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Joey Tai’s journey: from bartender to Anther Spirits distiller

Joey Tai, once a passionate cocktail waitress and bartender in Melbourne, has now been crowned an official distiller of popular gin distillery Anther Spirits.

Bars and Clubs caught up with Joey recently to chat about her career in hospitality and how her transition into the distillation sector has gone so far.

Joey began her hospitality career back in 2006 as a cocktail waitress at Melbourne’s Golden Monkey for about seven years where she rose through the ranks to become a cocktail bartender and ultimately a venue manager.

In 2012, she started working part-time at Vanguard Luxury Brands as Australia St Germain Spirits Specialist while still managing Golden Monkey.

A year later, she joined the team at Brunswick Mess Hall as one of the bar managers, and was responsible looking after spirit selection and the cocktail menu.

She seized the opportunity to help start a whisky and cocktails bar with Ben Baranows as he looked to re-brand his family business the Baranows Lounge to what it is now The Kilburn. She was an integral part of the re-brand, having been tasked with completely redesigning the bar from scratch and building the bar team to go with it.

After the project was finished, Baranows kept Joey on board, appointing her in 2016 as national portfolio brand ambassador for his distribution business Baranows Emporium and continued on until late 2019.

She explained: “This is where I got the opportunity to work with many incredible people both internationally and in Australia, work and host events with some of very amazing brands and their products such as Anther Spirits, Kilchoman, Diplomatico, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Adelphi Whisky and many more. Unfortunately, the business was going through transition in September 2019.”

Prior to the pandemic outbreak in January last year she started working for Alba Whisky as a spirits specialist. However, due to the pandemic, she was only there a short period.

Where one door closed, another opened for Joey, who started her own brand consultancy business XO Spirits Advocacy, helping independent brands with marketing and sales work on the front lines. She still operates her business today with The Select Spirits distribution as a key client.

It wasn’t until October 2020 that Joey turned her attention to making the spirits themselves, joining Anther Spirits as a distiller and spirits specialist, saying “I want to create my own brand of spirits. I want to be the maker of the product”.

She looked back down memory lane for Bars and Clubs, saying: “There are so many (good times), I think it will be the memories that I had working with the team from Anther while I was working for their distributor, Baranows.

“Also on a personal level, I love working at the Anther distillery, learning the craft that make such amazing spirits. I’ve had the privilege during working as a brand ambassador to visit distilleries. This experience has allowed me to represent the product better – I felt I could deliver their story much better when I am back in Australia too. I knew I wanted to be one of the makers of their product.”

Even after accumulating more than 15 years in hospitality, Joey couldn’t narrow down what it was about the industry that she loves the most.

She said: “[I love] Everything. The excitement and the amazing and delicious spirits we have to offer from our industry. Its inspiriting working with so many passionate and incredible people who make the industry and the constant new ideas around the world – you will never be bored.”

Joey was recently made an official distiller of Anther, which she was overjoyed about.

“I’m super-excited and humbled to be working with such amazing team. Everyone is super supportive,” she exclaimed.

“I have so much more I need to learn and understand but co-owners Dervilla [McGowan] and Sebastian [Reaburn] are both incredibly supportive and they are also very open to new ideas. We have a lot of fun things we will be working on together. It’s exciting.

“You get to know how every single drop that contributes to becoming the final product. You know all the little magics that happen in every step of the production.”

She added: “It is also quite challenging trying to manage the consistency of each of your distillations. If the still (affectionately known as Arnie) is happy with me today, things run smoothly, if not, I will have to think about what’s wrong with him.

“I think it is a completely different mindset when you are a distiller, but I am enjoying the challenge a lot. Plus, it’s rewarding when the distillate tastes good.”

Having developed a close relationship with Joey for more than a decade, Dervilla (pictured above) was dancing with joy at the prospect of officially welcoming her to the Anther family.

She said: “Joey has been involved with Anther products and our team for a few years as an employee of our past distributor Baranows Emporium. Plus, Seb and myself have known Joey for 10 to 15 years and her excellence in the hospitality industry.

“She has an enormous depth and breadth of experience in the spirts world. She’s very competent and filled with enormous amounts of integrity. We never thought we’d be lucky enough to have Joey in our business. When we she applied for the role we all did a dance.”

Dervilla said Joey’s illustrious reputation and esteemed resume made her a stand-out applicant.

“There’s no one thing that appealed to us, the whole package that is Joey was irresistible to us and has brought a wealth of experience to the team that has lifted the company for the better. She’s just such an extremely hard worker and whip smart and really nice as well. So that’s the crux of it.”

She said as a distiller, it’s always advantageous to hire someone with a background in bartending as they come with a pre-mapped knowledge and taste for what to expect and look for in a top quality product.

She advised distillers: “They come with a palate that’s already refined. It’s preloaded and primed for an appreciation for spirit and flavour.

“Bartenders have a really deep understanding of flavours and their interactions with one another, particularly an innovative bartender like Joey. She has time in the industry, experience and curiosity of flavours and she’s always challenging herself to learn new things.”

While Joey’s last job as a brand ambassador was enjoyable, she said so far, nothing beats the focus and hard work that goes into making spirits.

“They are very different roles, I love to be on the road to meet people and chat about my product as BA, but you are having a lot of different things happening with many different accounts, so as a distiller you really need to be concentrate during production, focus on the distillation and all small details to make it work smoothly, you are also working with high volume ethyl and other stuff you need to be focus on, so you are working safely.

“Each operation at Anther is like I went to a gym for three hours working every part of my muscles really hard. The lifestyle definitely has changed, very early mornings at work and I don’t need to do many late nights and my weekends are free,” she said.

Images: Anther Spirits Facebook.

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