When Will Edwards opened Archie Rose Distillery in 2013, Sydney had been without a distillery of its own since 1853.
The harbour city was in need of a forerunner to take hold of the city’s spirit-making potential and pave the way towards building the thriving industry that exists today.
Enter Will and Archie Rose Distilling Co. After putting on their pioneer hats, the team has gone on to produce enough award-winning gins, whiskies and vodkas to mark Sydney as a competitive producer of Australian spirits. We sat down with Will to talk inspiration, success and what’s to come.
What was the inspiration behind Archie Rose? When did you decide to build a business around your passion?
I have always had a passion for spirits. I used to do a bit of home brewing – I made some pretty terrible spirit-based infusions and played around with oak maturation – but it remained a hobby and I went down a fairly standard corporate path for a number of years. In 2013 I reached a point where I knew I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to be doing, and the distillery idea was constantly in the back of my mind, so I took annual leave and headed to New York City for a break. [I also wanted] to check out some of the first distilleries since prohibition that had popped up in Brooklyn and surrounding areas.
After seeing their set-ups and hearing their stories, I couldn’t figure out why no one had started up a successful distillery in the City of Sydney since the mid-1800s. Like NYC, we have a unique history of distillation [plus] awesome craft brewers, an incredible bar scene and people who are genuinely interested in where their food and drinks come from and how they are created. I thought there must have been a good reason why no one had started a distillery. I did a lot of research for about six months but didn’t find anything I considered an absolute roadblock, so it was then that I committed to starting Archie Rose.
How can visitors to Archie Rose can get their hands dirty and immerse themselves in the distilling process?
At Archie Rose, our doors are always open for visitors to observe the distilling process while enjoying a drink at the bar. For an in-depth guided tour of the distilling process, we run detailed tours almost every day where we’ll walk you through malt selection, brewing, fermentation, wash distillation, spirit distillation, botanical selection, oak policy and maturation – as well as having a taste of whatever is available and in production on the day. We also run Blend Your Own Gin and Whisky classes.
What are some of your favourite go-to flavour combinations when it comes to playing with botanicals for whisky and gin distilling?
In terms of botanicals, they are only a feature of gin. For whisky, all of the flavour is generated from the malt, yeast and cask (with water, ferment techniques, distillation techniques and a few other processes also contributing). That said, we are quite progressive with our mash bill, using six different traditional and more innovative specialty malts for our single malt whisky and an atypical malted rye for our rye malt whisky.
The beauty of gin is that it’s a spirit category extremely open to interpretation and experimentation. A great example is our recent collaboration with tattoo artist, Horisumi, which is a series of four rare gins, celebrating the uniqueness of each Japanese season. So far, we’ve released Horisumi Autumn, Horisumi Winter and Horisumi Spring. These limited releases have included really interesting botanicals such as genmaicha, Fuji apples, Tasmanian kombu, red miso and yuzu leaf.
What inspired the move to offer customised spirits, and how would you describe the response to the concept?
Essentially Tailored Spirits came from my desire to make my own gin, vodka and whisky and then wanting to share that experience with the public. It’s also really interesting for us to see the different flavour profiles people come up with.
It took about a year to refine the offering and make what is an incredibly technical process approachable for customers, but since launching what was a world-first offering in late 2015, we’ve created over 5,000 unique bottles of gin and vodka and approximately 24 custom casks of whisky.
What was your reaction to being awarded the Distillery Masters ‘Master Medal’ for Consumer Experience?
We were obviously thrilled, particularly to be one of only three distilleries worldwide to be awarded the medal! A huge part of the Archie Rose ethos is to share the process of distilling and drive spirits education more broadly in the industry, so we wanted consumers to be at the coal face so to speak – to get their hands dirty and fully appreciate how quality spirits are made. Our gin and whisky blending experiences have been a big part of that, really allowing people to appreciate the components that go into each product and how difficult it actually is to achieve a balanced flavour profile. At the end of the day though it’s not all serious education, as it’s good fun making two bottles of your own gin.
What’s next for Archie Rose? Do you have any plans to expand?
At the moment we’re very focused on building up our whisky stocks (we recently filled our 1,000th cask) and planning for the release of our first whisky. We were also incredibly excited to pick up World’s Best Unaged Whisky at the New York World Wine & Spirits Awards recently, so with the unaged spirit being recognised as the best in the world we can’t wait to taste and share the final, mature product.
We also have a couple of limited releases in the works for 2018 (both gin and whisky), but you’ll have to wait a little longer to find out about them.
Sydney’s spirits industry is rapidly growing – where do you see it heading in the future?
I think it’s just going to go from strength to strength. When we started at the end of 2014 there were only about 12 distilleries in the whole country, and one of us in the City of Sydney, and now there are over 135 nationwide and three in the Sydney metro area. I hope and definitely expect to see more local spirit producers popping up over the next few years, which is great for the industry and for local spirit lovers, myself included.
Archie Rose Distillery is open daily from 12pm to 10pm at 85 Dunning Avenue, Rosebery. Custom tailored spirits and distillery tour times can be found on their website.