Welcome to The Shout’s Industry Women Spotlight Series, back in 2023 to continue sharing the stories and perspectives of women from across the industry.
Through these regular profiles, we aim to hero the visibility and inspiration that is common on International Women’s Day – it’s important we have these conversations more frequently than just once a year.
Our first profile of 2023 coincides with this year’s Australian Distillers conference, and brings you the story of the association’s first female President, Holly Klintworth, Director and Distiller at Bass & Flinders Distillery.
Like many in the Australian distilling industry, Klintworth came into Bass & Flinders with a professional background outside of science and chemistry (in business and marketing). She believes it’s never too late to pick up a completely new trade, having begun her learning and development in the business before officially joining it thanks to the lead of her father Wayne who founded the distillery.
“I stepped in to Bass & Flinders to work with my father in 2016, but prior to that I would help him out here and there with bottling, labelling or lemon zesting and could see how much passion he had for the business,” Klintworth said.
“Even though I didn’t come from a science background, I was lucky enough to be able to learn everything I know from him and was given a lot of scope to create, dream big and further explore my own passion for gin and brandy,” Klintworth said.
“For me it’s a constant journey and learning curve, and I think the most important thing is to have a strong sense of curiosity, a drive to learn, and to always be planning ahead on ways to do things better and more efficiently as your business and distillery grows.”
That learning curve has certainly propelled Klintworth to great heights, now being an award-winning distiller and leader in the Australian distilling industry. For her though, it’s not the accolades or status that make this career great, but the craft itself.
“I love the idea of taking something traditional and putting a new spin on it – whether this be by using some of the more obscure yet aromatically alluring native Australian botanicals that have not yet infiltrated our palates for gin, or working with different and non-traditional grape varieties for our brandies,” Klintworth said.
Career defined by exploration
Looking back on her journey to think about how she developed such a love for this craft, Klintworth can’t help but think of her mentor, her father, who she says is the person who had the biggest impact on her career and passion for the industry.
“He had such a passion for the industry and a dedication to creating quality spirits, choosing to take the lesser travelled path of producing our spirits – including our base spirit – from scratch on-site, because he believed in controlling every aspect of the production process right from the vineyard through to the bottle. His dedication to the craft of distillation is my daily inspiration,” Klintworth said.
In terms of moments that have defined her distinguished career so far, Klintworth thinks of how she came to fall in love with brandy. The spirit is a key element of production at Bass & Flinders, which has become a leading local name in the category over the years.
Klintworth said: “My brandy journey started in 2017 when I first visited Cognac, I came home from that trip understanding why it was my father was so driven to produce brandy – which was actually the original inspiration for establishing Bass & Flinders in 2009, even when at the time brandy was seen to be nothing more than a spirit in the back of the cupboard – a perception I’m dedicated to challenging!”
From 2017, Klintworth kicked off a quest to learn as much as she could about the spirit, during which time she continuously strived to improve the product at Bass & Flinders. This ultimately led her to apply for and receive a Churchill Fellowship award, which funded a six week internship in Cognac, France. Klintworth undertook this earlier this year, having the opportunity to learn from some of the very best brandy producers in the world and bring such invaluable knowledge back home to the Australian industry.
Describing the key things she appreciates most about brandy as a whole, Klintworth said: “With brandy, I love that every vintage has its own story and that this is told through the coming together of three traditional crafts; winemaker, barrel maker and distiller – all three of which rely on each other to produce a spirit of balance and finesse.”
Highlights and challenges
With such great passion leading to such great achievements under her belt, Klintworth counts a lot of highlights along the way in her career. But sometimes it’s just the simple moments that bring the greatest joy, like when people telling her they were impressed with the Bass & Flinders product after a tasting.
“That never gets old, to know that all the hard work you and your team put in to deliver that product and ensure its quality and consistency every time, those comments make it all worthwhile,” Klintworth said.
Of course another important highlight, as it would be for any small business owner/operator at the moment, is overcoming the challenges of the past few years. Klintworth hopes that any person in her shoes or similar feels the same.
One highlight unique to Klintworth is becoming the first female President elected to the Australian Distillers Association (ADA).
“I was incredibly humbled by those who supported and encouraged me to step into this role, and it’s a real honour to have the opportunity to represent the ADA members. There’s a lot of work to do yet for our industry which really still is in its infancy, but you only have to be present at an industry event or the ADA annual conference to feel the passion, creative drive and collective hunger for growth in our industry both locally and globally,” Klintworth said.
Although there have been more and more women stepping into distillery roles since Klintworth began in the industry in 2016, she says that female representation at the top like this can never be understated, as it challenges preconceived ideas of what a distiller traditionally is, and what gender fit those norms.
“Being a woman in any [male-dominated] industry comes with its trials and challenges, and I think sometimes, just by nature of the fact that our industry is still male dominant, women can get overlooked because it’s still a surprise to many that women can lead craft distilleries and can be the head distiller,” Klintworth said.
“When I first started working with my father, I was often assumed to be the marketer rather than the distiller.”
Shine a light on the right things
As we continue to shine a light on women’s perspectives of the spirits industry, Klintworth hopes that one day we won’t need the term ‘female distiller’ – they will simply be distillers, no matter the gender.
“The more we talk about this and normalise this, the more we can continue to stamp our those biases and gaps between women and men in the industry,” Klintworth said.
Biases exist because of the repeated normalisation of certain views and thoughts. To help dismantle them in the drinks industry, it’s key to not only challenge thinking around the industry itself, but around how the public as a whole views drinks.
“I think we can also continue to challenge the status quo around perceptions of what’s a ‘woman’s drink’ and what’s a ‘man’s drink’ – even to this day when I order a Negroni it often doesn’t get placed in front of me,” says Klintworth.
For the next generation of industry women who are setting out on journeys like Klintworth’s and seeking to challenge such ideas along the way, Klintworth’s advice was to turn to your fellow women.
“The industry is still male dominated, but there’s nothing in distillation or production that can’t be done by a woman, and we are seeing more and more women stepping into these roles to prove that now,” she said.
“There’s a lot of support out there now too and I recommend reaching out to the various female distilling networks.
“There are also some incredibly impressive, strong and brave women doing amazing things within and for our industry, many of whom are forthcoming with their challenges they faced and who are open to sharing their journey. You can draw strength from these stories and learnings too to follow your dreams.”
The final piece of advice Klintworth had was to step up and believe in yourself and your abilities.
“I think the best thing a woman can do in this industry is believe in themselves, step up to the challenge and put their hand up for that role that they may have initially second guessed themselves on,” Klintworth said.
“From my experience, this industry, the women and the men, are incredibly supportive of other women in the industry which I hope is heartening for anyone aspiring to get involved in any aspect of the craft spirits industry.”