International Women’s Day is held on 8 March every year as a day to celebrate women’s strengths and to continue the fight for gender equality. As we all know, the liquor industry is about much more than just the products on the shelf. It is also an industry of connection and collaboration.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, National Liquor News spoke to influential women across the Australian liquor industry about their experiences and achievements, and we will be sharing a series of profiles online, and in the March issue of the magazine.

Today, Natalie Smith, Co-Founder of Taylor & Smith Distilling Co, reflects on her diverse career path and shares the learnings from her recent venture into liquor and distilling.

NLN: Could you tell us how you got into the industry, and what kind of places your career has taken you?

NS: Taylor & Smith is an independent artisan distillery in Hobart owned and run by Natalie and Ben. We experiment with Tasmanian botanicals and carefully craft our spirits, to synthesise the Tasmanian landscape and write out the stories of place. The scale of the season is compressed in Tasmania, so you get an intensity of flavour in our botanicals. The air is phenomenal and the water that feeds directly to the distillery comes from a lake of snowmelt at Mount Field National Park.

When we first started making spirits, we’d take around little jam jars of gin and leave them on our neighbours doorstep. People would turn up on a Friday night home from work and find a jar of gin. In reciprocation they would turn up at our place with lemons, quinces, cumquats or other botanicals they were hoping would feed back into the gin. Along with experimentation, another defining characteristic of our process is our focus on the handmade. We don’t have any automated systems. It comes from the heart. We love to bring people together through our spirits, and small things that are beautiful in the right place can enhance a moment.

In my younger days I was a sailor. I was working towards racing and sailing around the world when I broke both my wrists snowboarding! Finding opportunity in the slow pace created by two plaster casts, I went back to university to study Environmental Science where I ended up completing my doctorate on ‘creativity as a process’ in cultural geography. Ben is an artist and has a Masters in Fine Art. Together, we have always made things with our hands from architectural dwellings to sourdough bread. The transition to Single Malt Whisky came through sharing drinks with friends in beautiful locations, enjoying both the beautiful company and the place in which we were. The making of spirits was an extension of our creative practice but this time drawing on barley or plants and spices for the Gin, as well as developing packaging – both a creative outlet and source of joy.

NLN: Have there been any highlights or really defining moments of your career so far?

NS: From the very beginning we have grown together with our business. We are fortunate that we have a strong academic background and have been able to bring our own beliefs and values with us. For me the process of starting a business and watching it grow has been the most rewarding part of being in the industry. We are proud of the way it has developed, and we are also thrilled to have been judged positively within the industry.

We won awards for the Gin and Dry Gin and most recently the single Malt Whisky. The humble Hanky Panky from our bottled cocktail range won runner up in Australia’s Best Drink at the Drink Easy Awards last year.

Working closely with the Tasmanian Department of State Growth has also been rewarding. We have been invited to attend a number of trade events overseas, including Japan, Singapore and New Zealand. These international experiences have exposed us to other innovative and exciting Tasmanian projects and industries and to build a network of support locally.

NLN: Hospitality and liquor are known to be fairly male-dominated – what are some of the common challenges that you think women face in these industries?

NS: With our business, it is a reflection of our culture and beliefs.  We have consciously made a decision to minimise the gender bias and be inclusive in our approach. With our brand, our mission is “bringing people together sharing stories of place through our spirits”.

At T&S We have worked hard to build a strong team that involves some fantastic women from a range of diverse backgrounds. These women have strongly influenced the directions we have taken, the types of products we offer and how they are marketed.

We work with an incredible graphic designer, Megan Perkins. Megan is a powerhouse of ideas and has been instrumental in building the Taylor & Smith brand. We have had the great fortune of working with author Sam George-Allen (Witches: What Women Do Together) who, as an avid Whisky lover, was our Brand Ambassador for our Single malt Whisky. Most recently we have collaborated on our Honey Gin with the celebrated chef Analiese Gregory (How Wild Things Are and A Girls Guide to Hunting, Cooking and Wild Fishing on SBS).

These relationships have assisted us to build a brand that appeals to a very broad range of people and simultaneously ensures each product is as individual as our valued customer base.

NLN: Do you think there are issues with gender gaps in hospitality and liquor, whether that be pay gaps, ratio gaps, gaps in opportunity, etc? Have you personally experienced these?

NS: I am unable to comment directly on this having not expressly worked in the industry outside of our business. I see some great women doing amazing things in the industry; I can see that they work incredibly hard and achieve incredible results. 

NLN: What are some positive ways that you think women can overcome these challenges, and ways that we as an industry can tackle these types of challenges?

NS: Women who are empowered to make a positive contribution will be able to take the industry to a greater level. Take the risks, be involved, and lead the way on inclusive practices.

NLN: If we take a step back and think about women in general who are entering the industry and want to further their careers – from your point of view, what advice would you have for them about doing that and getting into the kind of space you’re in now?

NS: The industry is challenging, for many reasons, but it is also an industry where you can be experiential and creative. Surround yourself with good people who share your values. Take the time to explore your own story and find a way to share that with your customers. Individual connection is important and this can be a point of difference in an industry that is growing around you at a rapid pace.

NLN: The theme for this year’s IWD is Inspire Inclusion – what does this mean to you?

NS: At Taylor & Smith we want to ensure that every individual who wishes to enjoy our spirits feels like each bottle is made for them.

NLN: What do you think we can do as an industry to value and encourage women’s inclusion?

NS: Increasing the number of women in the industry is an important step, ensuring that as women we support each other to succeed. This is additionally challenging in a competitive market, but understanding that strong local industries that are inclusive for women and where their voices are heard loud, clear and are respected is an important building block to strengthening the industry overall.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *