning your business we recommend you seek professional advice.

distillery showing distillers at course