Bill McHenry – McHenry Gin
Tasmanian devil of a gin McHenry is finally making its way to the UK next month, having triumphed in the local market and gained huge attention in the States. The McHenry Gin range will be making its debut at none other than Junipalooza in June, so we took it upon ourselves to catch up with founder Bill McHenry to get the gossip ahead of World Gin Day.
Hi Bill! So… you’re coming to the UK in June! Looking at getting into export markets is never an easy task – how have you found your journey so far and where else are you exporting to?
Yes, we are launching our Gins in London and we have chosen to do this at Junipalooza. Our Gin is one of the most popular Gins in Australia and received awards both here and in the USA. We already sell our range in some of the best restaurants and bars in Japan and Taiwan but now we are looking at Europe and the UK. We are also working with importers in other Asian markets and North America.
While we would like to get firmly established in export destinations we have taken it fairly slowly so far, making sure our manufacturing method is consistent and reliable and ensuring we can meet demand as it comes. As such, rather than approaching importers, to date all the interest we have had for our product around the world has been from companies approaching us. This has made the journey a bit easier to handle. Although having said that all our Junipalooza stock had to be air freighted in as we missed the sea freight cut off and that was a bit hairy…
We promise it’ll be worth it! Perhaps you could introduce our readers to your gin… You’ve chosen classic style, which is a huge contrast not just to the increasingly experimental category, but particularly to the “bush gins” emerging from some of your fellow down under-ers. Was this a deliberate move?
We have taken a deliberate approach to make a ‘classical range’ to appeal to a broader range of drinkers and barman. The issue I see is that a lot of the contemporary gins have lost the key juniper-pine notes for a point of difference and I wonder if you can really call them Gins?
Yep – that’s a debate we’re constantly having here too. The very definition of Gin is its juniper presence, but that’s arguably shifting. That said, there are a great deal of classic gins about… Do you think sticking to that “London Dry” flavour will help or hinder you in the UK?
I believe it will help. Drinkers are used to this style so its easier to get them to try it and like and barman can easily work with it. Our point of difference is more our terroir – Tasmania has the cleanest air in the world and we have the cleanest, purest springs on our property feeding the distillery and this shows in our products.
And what about the Gin scene down under… are you feeling the benefit of a burgeoning category and what’s it like to be at the forefront of it?
It’s exciting to be at the forefront of the category. To such an extent that we are just completing a new cellar door to cope with the visitors we are getting to the Distillery. We have also expanded our ‘Gin School’; with a new dedicated building to house this popular experience. New opportunities are also coming our way and for two years we have been making the Gin for our Federal Parliament House and have developed for them a new expression called Federation Gin which showcases a botanical from each of the territories and states of Australia.
Wow – that must be a complicated gin! It also shows just how popular the spirit is now, if Parliament has its own bespoke bottling. As a frontrunner in the category you must have noticed a difference in the way Gin is being consumed by Australians?
I think there have been a number of changes – Drinkers are looking for a higher quality product and are willing to experiment with new to market brands. At the same time there has been an explosion of distilleries and often these makers look to Gin as an easy road in for cash flow. As such its all getting a bit confusing and it can be hard to get shelf space with retailers.
Even so, the distillery has seen some fantastic growth over the past 18 months. How are developments for your pavilion coming along? Are we right in thinking these will be used to grow the McHenry Gin School?
Yep the pavilion is just weeks away from opening. The experiences we run are about showcasing Gin both as a cocktail mixer and also how it can be used in cooking and matched with foods. The next extension to this expansion is to complete some iconic cottages or ‘bothe’s’ for participants to stay in (just like the one on our website).
So you’re not only a Gin maker – you’re a Gin educator. Booze wasn’t always your life, though; you came from big pharma. What prompted the change?
Whilst I hate the expression, it was a bit of a mid life crisis. I wanted to leave a legacy for my children and take control of my working life and fell in love with the idea of being a distiller and living in Tasmania. So far its going pretty well, although the late night distillation and the long hours can take their toll.
At least it all results in something tangible. Talking of which… Gin is a cash flow filler for many newbie whisk(e)y distillers. Now you’ve got both products in bottle, do you find yourself having a favourite?
Thats like asking me if I have a favourite child! – The answer it rather depends on time and place. Some moments its great to watch the sun go down with your own G&T in your hand and at other times its great having a whisky with friends in front of an open fire. Its simply too hard to choose.
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