Recognising the Women of Australian Distilling

Every year on March 8, people across the world join in recognising and celebrating the achievements and experiences of women for International Women’s Day (IWD).

This year, the day was again honoured in Sydney by the second annual IWD lunch hosted by Women of Australian Distilling, Women in Hospitality (WOHO) and Nip of Courage, in conjunction with a range of event partners and sponsors, at Newtown restaurant Bloodwood. 

The event, which has been touted as a huge success both years it has run, brings attendees together with food and drink, spirits tastings and inspiring female speakers. 

Ahead of the lunch, Kathleen Davies of Nip of Courage and Women of Australian Distilling described some background behind the event, and the importance of championing women in the industry right now. 

“The whole goal of Women of Australian Distilling is to showcase the minority of women in the industry and put them on a pedestal. As females, we’re not very good at promoting ourselves whereas men will get out there and bang their chest… I want to make a difference by putting these women on the pedestal that they should be on. Some people are self conscious about promoting themselves, so I thought, ‘I’ve got the power to do that, so I will do it for them’,” Davies said. 

“It’s also a chance for women and men to get together, as it’s an event open to everyone, because there’s a lot of fantastic men in the industry that are supportive of gender equality and also helping women achieve their goals. The event is in partnership with Women in Hospitality who are strong believers of gender equality and also have some men in their mentor program that help mentor women as well, which I think is really important.”

The 2021 lunch was again hosted by the Nip of Courage Brand Ambassador and Owner of Hades Hula House in Adelaide, Abby Roennfeldt. She kicked off the event by welcoming the first speaker and sponsor, Judith Kennedy, CEO of the Australian Gin Distillers Association. 

Kennedy spoke about her history and the journey of feminist and women’s rights movements during that time, noting that: “We have come a long way, though we still have a long way to go.”

“We’re now starting the third wave, the ‘Me Too’ wave, and the wave that means such a lot to so many women, and it has so many facets to it.

“What does International Women’s Day mean to me? It means many things that we don’t have the time to go into. But I would say to everybody that I think it’s very important nowadays, over many matters, that we all listen to women, that we listen to each other, and we hear those who are saying Me Too.”

The next speaker was Ally Ayres, Owner and Head Distiller at Karu Distillery in the Blue Mountains. She spoke about her background, how she came to start Karu Distillery with husband Nick, the challenges along the way, and the significance of IWD for her.  

“Every woman has a different walk of life. To get where they are, every woman has had their trials and tribulations, and most importantly, every woman has their success. International Women’s Day, to me, is celebrating these successes without the fear of being torn down or the fear that someone’s going to think that it’s not worth celebrating,” Ayres said. 

“It’s now 2021, I just turned 30, I make gin and rum for a living and I have 36 awards under my belt. My business and mental health have been through startup, fire, floods, pandemic and being every single role in a brand whilst learning on the job for the last three years. I am proud of the best I have done and the best that I will do. I am proud to celebrate my success in my own definition and I am proud to celebrate everyone in this room’s successes.”

Following the inspiring story from Ayres, Roennfeldt gave some background about her own story in hospitality, growing up working in her mum’s cafe, to then buy it, and eventually move on to owning Hades Hula House, which just celebrated its third anniversary. 

Roennfeldt calls the bar her “personal piece of paradise” and talked about what it was like to open a bar with only daytime hospitality experience and no mixology knowledge. She hired skilled bartenders and was always learning from those around her. In the first six months of bartending and bar owning, she entered her first cocktail competition, Patrón Perfectionists, which she then went on to win the Australian title for that year.

Ally Ayres and Julia Campbell

The next speaker was Julia Campbell from Women in Hospitality, who went into detail about the history of women’s rights in Australia, from the suffragettes right through to our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, and how WOHO is supporting future positive change within the industry. 

“We have set up women in hospitality to serve the industry in the long term and to really campaign for change in Australia. So I’d like to take a step back and look at what campaigning for change is. According to Harvard Business Law, the process is terribly painful, enormously complex, the organisation wants deeply not to change, and the success rate is abysmal. But it is also necessary,” Campbell said. 

“We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. Confidence levels between men and women are the same when they graduate high school, yet women end up with 44 per cent less superannuation than men today and the pay gap still sits at 13 and a half per cent. Boys and girls are still treated differently when growing up. A study in recent years showed that girls are paid 27 per cent less pocket money than boys. Today 15 per cent of CEOs Australia wide are female, and in hospitality it’s just under 10 per cent.

“Women in Hospitality is about taking action and not finger pointing – as the suffragettes said, ‘deeds, not words.’ We are actively fostering the career development of women in the industry so that they stay for longer and so we can move that needle to more than 10 per cent in senior leadership positions.”

The final three distiller speakers were Alarna Doherty, Owner and Distiller at Tara Distillery, Carla Daunton, Head Distiller at Young Henry’s, and Lisa Truscott, Distiller at Archie Rose. The women have each had different journeys to get to where they are now, but all show the value of empowering yourself to stand up and follow your dreams and goals. 

Carla Daunton and Abby Roennfeldt

For Doherty, it led her from the corporate world back to her Irish roots (that she feels connected to through distilling), while for Daunton it led from biochemistry to brewing and then distilling. For Truscott it started with a strong desire to get into whiskey production, which led her from Perth, to Scotland, to Tasmania, where she finally achieved her dream at Old Kempton Distillery and became the country’s youngest Head Distiller. 

Now working at Archie Rose, Truscott said: “It took me years to get to this point, and it was persistence, persistence, persistence over a very long time. But after a couple years, I’m doing exactly what I love and enjoying every single day.”

Daunton said that it’s great to be in an industry like this one and being able to do what she loves every day too, not only with the product, but also with the people. 

She said: “It’s an amazing industry I’ve found myself in… The distilling and the brewing industry that I’ve come across have been nothing but nurturing and supportive. I’ve had bearded feminists lifting me up the whole way and I’m very grateful for them. We’re gonna do amazing things together, aren’t we ladies?”

The event closed out with thanks from Roennfeldt, Davies and Bloodwood Owner and Head Chef, Claire Van Vuuren, who gave a special thanks to her team for working hard over the event in addition to Mardi Gras events the day before. 

The full list of sponsors and partners of the not for profit event are listed below:

  • Women of Australian Distilling
  • Bloodwood
  • Women in Hospitality (WOHO)
  • P&V
  • Australian Gin Distillers Association
  • Nip of Courage
  • Philter Brewing
  • Tara Distillery
  • Karu Distillery
  • Young Henrys
  • Archie Rose Distilling Co.
Alarna Doherty and Lisa Truscott
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