Hi Paul, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background!
I have had a pretty checkered background. I started off as a software engineer before spending a year in Europe skippering charter yachts in Greece and teaching windsurfing in Spain. After this I decided to knuckle down and complete an electrical engineering degree which then allowed me to work for some great companies, including IBM.
After a few years of this I decided that I needed to learn a lot more about how to build and manage businesses as I tend to get bored if I am not facing new challenges. I decided the best way to get this knowledge rapidly was to do a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). This led me to MIT in Boston after which I spent several years working in a range of industries across the United States. This was a great experience but the arrival of three obstreperous young boys led my wife and I to return to Western Australia.
I realised that it was not possible to continue to do the same sort of work in Western Australia as I was doing in the USA so I became involved in a number of startups before I decided to start a distillery. Starting a new distillery requires a broad range of skills and is a great opportunity to be creative. The wonderful thing about making spirits is that you can actually observe the products you make being consumed and get instant feedback. This is extremely satisfying.
What made you start West Winds Gin?
After spending some time back in the USA at distilling training courses and visiting a range of distilleries and then another 4 years developing my distilling skills using the 150 litre German Arnold Holstein still that I had bought I decided it was time to get real. I was lucky to meet three other like minded souls that had a range of complementary skills and that all also had a passion for spirits.
After a boozy evening in a pub in Melbourne we decided that we wanted to build a gin company and that we were going to take advantage of some of the great botanicals available only in Australia.
How did you decide on botanicals, flavour profile etc? Tell us about the process and thought behind the gins! What was your inspiration?
Before we walked out of the pub where we decided to start a gin company we also decided that we would start with two gins. One would be our Australian take on a London Dry Gin that included toasted wattle seed and one would be a higher proof gin that was much more ”out there” and incorporated Australian Bush Tomatoes to give the gin a much more savoury style. To our knowledge nobody had ever seriously used native tomatoes as the key flavour element in a gin.
It then took us 12 months and 45 distillations to develop our first two gins, the Sabre and the Cutlass. Three weeks after we launched the gins we were awarded a Gold medal for the Sabre London Dry Gin and a Double Gold for the Cutlass New World Style Gin at the San Francisco International Spirits Competition. The Cutlass was the first gin in Australia to ever win a Double Gold at this competition – we now have multiple Double Golds from San Francisco for the Cutlass and the Broadside.
From the beginning we decided that all of our gins would have some uniquely Australian flavour characteristics and we decided that we were never going to just follow the market in terms of styles and flavours. As a result all of our gins are quite distinctive and most are highly awarded in Australian and International competitions. Our first three gins, the Sabre, the Cutlass and the Broadside have all been awarded as Australia’s Champion Gin at the Australian Distillers Awards.
How does The Cutlass and The Broadside differ from each other?
The Cutlass and the Broadside are very different styles of gin.
The Cutlass, at 50% ABV, is a savoury, slightly spicy complex gin. One of our favourite ways to drink it is in a G&T with a slice of green or red capsicum. The sweetness of the capsicum beautifully compliments the savoury nature of the native bush tomato.
The Broadside was the world’s first salty gin when we launched it. As in most of our other gins we use fresh citrus peel, not dried, and we use a range of other Australian botanicals, such as lemon myrtle and cinnamon myrtle. In the Broadside we also use native Australian Sea Parsley which gives it a quite herbaceous flavour that works very well with the sea salt that we infuse into the gin. Our distiller wades out into the Margaret River surf break to collect sea water which is then filtered before being added to the gin distillate at the end of the gin production process. The Broadside goes very well with pink grapefruit in a G&T and makes excellent Negronis. At 58% ABV the Broadside is a Navy Strength Gin.
The reason we use a higher ABV content in some of our gins is that it is the alcohol that dissolves the flavour oils in the botanicals used in the distillation process. The higher the ABV the higher the flavour. The higher flavour content means that these gins really stand out in cocktails.
We’ve tried the different signature serves for The Cutlass and The Broadside, but do you have other recommendations for serving?
The Cutlass makes a great Dry Martini with a twist of lemon and makes an outstanding Red Snapper (the gin equivalent of a Bloody Mary). I think the Broadside makes a kick-arse Negroni and I actually enjoy it neat alongside fresh oysters. The Broadside also makes a great Dirty Martini.