Women in Gin: Kristy Booth-Lark, Killara Distillery

To mark my forthcoming event “An evening with Lesley Gracie, Master Distiller, Hendrick’s gin”, I’m launching a new series called ‘Women in Gin’, where I’ll be featuring female distillers and other high profile females within the gin industry.

First up is Kristy Booth-Lark, who I had the privilege to meet when I spoke at the Asia Pacific Whisky & Spirits Conference in Adelaide last month. Kristy has distilling in her blood (her parents are Bill and Lyn Lark who founded the Australian spirits industry.)

Kristy Booth-Lark
Kristy Booth-Lark and I enjoying a martini or two!

Kristy is a talented distiller in her own right and is keen to promote women in the Australian Spirits Industry, so much so that she has recently formed the Australian Women in Distilling Association,  Lyn Lark and Genise Hollingsworth (Blackgate Distillery are also on the committee)

Kristy opened Killara Distillery in July 2016 where she makes Apothecary Gin, Single Malt Whisky, brandy and other spirits

Kristy Booth-Lark and her still
Kristy Booth-Lark and her still

How long have you been a distiller?

I started distilling in 2005 at my parent’s distillery (although started working there in 1997).

How did you become a distiller?

Initially I wanted to be an Air Traffic Controller, I even applied to go to air traffic control school! and was lucky enough to be offered one of the 10 spots they had available. But, my eyes began to open to the (distilling) industry and  I decided that air traffic control school was not for me and that I would rather be involved in the family business. So I began to take  on more of a production/distillation role. My parents were very supportive and threw me straight into it! I learned heaps about whisky how to make it from my Dad, Bill, and heaps about gin and liqueurs and how to make those, from my mum, Lyn. Learning from them was a great experience, and one could say it was destined as I grew up with a 500 litre still outside my bedroom door!

What is the best thing about your job?

I love being able to create things and have control over the whole process.

When my parents distillery was sold and I was made redundant. I knew I wanted to open my own distillery. I couldn’t wait to get my hands dirty again! Being able to experiment and create new things is so rewarding.

apothecary gin

What is the most challenging thing about distilling gin?

Probably the hardest thing is creating the recipe. There are so many botanicals to choose from and people have such different preferences for how they like their gin to taste. At the end of the day you have to go with a recipe that you love which is what I’ve done. Although, I must admit the end recipe is different from how it was t the beginning. When I first started to develop the recipe,  I had it in my head that I would definitely use rose, but it just didn’t work, it interacted in an unpleasant way with the other botanicals I decided to use. So it’s not in there!

How do you choose which botanicals to use?

When I started I distilled a wide range of things, probably about 50 in total, a mixture of herbs, spices and fruit. I then started mixing them together to see how they sat with other botanicals. Some things taste great on their own but when combined with other things will taste terrible (like the Rose I mentioned earlier). In the end I decided on a fairly juniper driven gin with citrus and an Australian twist.

Who or what inspires you?

Both my parents inspire me. My mum with the way she has quietly done things in the background all her career and has made some amazing  spirits. Her knowledge and understanding of how flavours go together is fantastic. My dad is so passionate about whisky and the industry in general  and is always so generous with his time and knowledge, I hope to be like him.

I am also inspired by people who get out of their comfort zones and to do something to follow their truth, whether it be to start a blog, write a book or walk the Camino (all of which I’d love to do!!)

Name your 3 favourite gins 

What’s your favourite gin cocktail and why?

Negroni, every single time! I love the hints of bitterness and how Campari and vermouth combine with gin to create something so delicious

Which are your favourite bars?

The House of Whisky on Bruny Island (TAS) has  it is one of the best gin and whisky collections I have ever seen. Society (Salamanca, TAS) is great as well, with a focus on Tasmanian spirits and  a fantastic cocktail list.

Bad Frankie Bar in Melbourne, Seb has done so much to support Australian distillers.

The London Gin Club, and the Scotch Malt Whisky Society rooms in Edinburgh.

What advice would you give to women wishing to become a distiller?

Start, just start! Approach someone in the industry, see if you can intern somewhere and definitely read as much as you can.

One of the reasons I started the Australian Women in Distilling Association (AWDA),  was to promote awareness of the industry and to support women looking to become distillers. I’m hoping the organisation will become a place for women to find support, encouragement, inspiration and to celebrate other like-minded women in the Australian distilling industry.

You can follow Killara Distillery on Facebook and instagram.

If you are interested in finding out more about joining the AWDA, please email Kristy.

My visit to the Diageo Archives

One of the highlights of my trip to the UK last month, was my visit the Diageo Archives in Scotland, which contains the records of Tanqueray, Gordon’s and Boord’s gin, as well as Smirnoff, Johnny Walker and Baileys. It was undoubtedly one of my most thrilling experiences of my gin career so far!

My visit to the Diageo Archives
Meeting Joanne

I was welcomed to the archive by Joanne McKerchar, Diageo’s Senior Archivist responsible for the gin and malts. whose job I would give my right arm for. When I expressed my (not so mild) jealousy, she told me; “I know, I was lucky, wasn’t I? I didn’t quite know what to do after University where I studied history. I didn’t want to be a teacher, so I went to work at the national archives of Scotland for a year. I really enjoyed that. So I decided to do my Masters in Archives and Records Management in Liverpool and was appointed to this position on graduating.”

The Archive

The site of the archive is a former whisky distillery which ceased production in 1925 and turned into a centre for producing and testing yeast. Labs were added and much of the innovation surrounding whisky comes from this centre. There is a wonderful family connection as Joanne’s grandfather worked here as a baker testing the yeast. While he is no longer alive and didn’t know of her role, Joanne said she feels a strong connection and sometimes comes across photos of him during her research.

The archive was established twenty years ago by Doctor Nick Morgan. Joanne explained that up until then, because of the various companies that had owned each brand there was material at lots of different sites around the UK.”Nick took upon himself to try and centralise all of the historically records in one place, which was a huge task”.

The archive was expanded about 2 years ago, with a £1.5 million investment in the archive this allowed them to add the Liquid Library.

The earliest records are for gin and go back to the 1740’s, with their earliest gin brand, Boord’s. The archives contain anything from minute books, letters, ledgers, old advertising, huge packaging collections, and recipe books. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to see some of these up close!

Minutes of the first meeting after the merger of Tanqueray and Gordon.


My visit to the Diageo Archives
Cash books


My visit to the Diageo Archives


My visit to the Diageo Archives
The letter is an account of a Polish distributor for Alexander Gordon & Co in which he discusses general information including the growing of crops such as wheat and corn and the weather – from 1777.


My visit to the Diageo Archives
Tanqueray’s Coat of Arms. The picks and pineapple at the top, still feature in the branding today.

Joanne’s job doesn’t just entail looking after the historical items, but she is also responsible for gathering everything ongoing so that nothing is lost for the future. “We work in partnership with our teams, our global marketing teams, or in-market teams at the moment to make sure that receive everything they do, as well as keeping an eye on auction sites to see if anything unusual comes up that we might want to buy.”

My visit to the Diageo Archives
Gordon’s Jug (from Australia)


My visit to the Diageo Archives
Guns used in the Gordon riots to protect the distillery.


My visit to the Diageo Archives
Tanqueray & Gordon delivery cart (complete with unopened bottles)

The Liquid Library

The Liquid Library is a treasure trove of booze from some of the oldest to the latest launches, everything is here. Obviously, I was very keen to research the gin!

My visit to the Diageo Archives
Very excited!
My visit to the Diageo Archives
Boord’s Gin, founded in 1726, famous for its Old Tom gin.


My visit to the Diageo Archives
The earliest Tanqueray bottle in the collection (from the USA c.1802)


My visit to the Diageo Archives
Earliest Gordon’s bottle from the UK market (dating c.1909-1923).


My visit to the Diageo Archives
Gordon’s Bottled cocktails from the 1920s – note the cocktail shaker design that was later incorporated into the Tanqueray bottle shape.


My visit to the Diageo Archives
Orange and Lemon gin


My visit to the Diageo Archives
Gordon’s Sloe gin


My visit to the Diageo Archives
Gordon’s Export – the labels and bottles are different to the UK version, probably due to a time when the gin was in demand and they ran out of the green bottles/white labels so improvised!


My visit to the Diageo Archives
More recent drinks

The role of the archive

The archive isn’t open to public, so is it simply a nice thing for the company to have? Joanne told me that, “For the business to support us we have to be commercially viable, and we are. We have to make sure that everything that we do delivers against the gin team agenda. For example, whatever our Tanqueray team is working on at the moment I have to think about how I can support them with the records, the information, and the knowledge that I have, to help them succeed in that project.”

Joanne responds to discussions with bartenders that the global team has to identify trends in the gin world. A good example is Old Tom gin. She turned to Charles Tanqueray’s recipe books (whose handwriting was in her words “horrendous”) and former master distiller, Tom Nichol relied on Joanne to translate and interpret the handwriting. She made me laugh with one story of Tom (who is known for his colourful language) returning something to her saying “Oh, Jo, for f*@%’s sake, it says a tub. How big is a tub?”. She patiently replied “Well, how big do you want the tub to be? Now go and interpret this recipe and make it into something special!”


According to Joanne, Charles Tanqueray’s recipe books offer a real insight into who he was. Each one has notes alongside saying things like “Not good. Don’t try that again.” as well as his workings rather than just finished recipes.

She explained, “It’s him experimenting to get to that perfected finished thing. The recipe books are massive because he’s just trying so many different things, it’s constant trial and error. He also gives really good details like, ‘You run the still for this long. You run it at this temperature’, so they’re very precise. He’s also using botanicals, fruits, anything that he can get his hands on from everywhere! And he’s not just making gin, he’s making fruit liquors, rums, brandies, he’s even got cocktail recipes in there. So it really is anything and everything. And then, because he’s a bit crazy and excentric, you’ll have things like a boot polish recipe. or pills to cure your horse when it has a sore stomach, and stuff like that. He was a chemist, very scientific, very factual. But he did have a bit of a twinkle.”

I spent hours at the archive, and barely scratched the surface! It was an extraordinary experience and I am very grateful to Joanne for her time and the entire Tanqueray team for making my visit happen.

Charlotte Voisey

Meet Charlotte Voisey, Director of Brand Advocacy at William Grant & Son

The chance to meet and interview Charlotte Voisey at this year’s Tales of the Cocktail was an opportunity too good to pass up. Charlotte has long been an inspiration to me as one of the leading female figures in the liquor industry.

How did you start out in the business?

I studied hospitality at university and the course I chose had a one year in-industry work experience. During that year I joined ‘My Kinda Town Restaurant Group’ and worked for 6 months in London at the Chicago Rib Shack and then went over to Spain with as part of their restaurant management training program. You spent 6 months training and then you work as a manager with one of their units anywhere in the world. I wanted to learn Spanish so I went to Barcelona to run one of their restaurants.

When I graduated I loved the experience I had and I quickly found from my peers that the company offered me way more training than any of their jobs, so I went back to them and headed off to Argentina for 2 years and ran restaurants for them out there.  Then I got the call to say, “We want to open a cocktail bar. It’s the first one really for the group. Do you want to come back and run it?. That was how I opened Apartment 195.

Had you had much cocktail experience while you were running the restaurants?

I’d had some cocktail experience, but it was long island iced teas, pina coladas.  It was still very worthwhile, but more about speed and fun than classic cocktails.

So after 4 or 5 years at Apartment 195 you went to William Grant?

Yes, they offered me the chance to travel, move to America and be an ambassador with them.

Wow! How long did that decision take to make?

It actually took me a couple of months! I had also been offered a global position with another company. I had these two amazing opportunities,  but I came to the conclusion that as amazing as travelling the world sounded, I wanted to be a bit more grounded.  The chance to live in New York and have a new home base was more attractive to me. Plus I had already fell in love with Hendrick’s Gin by then! I’ve been in New York for 10 years now.

So what does being Director of Brand Advocacy involve?

My role has 3 components. The first, and the part that I enjoy most, is leading the Brand Ambassador Group that we have. We have 26 full-time ambassadors in the US across all of our brands. They report into their brand managers, but I’m like the mentor, the big sister, whatever you want to call it, that just supports and advises them. I also advise their managers how to get the most from them because I’ve been there and done that, and not a lot of marketing people have.

Then I oversee all of the PR for the company which is quite big part of my job. I work with a PR manager and the agencies. It’s nice to get my teeth into something a bit new.

The third part is advocacy which is a word people throw around and it means different things to different people, but it ultimately it’s about getting influential people to fall in love with your brands.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The events. The William Grant party for Tales of the Cocktail is still my baby and we start planning that in January.  Putting those elements together and then watching it happen and seeing people’s reactions is so great. I guess it goes back to bartending days and that enjoyment of handing a drink over to somebody and seeing them go, “Oh my goodness. That’s really delicious.” It’s still wanting that feedback. You get this amazing, instant satisfaction which you don’t get by sitting in an office and planning.

William Grant 'Party on your Palate'
William Grant & Sons  ‘Party on your Palate’, Tales of the Cocktail 2016

What’s your proudest achievement so far?

I think the two things I’m most proud of having a hand in, would be what we do at Tales every year because William Grant is such a small company. Obviously, we are seen as a big business but William Grant has only 1% of the spirits business in the US. At Tales, through the relationship that I built early and well with Anne (Tuennerman), and the attitude that we have to this event, we’ve been able to stand up with Bacardi, and the other big groups as equal players. I’m quite proud that we’ve managed to hold our own against companies with larger budgets or bigger ideas. I think it’s down to the personal touch.

The second is our Brand Ambassador Program. I’m quite proud of the way I’ve been able to keep it non-corporate in a corporate world.

What inspires you?

I spend the year traveling and being amazed by the creativity and talent that there is all around America. When I first got here I felt like I had a bit more of an educating role because I came from London where the cocktails scene at the time was better than America.  I felt like I had a bit of duty to impart knowledge and share and show. Now I feel like I can sit back a little and be inspired by them. What people are doing in cocktail bars all over America makes me think, “Right. It’s my turn to thank them. I’ve got to up my game because they deserve to be surprise and delighted like I am when I go to their bars.” I think that’s what it is. It’s being inspired to stand up and give people what they deserve.

The Proper Pour is fantastic resource for me, I’m amazed at how you do it. What’s the most challenging part of making cocktails on camera ? Do you do it in one take?

I do! We film about 10 episodes in a day. Honestly, it’s the easiest thing I do. First of all I don’t over think it. I wanted the show just to be me doing my style. I’m not trying to be an expert. I’m not trying to be the best. It’s just me just making drinks the way I make them and talking about them in a way that I think is interesting and succinct. It’s all very natural. I don’t have a script. I have a couple of things that I want to include and we just get to the recipe, hat way there’s nothing I say wrong because there’s nothing … there’s no script. I find it very natural and easy.

What’s your favorite gin cocktail and why?

I go back and forth. It’s between the White Lady and the French 75. The White Lady is exactly the type of cocktail I like the most, shaken, delicate, so you can taste the botanicals of the gin. It works very well with Hendricks because the floral components come through. I’m more of a fan of that style of cocktail than stirred drinks like martinis, as I have a low tolerance and I find them too strong.

The French 75 is probably my other go to. It always feels right. It’s an elegant cocktail, looks beautiful and most bars can make it if you think about it. It’s really just gin, lemon and maybe a bit of sugar and some lime as well in mine. It’s one that you can probably fall back on quite a bit.

What do you see as the next cocktail trend?

As the industry quickly gets more advanced everywhere you’re seeing lots of trends pop up. I just came from Tim Hurley’s seminar and they were talking about the use of aquafaba, a vegan substitute for egg white. Really interesting.

What are your favourite bars?

Tough question! I was very impressed when I went to Australia last year. I’d previously own been to Sydney on holiday and it was my first time to Melbourne. I was just blown away by the attention to detail, the excellence and of course the service. They were so happy to have us there and not just because it was me. You saw it everywhere.

In addition, I enjoy the Tiki bars in Chicago. They’re doing really well. I love Broken Shaker here in Miami. In London, The Savoy is still such a treat. Dandelyan is awesome, they are doing some great things.  I’ve only been to Night Jar once, but when I went in there it was possibly one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a bar.

What do you think makes a great bar?

It’s when you walk in and it feels like you should be there and that you are welcome. That comes from the energy, mainly from service and the bartenders, how they are behaving and whether they are smiling or not. Personally, I prize beautiful décor, service, and energy as the most important things. When it’s grumpy or feels negative, I really don’t like that.

One thing that I’ve really noticed from the American bar scene is that women seem to be much more prominent and at a higher level in the industry compared to other countries. What do you think it is about the bar scene in America that fosters that?

I think it’s two things. First, you have people like Julie (Reiner) and Audrey (Saunders) who have been doing this long enough to have risen up and be mentor quality so that others can be like, “Oh, I want to be like them.” Until you have those aspirational figures, there’s nothing to look up to.

The second thing here, is Speedrack. Lynnette (Marrero) and Ivy (Mix) have done an amazing job pulling women together and giving them an amazing confidence boost and letting them shine.

Finally, do you see there being brand extensions for Hendricks, like a Navy Strength or a Barrel-Aged version?

I couldn’t say yes or no to that. I think there will always be experimentation. Hendricks, by very definition is so unique and very particular. Leslie is an amazing talent and having that level of creativity, if Hendricks were to do a line extension, how exciting would that be? I think everyone would trust that it would be pretty awesome!


Support Movember with a Negroni

Long time readers will know about my love for Negroni, in all it’s forms. Bitter, sweet and utterly delicious, Negroni is the perfect sipping cocktail and having bottled versions available is both a blessing and a curse. It’s difficult to deny oneself when all you have to do is open one bottle. Yup, I am THAT lazy.

One of my great finds last year was The Negroni Project Barrel-Aged Negroni, made with Melbourne Gin Company gin. You and read more about bottled Negroni here.

A couple of weeks ago, Matt and Jesse, two of the Negroni Project team members, invited me to taste test the contents of this year’s barrels.


How could I refuse?

First we tasted to see how the mixture had developed, before deciding to add fresh vermouth to lift the drink prior to bottling. Very handy that Matt is one of the best sommeliers around!


I love the oaky notes that the barrel-aging process imparts. It’s not a bitter-sweet Negroni but rather more mellow making it an approachable option for those Campari haters.

The added bonus with buying a bottle of the The Negroni Project is all the profits go to Movember, the men’s health charity. Last year they raised over $4,500 and are hoping to top that this year.

Enjoy a delicious, ready-made Negroni AND support a good cause? Win/win.

How can you support Movember with a Negroni?

To find a stockist near you click here.

To donate to The Negroni Project November campaign click here.


Meet Ryan Magarian, Aviation Gin

Ryan Magarian is an industry stalwart and one of the partners in the creation of one of my favourite American Gins, Aviation Gin.

Ryan was in Melbourne last week on a flying visit and I was thrilled to be able to interview him and get some insights into New Western Gins.

Talk me through the creation of Aviation Gin

I like to describe the early 2000s as the 4th evolution of gin. (The 1st evolution was Genever, the 2nd was Old Tom and the 3rd evolution was London Dry), although it has taken time for people to articulate it. In around 2000 two brands started doing something different: Hendricks and Tanqueray. Both of them were amplifying the alternative gin botanicals in a way that gins hadn’t been in the past. They were relying on the other botanicals to sell and define their gin rather than the juniper.

I think people began to question whether more could be done with gin other than simply make a tight juniper spirit. Clearly, it has to contain juniper, there should be in my opinion a “responsible amount of juniper” for it to be called gin, but was there room for more creativity?

What they didn’t do, but what we chose to do, and what I consider to be the lynch pin of Aviation was create something that reflected the sensibility and the climate and the creativity that you see in the Pacific North West.

We were determined to make it ours, there was no reason why some gin makers from Oregon should make something that tastes exactly like Tanqueray, it just didn’t make sense to me. Using alternative, and often unusual botanicals offers the distiller the chance to make a gin that is truly theirs.

Why use Sarsaparilla?

I credit my partner with the inclusion of both  lavender and sarsaparilla, our two most unusual botanicals.We like to think we went ‘off-roading’ to create a damp, forest floor flavour profile (rather than a pine tree walk flavour profile).

Aviation Gin is earthy, savoury, rich, unctuous, – to me it’s the Pacific Northwest in a bottle. It’s doesn’t smell like the English country side, it doesn’t taste like Sydney it smells like Portland, Oregon if you ask me!

We’ve even done blind tasting and asked people to guess which gin is from the Pacific North-West and they always pick Aviation, so what ever we’ve done we’ve done it right. I don’t think there is another gin that is as terroir-orientated as Aviation.

How did the term New Western Gin come about?

I’m very much a believer in being a part of the intellectual conversation about gin and not just someone who’s bringing a product to market. Aviation was so different to what was available at that time that it made no sense to just hand it over to a bartender and say “here you are, have some new gin”, so when I started we coined the term New Western dry gin. For better or worse it stuck all over the world, as a moniker to describe gins that are more heavy-handed with the alternative gin botanicals, in creating what I call a botanical democracy.

There was some resistance to the term by traditional gin distillers, but I believe that having a flavour designation term helps grow the category, helps the consumer and more importantly protects the existing dry gin category, but it gives a place for us to be more creative.

When I try a new gin, I always start from the simplest point:

Is it a ‘dictatorship of juniper’ or it is a ‘democracy of botanicals’?

Is it a juniper-centric London Dry or is it balance of botanicals in a New Western style gin?

Do you think being a bartender helped in the process? Aside from creating something that was so specific to the North West , were you looking for something that was versatile enough to work in lots of different cocktails?

I definitely thought about creating something a craft cocktail maker would want on his or her back bar. Essentially, they want to create a drink that is balanced between spirits and modifiers and accents. So as a bartender it made a lot of sense for me to create gin that was balanced and could be used in lots of different cocktails.

How did you choose the name? Was it after the Aviation Cocktail?

The name Aviation is taken from the cocktail. But, it wasn’t like I saw this random drink and thought it would be a good marketing idea to use the name. The Aviation was the first gin cocktail I tasted that made me realise that everyone could love gin, it was a life-changing gin experience!

Aviation Cocktail

I first noticed this drink in my friend Paul Harrington’s book, Cocktails of the 21st century,written in the late ’90s, before Dave Wondrich had dug up the original recipe by Recipes for Mixed Drinks by Hugo R. Ensslin. An Aviation up until 2006 was made without crème de violette.  The simple harmony of gin, maraschino and lemon was a revelation. I thought “This is the Trojan horse for gin!”.

The idea of gin in a yummy citrus drink was a novelty. Remember this was way back at the beginning of what we now call the cocktail revolution. So I went back to the bar and started putting gin in everything, Gin Cosmos, Gin Mojitos, even Daiquiris!

Ryan’s thoughts on gin and gin cocktails

I don’t believe that people don’t like gin, it’s two different things…relevant vehicles to serve it and bartenders not having the knowledge (back then) of how to cook with it so to speak. There is a gin and a gin cocktail for every imbiber in the world and a lot of that comes down to the expertise of the barman or woman to figure out how to make that connection.

We wanted Aviation Gin to work well in citrus cocktails. It doesn’t have a huge amount of citrus so it’s a good foundation. Every gin has a unique application and Aviation is no different.

Highballs with Aviation Gin:  – gin and soda, gin and lemonade, gin and grapefruit. The sweetness of the sarsaparilla works well with the bitterness of the grapefruit.

Punches – Aviation, Tom Collins, Gin Daiquiri, Last Word and  French 75 all work well with Aviation

19th century cocktails: Negroni, martini

However, as New Western gins tend to be softer, we needed to play with the ratios a little so the gin doesn’t get lost in the drink. It’s forced me to get more intellectual with all gins and see how they work with different cocktails and recalibrate accordingly. For example, a Negroni made with Aviation would be 60ml gin, 30ml sweet vermouth and 30ml campari (instead of the usual 30/30/30).

An Aviation Martini would be 75ml gin, 15ml Dolin vermouth and then 1 dash of Regan’s bitters.

I like to say “A great martini should taste like magical freakin’ glacial water“.

A last word on New Western Gins

Imagine gin as a solar system. Tanqueray is the Sun, Beefeater is Mercury, Plymouth is Venus, Hendricks and Tanqueray 10 would be Saturn and Uranus. And Aviation? We’re Pluto with regard to juniper!

My grateful thanks to Ryan for spending so much time with me, it was a fascinating and great learning experience for me. Thanks to Dan Roche and the team at Vanguard for making it possible.

You can follow Ryan on twitter.


Meet Ryan Chetiyawardana AKA Mr Lyan

His name had cropped up so many times in conversation with bartenders, that I knew I had to try to meet Ryan Chetiyawardana during my trip to the UK.

Ryan and his bars have won many awards, most recently International Bartender of the Year 2015 and Best New International Cocktail Bar of the Year (Dandelyan) at the Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards, the most prestigious awards for the industry.

How did you get into the bar industry?

My entry into the industry was as a chef. I’d grown up in a very food orientated family, mum was a pastry chef and food was a social centre of our family. My parents didn’t really drink that much but enjoyed having people round and food and drink was at the heart of that.

I got an offer of a place at Art College (St. Martin’s in London) but I wanted to do something in between leaving school and heading down South. There was a college of food in Birmingham so I enrolled there to train as a chef.  Some of the practical things and the understanding of how to make a kitchen work I loved, I had studied biology at school so some fo the food science stuff really appealed to me. But pretty quickly I became quite disenchanted with being in a kitchen. Growing up around food, it was a very social thing for me. In a professional kitchen you are so removed from the people you are making food for. That felt very alien to me. My best friend suggested I go work in a bar, where I would still be working with flavours and food, but I could actually talk to people.

I hit the usual catch 22 situation of wanting to work behind a bar but not having any experience, so getting turned down for jobs. I approached a place called Santa Fé in Birmingham. It was a tequila bar and restaurant inspired by Mexican cuisine. Looking back they had a better selection of tequila than I see in bars now. God knows how they did that in Birmingham in 2002! They took a punt on me and I became really intrigued by the work and ended up doing really well, so I became hooked on working in bars.

When I started at art college in London I carried on doing bar work.

When did you decide to open your own bar?

I’ve had the opportunity to work in amazing bars and work in their concepts and bring in some of my ideas but you reach a point where it’s time. While I was at Whistling Stop  I said to the guys, “There are 5 or 6 ideas in my head that could be strong ideas for bars now.”

We opened White Lyan in October 2013 and a year later Dandelyan (At the Mondrian Hotel). October is clearly a good month for me as this year I’m publishing my first book!

Ryan’s Book.

When you opened White Lyan, it quite contentious as you were making your own house spirits and not working with brands…

On the surface It looks like a terrible business decision, but it was never about not working with brands. We wanted this bar to be a conversation starter. We wanted to breathe some life into the industry and challenge and excite people. We wanted to show that there was a different way of doing things. I was frustrated that things were being done because that’s the way they always had been. No-one seemed to be asking “is there another way to do this?”

It wasn’t about insulting the industry. A lot of people thought that, but it wasn’t the case. We copped a lot of criticism at the beginning, but slowly people got the idea of what we were trying to do.

One evening we had a very well-known food critic come in. He turned to us and said “I wanted to hate this concept, but these are the best drinks. I thought it was going to be super-pretentious. But it isn’t”

We wanted a pub space because we wanted it to be welcoming. The concept was  “a cocktail bar for people who don’t go to cocktail bars”.

It’s super-relaxed and we wanted it to feel like people are in our house. That idea is at the  heart of what we were doing. We reduced the prices, but by having pre-made drinks we increased the speed of service, so we have more time to chat with people. So if they want to spend time asking about the drinks and how they are made (and we can get really geeky with the details) we can,  but equally If they want to just grab drinks and sit with their mates, we can achieve that really quickly.

What’s the best thing about your job? The guests or making drinks?

The people! On both sides of the bar. Some of my oldest and dearest friends are from the industry.

I also meet hundreds of people coming in to the bars. The other day we had a couple from Japan on their honeymoon. We’ve tried to create something exciting that draws people to us and as a result it brings you into contact with so many cultures from around the world.

So how does Dandelyan differ from White Lyan?

We call Dandelyan a “neighbourhood bar in a 5 star setting”. We wanted to bring the warmth of our style of setting but we still wanted it to have bar geekiness.

We’ve stripped back all of the ingredients to understand the fundamentals. . We’ve termed it “Modern Botany”.  By doing that we get what we want to out of the ingredients. We call it the “nose to tail of plants’. For example we wanted to understand the defence mechanism of plants. How does it protect itself from insects? Does it create an aroma, how can we use that? Every one of the drinks is thoroughly researched.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

People surrounding me. The teams. Our peers. Anything and everything. It might be an ingredient, it might be a concept or a story. Any of those things can trigger a spark. A lot of the time we bandy an idea around the team. One of my crucial roles is enabling that kind of creativity but also the most paramount thing is not to poison anybody!


I’m serious! I’ve been to competitions where I’ve had to say “I don’t think we should taste this”. We do a lot of food safety and thorough research!

What’s your typical day?

I jump around a fair bit. I like to be at both bars. I’m usually here (White Lyan) one or two nights a week. I’m at Dandelyan a bit more as it’s newer. Both Ian and I cover the Mr. Lyan projects. Robyn looks after here and Marcus runs Dandelyan. Both ships have strong captains.

We also retail some products. It was an exclusive in Selfridges for 3 months. The 5 cocktails all picked up medals and they can be ordered on Masters of Malt.

Mr Lyan’s Spotless Martini

What’s your favourite spirit?

I’m very close to Scotch, living in Edinburgh helped. It’s probably the spirit I do the most amount of work with. Then after that it’s gin.

I like things that have a difficult approach. I used to drink a lot of tequila. I like championing things that have a bit of a stigma. in 2005 I was putting raw egg in every cocktail at the time when people were freaking out about salmonella.

Whisky still has a few issues, some people say they struggle with it. Mad Men has helped though!

Is Whisk(e)y more challenging from a cocktail making point of view?

No I think it’s easier. Things that have big up front flavour and then lots of complexity underneath are great to open out with other ingredients. Scotch and gin are both good for that.

What is your favourite cocktail?

My old fall back used to be a Manhattan but I haven’t really found myself drinking them much of late. If I have a high ball it will be a Scotch and soda or a Gin Rickey. I still love a daiquiri, or a Corpse Reviver.

Where do you like to drink?

I tend to stay East (London) because I live here.

I like Sager + Wilde, a wine bar where they make you feel really welcome. It’s a place that is breaking down the snobbery that so often occurs in the wine industry.

Satan’s Whiskers and Happiness both do classic cocktails in a lovely way.

And bars around the world?

Ruby in Copenhagen and Attaboy in New York. These are friends bars, but they are genuine reflections of where I like drinking. The Clumsies in Athens is also great. Athens has such a great bar scene.

How about Australia?

Definitely Black Pearl (Melbourne). So much fun! I also like Earl’s Juke Joint and The Baxter Inn.

What’s next?

I’m working on lots of top-secret projects, but I can’t tell you about any of them!

You can follow Ryan (as Mr. Lyan) on FacebookTwitter and Instagram

White Lyan, 153 Hoxton St. N1 6PJ, London UK.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

Dandelyan, Mondrian London, 20 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PD



Meet Tim Stones, Global Brand Ambassador, Beefeater Gin

During my visit to Beefeater Gin Distillery I got to meet Tim Stones, Global Brand Ambassador. Aside from scaring me to death by jumping out on me during my tour, he was a great guide to all things Beefeater and I’m thrilled he agreed to be interviewed, even though I am massively jealous of his “office”.

How long have you been a Brand Ambassador?

6 awesome years.

How did you become a BA?

After doing some freelance work for Beefeater I was asked to look after BA duties in Europe while the original BA Dan Warner went to launch Beefeater 24 in the US for 6 months. When he came back they decided to keep me on.

What is the best thing about your job?

The travel, getting to experience cocktail cultures around the world, and all the wonderful people I get to meet. The drinks industry is a wonderfully close-knit community.

Describe a typical week?

There’s no such thing! The nature of the job means there’s always something different going on. I divide my time between the distillery in Kennington, the office in Hammersmith and the rest of the world and it can change quite quickly. It’s rare to have a month planned out far in advance. The main consistencies though are travel, hosting and expenses.

Who/what inspires you?

I’m lucky enough to work with (in my opinion) the best gin distiller in the world, Desmond Payne. His knowledge and dedication to making a great gin is quite amazing. He’s also hilarious.

Your favourite gin cocktail and why?

The martini. It’s such a simple, elegant drink that really shows off the gin.

Which are your favourite bars (anywhere in the world)?

In no particular order: The Gin Joint, Athens, Happiness Forgets, London, Casita, London,  Delicatessen, MoscowMother’s Ruin, New York and Collage, Barcelona

What’s next? Any future plans?

I’m currently training to be a distiller, so when I finally decide to hang up the suitcase I’ve got something gin-related to keep me busy.

Tim's "office"
Tim’s “office”

Meet Sebastian Costello, Bad Frankie

I first met Seb last year, after one of my first gin-tasting events, just before he opened Bad Frankie in Fitzroy. This pioneering bar was the first to stock only Australian spirits, wines and beers, not to mention a bar menu entirely made up of jaffles!

This interview, with one of the nicest dudes in the business, is long over-due!

How long had you been in the industry before opening Bad Frankie?

About 14/15 years. I did work experience at a local sports club when I was 17 and went to England at 19 where started learning about mixed drinks.

I started getting into cocktails at Trinity (Canberra in 2001). At that time there was probably only 15 cocktail bartenders and we all knew each other.  We were all learning together at a time when mixology was beginning to really take off.

Then I went to Edinburgh to work at Tigerlily. When I came back to Canberra I worked at Penthouse Bar and Parlour wine room before moving to Melbourne to work for Suntory. My time at Suntory was good fun and I got to know a lot of people in the bar industry.

So you left Suntory to open the bar?

Yes. if you work in hospitality the dream is always to open your own bar. I wanted a place that I could love and enjoy working in. It wasn’t so much a money-making plan but something I had a passion for.

Why an Australian bar?

As you can see I’ve done a fair bit of travelling.  In 2011 we went to the States. I drank bourbon in Nashville before heading to Mexico to drink tequila in Tequila. What I love is about travelling is the local recommendations. While I was in Nashville all I wanted to do was get cowboy boots, go to a Honky Tonk and have the best time drinking local beer or local bourbon. People were recommending bourbons and when we asked why they liked that one,  it would be because they had a relative working there. I loved the connections.

When I came back to Melbourne I was thinking “oh wouldn’t it be great to do a bourbon bar or a tequila bar” but I knew I wouldn’t be true to myself if I did that.

I have a broad Aussie accent and I’m proud to be Australian. I noticed the trend for Aussie spirits and then the idea for an Australian bar came to me.

Would you say that was a risky choice?  There weren’t that many spirits around then?

We had seven gins and a few whiskies. Definitely not as much as there are now!

Did people think you were crazy?

It took me about 3 months to talk Ellie (Seb’s partner) around and when you tell people it’s an Australian bar they think of Walkabout (Australian themed bars in the UK). It took us a while to figure it out how it would look.

Sally Holborn, our designer, and I would come up with all these ideas and then we’d run them past Ellie who would often say “no too Australian or too ‘Ocker’”.

I wanted people to understand more about Melbourne history and culture. I wanted the decor to have a connection to my heritage.

Seb points out a few images on the wall:

There are a few family shots. That’s my mum’s side of the family in about 1963. That’s my pop on his bike in about 1912. I wanted to do that. If you are going to own a bar it might as well suit you. It’s like my lounge room!

What was the biggest challenge?

There were 3! No money, sticking to a budget and finding a space.

I found both convincing people it was a good concept, and then getting the idea in my head down on paper, very hard. I did 50-60 hours a week for a year trying to get the bar off the ground and from where we started to how we ended up is just unbelievable.

There were lots of hits and misses. It took 3-4 months alone to figure out our the name and identity. (You can find out more about why the bar is called Bad Frankie on their website)

How has the Australian spirits industry changed since you opened?

Obviously, the volume of Australian spirits available now is so much greater. The customer is also more aware and they are really keen to get involved and learn more about Australian products. In the beginning it was a little more difficult.

We spend a lot of time sitting down with the customers and talking to them. I think people can sometimes be nervous when they walk into a bar, especially if it’s somewhere new to them. They often call for a drink they usually have as it makes them feel safe.

We want people to feel comfortable, so we take some extra time. We ask people what they like and just get them smelling, tasting and trying the spirits. We just love what we do and we love talking about Australian products.

If a customer never tried Aussie gin before what would you suggest?

We usually take over a selection of 6 and get them to smell them as that’s what most people like about gin, the smell! We like to give people as many options as possible. When suggesting a drink, we ask them what people they usually order. Alcohol percentage plays a big part. For example, If they drink beer, we give them a G&T. If it’s wine we’ll give them a martini, but maybe diluted a little.

With our gin flights we offer tonic and water and I have nothing against people watering down their drink. It opens up the flavours more.

I don’t want people to just like Australian gin, I want them to have a favourite Australian gin.

How do you see the Australian distilling industry developing? Do you think there is room for more?

There is heaps of room for more products. If it’s people doing their own thing with passion and love, they don’t need to sell massive amount. It’s like any small business.

Are you tempted to go into distilling yourself?

No! We’ve talked about some Bad Frankie products, but the thing I like best thing is talking about other people’s stories and the stories behind Australian spirits are fantastic.

What’s next?

We’re happy. There’s a little bit more work to do here, but I’m happy in my lounge room. Of course I’d love to open two or 3 bars other bars, but the reality is it would take me away from doing what I enjoy, talking to people.

The lovely guys at BAR/D UP shot this great film of Bad Frankie. My thanks to them for allowing me to share it!

Bad Frankie 141 Greeves Street, Fitzroy Vic 3065

Follow them on Facebook, twitter, Instagram or visit their website.


Meet Shaun Byrne

Shaun Byrne has managed one of the most renowned Melbourne bars, (or should I say “Ginstitutions”), The Gin Palace for almost 8 years. I caught up with him before he embarks on the next stage of his career.

How did you get the job at the Gin Palace?

I started here when I came back from London in 2007. I knew Murray Pitman, the previous manager and he was moving on so put me in touch with Vernon (Vernon Chalker owns Bar Ampere, Madam Brussels and The Gin Palace). We sat down and had a chat and he offered me the manager’s position then, but I didn’t take the job as I didn’t want to work too many nights! I didn’t become manager until I finished my Degree in Entrepreneurship at RMIT in 2011.

What’s the best part of the job?

I’d have to say the people I work with, my colleagues. Working in an environment where people still come in for a drink on their days off, that’s’ pretty special. It makes my job as manager much easier!

How has the gin category changed since you started here?

When I first started 8 years ago, there were 30 gins on the back bar, we’ve now started capping it at 200. I think I’ve probably tasted over 1000 gins in my time here.

Tanqueray, Hendrick’s really pushed the category forward as did Bombay Sapphire. The Americans pushed gin for their cash flow while they are waiting for their whisky to age, and now it’s the turn of the Aussie craft distillers.

Aussie gins are really focused. What we do with gin here is very unique; by using the native botanicals we’ve almost created a “terroir”. At the Gin Palace we even label it as Australian Dry.

Consumers beginning to understand the different facets of gin; the differences between gin cordials, navy strengths, and barrel-aged styles. I hope the next big thing will be genever; it’s such an underrated spirit.

 Do you think the category can sustain this growth?

No. Being the premier gin venue in Australia we cap our range at 200, because we just don’t have the room for more. We definitely go through the most gin out of all the bars in Australia and 200 is the limit.

I believe the category will eventually self-correct and those people making gins for a bit of cash flow while their whisky ages, won’t produce as much gin.

The drop in the Australian Dollar will affect imports and we’ll see more of a development of the Australian Distillers market. I love what Seb at Bad Frankie is doing, and it’s great to see the quality of Aussie spirits coming through and holding their own on the International stage.

However, anyone who knows anything about the Australian Distilling industry knows that the government needs to get off their backside and help them out a little bit with tax situation.

How do you pick the 200?

We call it the ‘Beefeater Bench Mark’. Beefeater is a good base rate London Dry Gin that you can pick up anywhere. It has everything you are looking for in a gin; juniper, great texture and botanical complexities.

That’s the level of quality we are looking for. The problem arises when you have 200 gins above the Beefeater benchmark! You can’t have a Gin bar without Beefeater!

Do people brand call when they come in?

Not really, we are a destination venue. People come here from all over the world to drink gin. The range does intimate people, and we help break it down for them as much as possible by offering gin flights. Inevitably, they are left in the capable hands of the bartender, who will ask them what they are looking for and what type of drink they are in the mood for.

What is the bestselling gin cocktail at The Gin Palace?

Martinis; 18 years in business and we still have the half a dozen martinis on the original cocktail list that we still sell. We’ve just added to the list!

The biggest change is the G&T bowls that we introduced (originally from Spain), they took off like I’ve never seen. We started dabbling with these large pours and they evolved to incorporate different seasonal garnishes. They’ve become a Gin Palace favourite and outsell everything else.

Image reproduced with permission of Gin Palace


We do sell lots of Negroni these days, something that’s been driven by bartenders. Generally speaking whatever bartenders are drinking now, consumers are drinking a year later.

What is your favourite gin?

{Much laughter as Shaun and I both agree it’s like choosing between children}

It really depends on what I’m in the mood for, what the weather is like.

Like people drinking white wine in summer and red wine in winter, I don’t drink much genever at all in summer, but stick a Filliers vintage in front of me in the depth of winter and I’ll definitely drink that on the rocks.

Beefeater Aged (Burroughs Reserve) is also delicious. I can’t even give a definitive London Dry! Too much choice! It shows how varied the gin world is.

What’s your favourite gin cocktail?

I like adding gin to non-gin cocktails like the Bamboo (vermouth/sherry) or Duplex (vermouth).

Someone brings non-gin loving friend to the bar. What would you offer them?

Either Sloe Gin, or Bombay Sapphire Gin. It’s light and accessible. Generally speaking people often don’t like gin as they’ve either had bad tonic or bad gin.

Your other job is as partner in Maidenii Vermouth, how did that come about?

We started making our own versions of things we use behind the bar, like raspberry cordial, ginger beer, lime cordial, sherbets, and falernum and so on. I thought I’d give vermouth a go. It was OK, but Vernon thought it was good enough to set up a meeting with Gilles Lapalus.

Gilles then went off France to look at different vermouths and their production methods, returning full of ideas.

Together we tasted all the vermouths we could get hold of (around 50 in total). It was completely inspiring to taste vermouth with a wine maker because he could taste the wine base underneath everything. The common link between most of the vermouth was the poor quality of the base wine.

That gave us the starting point for what we wanted to achieve and we began playing around with different botanicals, with a focus on native and local ingredients to give a terroir to the product.

Image reproduced with permission of Maidenii

Maidenii vermouth are made to EU specifications which insists vermouth be made with wormwood, be 70% wine and a certain sugar level. We don’t add any caramel (as a sweetener or for colouring) like other vermouth.

There are 3 vermouths: Sweet, dry and classic. I understand how to use Sweet and Dry, but where does classic sit?

It’s designed to be a vermouth you can drink by itself. Maidenii Classic was one of the botanical testing grounds. Gilles just happened to have a bottle when he was visiting Attica one day. Banjo tasted it and said he’d take the whole lot! We thought well, if it’s good enough for one of the best restaurants in Australia we should really think about producing it commercially. Since then it has developed and evolved to include more botanicals. Maidenii Classic is stocked at Dan Murphy’s and is designed to change people’s perception of vermouth. The Italians invented Aperitivo hour (bridging the gap between dinner and finishing work) and vermouth over ice is just perfect for that!

So, this May you are leaving after 8 years. How does it feel?

It feels good – I’m particularly looking forward to not working until 4am! There are lots of exciting plans with this consultancy business I’m starting up. I start the first job over in Shanghai immediately after I finish here, before going to Perth to open a lounge bar in a 6 star hotel. Then hopefully working with a few gin brands, but I can’t talk about that yet!

Would you consider making your own gin?

You’d be surprised how many times I’ve been asked and I’d say there is a better than average chance that it will happen one day.

Looking forward to that Shaun!

You can keep up with all things Maidenii on Facebook and Instagram.


Meeting Leslie Gracie, Master Distiller, Hendrick’s Gin

Receiving an invitation to a Hendrick’s gin event in Sydney in the form of a gourd with a letter hidden inside brought a smile to my face. Discovering that Leslie Gracie, Master Distiller of Hendrick’s Gin, was visiting Australia for the first time, made me do a happy dance.

Leslie and David Piper (Global Ambassador for Hendrick’s) were travelling to Australia to share details of their recent expedition to Venezuela in search of a new botanical. (I’ll save that for another post).

I love meeting distillers, they are a unique bunch, so I made it my mission to see if I could have some time with Leslie. The Hendrick’s team not only arranged for me to meet Leslie, but also David! I couldn’t believe my luck!

It was great to chat to them and in the short time we spent together I learnt a great deal, including the fact that Leslie is from Yorkshire and trained as a chemist!

GQ: I understand you started as a whisky distiller?

Leslie Gracie (LG): I started out working for William Grant’s as part of the technical team covering all of the spirits, including whisky. Then we started working on Hendrick’s gin and I moved across to gin.

GQ: How difficult was it to adapt from whisky to gin?

LG: It wasn’t! Gin is much more fun than whisky because you can use all sorts of different botanicals. In whisky you only use cereal, water and yeast and that’s it. With gin you can take anything from anywhere, as long as you don’t kill anybody! And there are some fascinating things out there…

GQ: Did you have a clear idea of the type of gin you wanted to create?

LG: We knew we wanted something a bit heavier in flavour than the gin William Grant were producing then. We wanted something that was a step away from what was being produced globally at the time, but still recognisable as gin.

GQ: How many attempts did it take before you got it right?

LG: I started by taking all the botanicals I was originally thinking of using, and distilled each of them on a very small scale. I looked at them individually to work out which botanicals worked together and which ones didn’t.

Gradually, we got close to where we wanted to be. When we got to that stage, I took it from lab scale out on to the stills themselves, but then of course the whole game changed! Scaling up production onto two different copper stills (Bennett and Carter Head) and then blending those two distillates together to recreate what we had achieved in the lab was very complicated!

LG: You can see why gin is more interesting!

GQ: Why use a  Carter Head still as well as a Bennett Still?

LG: It gives you something completely different. Two totally different distillates. I had a special little kit made to practice vapour-infused distillation in the lab.

GQ: How long did it take from lab practice to finished product?

LG: We started work in the lab in 1999. Then we moved onto the big stills in 2000-2001. We probably created about 15-16 versions.

GQ: What happened to those gins?

LG: Well, we drank them after we analysed what was wrong with them!

GQ :When you are talking about analytics are you doing specific scientific tests rather than taste testing with people?

LG: I was taste testing along with a couple of others, but using lab instruments to inform us too.

GQ: Where did you get the idea of adding cucumber and rose?

David Piper (DP): It was a collective idea within the company to create something very different. Cucumber and Rose were included to create quintessentially English.

GQ: Hendrick’s stands out as a game-changer in the gin category. What do you make of all the new gins?

LG: There are some very interesting products out there. Some of which really aren’t gin, because juniper is not the key note. Having said that there are some good ones, but there are some not so good ones too.

DP: It’s wonderful that the gin category has opened up and people are realizing that you can use all sorts of different botanicals. It’s great to see.

GQ: We’re also seeing more gin variants in the market – navy strength, barrel-aged. Do you think that is something that Hendrick’s will do?

LG: I never say never!

DP: We have some ideas, but we won’t ever just do another variant of Hendrick’s. It’s very interesting tasting it at 55% ABV but it’s not quite different enough to make us want to produce it for the market. Leslie is constantly experimenting, the results of most of which will never see the light of day.

LG: True! We’ve also tried some barrel-ageing for Hendrick’s but it wasn’t quite right either!

GQ: Finally, what’s your favourite way to drink Hendrick’s?

LG: I like Hendrick’s, elderflower cordial and soda water!

DP: A Hendrick’s martini!

Grateful thanks to the Leslie and David for spending some time with me, and for the William Grant team for organising it.