Everyone in Australia will be entirely aware of the bushfire crisis that has unfolded over recent weeks and months as lives, animals, homes and businesses have been lost to the devastating blazes.
This horror bushfire season has impacted millions of people across Australia, and our industry is no different. But while it is hard to escape the shocking magnitude of the damage caused by these fires, the way that communities and people from all over the world have come to help is one positive ray of light.
The fires have seen several families having to evacuate their homes and distilleries as authorities warn of the dangers they would face if they stayed.
Independent distillers Hamish Nugent and Rachel Reed were forced to leave their gin distillery and restaurant located in Bright, Victoria, along with their children Lottie and Felix. While they can be thankful they are all safe, they have no lost their only source of income during a key tourism period.
This will not only affect trade at present as firefighters work to control the surrounding fires but will continue to impact visitation to the area for at least a further 10 weeks.
I have spoken with wineries, breweries, cideries and distilleries over this week regarding the crisis and a common theme is the desire for people to stay away while the fires are burning, but to please come to visit once it is safe.
Nugent said: “We hope that people will return to the region once authorities have given the all clear. We hope that tourists will return and support local businesses as they have in the past so we may rebuild our community.”
And while it is not safe to return Nugent, like many other producers, is working through his own website and with wholesaler partner Nip of Courage to keep sales moving for Reed & Co Distillery.
Kathleen Davies, Sales and Marketing manager at Nip of Courage, said it is now more important than ever to support Australian distillers.
“We have people’s entire livelihoods at risk. Our local distillers are relying on sales to keep their businesses and their families afloat. While it may not be possible for us all to visit fire-affected regions at this stage, we can still show our support.”
In the Southern Highlands of New South Wales Valero and Elisa Jimenez, owners and distillers at the independent Joadja Distillery have so far narrowly escaped immediate danger as bushfires continue to rage in the area.
While prepared to defend their home and the distillery the family were forced to leave after unpredictable weather conditions combined with the convergence of several fires made it too dangerous to remain on site.
An array of make-shift water reservoirs and a fire-fighting pump system are in place at the site, and while it remains intact, Valero has concerns beyond the physical site. Due to its remote location, Joadja Distillery cannot operate for tourists when there is a fire ban. “The fires have deterred people from experiencing Joadja, even weeks before the Southern Highlands were directly at risk,” says Valero, “and we are going to continue to be negatively affected for quite some time after the fires have been controlled.”
It’s a similar story for Wildbrumby Schnapps Distillery in the Snowy Mountains, who on January 2 closed its cellar door for the first time in 16 years.
Returning to the site today, the team said: “It has been an extremely devastating few days in the Snowies, but we are relieved to report that the distillery is still here, and that all of our staff are safe.
“As we continue to prepare for any future bushfires, we’d like to say a huge thank you to all those involved in fighting fires and supporting the community through this very difficult time. We know many in rural Australia have endured terrible losses, and our thoughts are with you.
“The distillery is not currently open to the public because the road from Jindabyne to Thredbo will remain closed until authorities are satisfied that those visiting the region will be safe from the threat of fires.”
The key now is helping these businesses and distilleries to keep going in these horrendously difficult times.
You can show your support by buying a bottle or two and helping in a time of need.
Stock is available for retail sales and wholesale order with Joadja Distillery at www.joadjadistillery.com.au.
The online shop for Wildbrumby remains operational and you can also find out where the schnapps and gin are stocked around Australia at https://wildbrumby.com/stockists/.
Stony Creek Farm Distillery, which is home to North of Eden Gin has been forced to cancel its first ‘Gin School’ program due to the fires, leaving the distillery and business in limbo.
Gavin Hughes issued an emotional plea urging Australians to “support ravaged communities”
He has pledged that every bottle of North of Eden Gin sold will help contribute funds to the local community destroyed by fire. Retail sales are available through https://www.northofeden.com.au/the-shop and wholesale orders via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The team at Nip of Courage can really help you with which distilleries need our help. If you are doing something to help the bushfire crisis, please let us know and if you need help, contact us and we will publish your needs. Contact me, Andy, at email@example.com.
On behalf of everyone at Bars and Clubs and Food & Beverage Media, we sincerely hope you all stay safe and we will do what we can to help.