Making gin in Australia’s picturesque Margaret River may seem like a dream but for Katie Lovis it’s her life.
As she puts it: “If you have a passion for something that is half the battle won.”
So when she approached Cameron Syme, master distiller and founder of Margaret River Distilling Co., he gave her the opportunity to marry her interests in liquor and science.
The CEO Magazine sat down with the young distiller who operates gin production at the facility and teaches at Giniversity – the company’s distilling and blending class – to find out more.
Q. How did you get into distilling?
A. I approached Margaret River Distilling Co. when my partner and I wanted to permanently relocate to the beautiful south-west of Western Australia. I showed a keen interest in the production of gin (my favourite spirit) and Cameron Syme was more than happy to allow me the opportunity to learn on the job.
I studied science at university, so this felt like a marriage of my two interests. I first started in production and was mainly focused on bottling and packing, soon becoming a full-time production assistant and Giniversity class instructor.
Q. What do you love about making gin?
A. The creativity and freedom it allows. I have the opportunity to regularly work alongside and collaborate with likeminded people using interesting botanicals reflective of our beautiful region.
I see distilling as an ever-changing industry and while this is how I got my foot in the door, so to speak, my learning is never complete. I continually want to learn and upskill and have a number of upcoming courses and training opportunities to progress this fantastic career path.
Q. What is your distilling philosophy?
A. To use locally sourced botanicals to create premium quality, delicate and unique gins reflective of our region while also pushing the boundaries of gin production.
We are so fortunate to live in the beautiful Margaret River region, we would be mad not to utilise the local botanicals in our gin. From our award-winning Giniversity Botanical Gin which showcases eucalypt, sandalwood, boronia and lemon myrtle to our Margaret River red wine Barrel Aged Gin, we are always looking for local and unique produce to incorporate into our botanical profile.
Q. What sets apart a good gin from a bad one?
A. I don’t think it’s as black and white as good versus bad gin – everyone’s palate is different, so the key is finding what appeals to you.
For me, a good gin has a well-balanced recipe that is approachable – either neat or mixed. A pure and clean water source is a must and understanding how botanicals distil and pair with clever additions of fixatives – angelica and orris root, for example – usually creates a winning gin.
Q. Distilling in Australia is a male-dominated industry. Do you think more women are getting involved?
A. I’ve found an abundance of female producers in WA. Further, our company is hugely diverse. My entire production team onsite is female – we reward commitment and passion above all else.
Q. Why do you think there are fewer women in the industry?
A. I can only reflect on my experience and I would say lack of knowledge and confidence. I certainly wish when I attended high school more career options were discussed, particularly as I attended an all-girls school.
It was only when I ventured out to the adult world did I realise how many opportunities were available if you worked hard and put yourself out there.
Q. Have you ever noticed a disadvantage in being a woman in the industry?
A. To be honest, I find I’m potentially more warmly received by our customer base being a young female in the industry. The most common phrase I hear is ‘Wow, how amazing you get to do this for your job!’
I like that I can communicate to the younger generation that there are so many more career paths available than you may think.
Q. What is the biggest misconception you’ve come across in the industry?
A. Others thinking that they couldn’t do it. If there’s one thing I have learned from my journey in distilling, it is that hard work, passion and determination will lead you to success.
Q. What can be done to increase the presence of women in beer, wine and spirits?
A. Knowledge and education is key in the progress of any industry.
Q. Can you imagine a time in the future when females in your industry won’t be a minority?
A. Absolutely! If women in the industry keep working hard and achieve success then they pave the way for future generations.
Want to know more? Katie Lovis will be attending Cellarmasters’ Meet the Makers: Women in Beer, Wine and Spirits to celebrate International Women’s Day in Sydney, Australia.