Dervilla McGowan – Anther Spirits
Ahead of Junipalooza Melbourne, we’ve caught up with a few distillers and owners, to talk all things Gin, Australia and what they’ve been up to. Here we peer into the extraordinary mind of Dervilla McGowan, one half of the dynamic team behind Anther Spirits, a prolific collaborator and champion of craft distilled in Melbourne.
Hi Derv, we’d like to kick off with just how it’s feasibly possible to do as much as you do in a day..! You work with Seb as a distilling duo and obviously it’s a small company so that means everyone does everything – but do you try and set roles and areas for yourselves?
Not really. When we started this business there was just Seb and myself. We did not define roles because we both need to have a deep understanding of how the whole business works. Seb and I both do all of the Anther distillations together and try to attend most events together.
When did you first decide to make Gin and what’s it like being part of the Craft & Co set up?
Seb and I were casting about for something new to do and there was some time available on the still at the Craft & Co and we jumped at the chance to make our own gin. The beauty of this very boutique space is that we have been able to be 100% hands on. You get to know the business of gin so you can hit the ground running when you do go out on your own.
Other than the contract gins you consult on, you’ve made a few collaborations that are more closely tied to you as a brand and as individuals, like the Taxi Kitchen Gin x Anther Spirits for example. There have been others with Dodd’s Gin too. What’s the best part of doing this and what’s been the highlight?
I love collaborations! You just don’t know what is going to happen and you get to distil things you never have distilled before. We get to experiment and play with new flavours and meet people with the most amazing expertise and creativity. So much fun! Our latest collaboration was with our cocktail comp winners, Trish Brew (runs Gin Palace) and Zee Gallo (1806). The creativity and energy Trish and Zee brought to the process was mind blowing and they have made a cracking gin we have called Charismatica.
How do you balance making loads of gins, collaborating and focussing enough attention into building the Anther name? Or does everything just feed each the next?
I know its dull but we just work very hard and try to work smart. We have great relationships in the gin and hospitality industries with people that we love to work with which always makes life easier. We try to say yes to everything and we find that it doesn’t take much to synchronise these things to build our brand.
It’s a lot to take on, what’s been the biggest learning curve for you so far as brand owners?
All of it. We didn’t know how to distil before we did this, we have never owned a manufacturing business and had never built a brand from scratch so we have been learning hard and fast.
Baptism of fire then! Do you think the attitude has changed towards Gin over the past few years?
Absolutely! Gin is a gorgeously maleable spirit. Although I have always loved gin the old perceptions of gin were that of being a dull staid spirit. This has changed massively so that now it is considered a spirit that can anchor us in our own geography. We can learn about geography and botany through gin, and we can gain a sense of place through this within our local national and international gin collections! Drink Gin, learn botany and geography!
What do you think the next 18 months looks like for the Gin category in Australia?
Australian gin producers will be continuing to refine their work and play with native botanicals. We have a huge bounty of unique botanicals in Australia and we are all having a brilliant time using these to make balanced, integrated gins. The quality of Australian gins has improved massively since we started two years ago. I expect it to improve at least as much again so it is a very exciting time for our industry.
We agree, and no doubt there will be an increase in the understanding of distillation and the chemistry behind it too. You have a PhD in microbiology, have you managed to bring in that scientific knowledge into your distilling and do you feel it gives you an advantage?
Having a PhD has definitely helped Anther. The best thing a PhD gives you is serious focus and persistence in the face of failure. Everyone who has done one of these suckers will get up every single time they are knocked down. They will keep pushing and thinking until the problem is solved or removed. It’s part of why I love science.
And lastly, what’s the next big milestone you are working towards?
We are looking at finding a space of our own in the next few months. We have relocated to the coastal town of Geelong to do this and are currently looking for a site to call home. Geelong has some beautiful old factories that were part of big industrial distillation (Corio Distillery), wool mills and car manufacturing. The Ute and refrigeration were invented in Geelong so we feel that it will suit us as a tiny company building a global brand.
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