Life is unpredictable.  Have you ever looked back at your high school self and life expectations held by that beautiful vibrant youth?  Oh my goodness I have.  As that fresh faced sixteen year-old, I had aspirations to be a teacher or a librarian and I have been blessed to have achieved those dreams.  BUT… and this is a big BUT!  If someone had told me I would own and work in a brewery or distillery,  I would have fallen about laughing.  It would not have even come up on my radar of things to do or aspire to at the tender age of sixteen.  Life with its surprising joys,  knocks and unpredictable twists and turns can leave you breathless and wondering how on earth you came to be where you actually are –  right here – right now.

Over the Festive Season I spent some time reflecting on how we perceive opportunity, and how crucial timing and circumstances are in the play of it all.  The catalyst to this rumination stemmed from a ‘Women in Distilling’ event held in Sydney at Archie Rose Distillery late last year. The event, organised by Nip of Courage’s Kathleen Davies and Fully Booked Women, offered the chance to sample a range of spirits from distilleries in NSW, Vic, and South Australia and hear the journey and experiences of female distillers.

The speakers included Holly Klintworth from Bass and Flinders, Samantha Stefani from Archie Rose, Genise Hollingworh from Black Gate Distillery and I from Fleurieu Distillery.  The pathways travelled into distilling were so very different for each of us.  Opportunities from different life events had led us to now share a unique experience of being women in distilling – an occupation which is still predominantly male dominated, particularly in rum and whisky.

Holly Klintworth

Holly Klintworth from Bass and Flinders Distillery began the evening with the Wild and Spicy Gin 10 and her story of a small artisanal distillery established in 2009 by her father, Wayne Klintworth and Bob Laing.  Their passion for creating high quality product led them to craft their own base spirit from Shiraz and chardonnay to produce a range of products including gin.  By using slow distillation processes and combining locally sourced products wherever possible, their gins display a distinctive flavour profiles reflective of their approach and unique location.  Unfortunately opportunity came with facing tragedy.   After the sudden loss of his business partner Bob Laing, Holly spoke emotionally about stepping into a distilling role to assist her father.   Despite the difficult circumstances it soon became evident that she had found her passion and this has obviously been pivotal in Bass and Flinders continuing to explore, develop and promote the unique characters of their Mornington Peninsula products.

Samantha Stefani

To leave familiar faces and relocate in a different part of Australia would be difficult for most but Samantha Stefani took the opportunity for a chance on a different life when she said farewell to friends and family to travel half way around the world.  She came to Australia from the USA having completed a Degree in Fermentation Science through University.  Samantha shared how while at home in the United States, she originally stumbled into distillation through doing a course initially in fermented foods.  In moving here, she then met her Australian boyfriend and applied for a range of jobs.  To her delight she secured a position with Archie Rose Distillery.  The opportunity of being able to extend her knowledge, skills and experience in spirit distillation of gin and whisky in a growing business in Sydney was more than she had envisaged and she hasn’t looked back.

Genise with husband Brian.

As the only Australian female rum distiller speaking on the night, Genise Hollingworth spoke openly about the early beginnings of setting up Black Gate Distillery in the small rural town of Mendooran.  Parents to three girls and both working full time in the local school, she and husband Brian literally built their business from the ground up.  In this process she mastered many skills she’d never even contemplated.  Once they opened the distillery they also went on the road on weekends selling their products at local markets. Opportunity came through persistence, tenacity and creativity and it is only recently that Genise has been able leave her ‘day job’ to now solely focus on the distillation of rum and growing the business with Brian.

My own journey into the distillation of whisky began last year.  Our business beginnings started in beer production with the Steam Exchange Brewery starting up in 2004.  Back then there were only a handful of us producing craft beer in South Australia.  In 2011 after many years of success at the Australian and International Beer Awards, we decided to expand into whisky production but it wasn’t until 2013 that we were able to commission our still and begin putting spirit into barrels.

From 2013 to 2016 we did a great job of juggling.  Those of you who own a small family business can probably relate to this! Over this time Gareth ran production and finances of two businesses as well as managing our cellar door while I continued support to work 3 days a week as a Teacher Librarian in an expanding R-12 College, home, and school life with the kids and I in three different campuses.  There does come a time when family needs, the demands of business, and outside work must be rebalanced.  2017 was that year for us.  Stepping away from work as a teacher/librarian was not a decision I took lightly but has been one that has been highly rewarding in so many ways.  We’ve had quality family time, and I’ve found learning a whole new set of skills in a different field demanding but also very fulfilling.   If any quote on opportunity rings true, it would be this one from inventor Thomas A. Edison:  Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.

In life, doors of opportunity open in unexpected ways for all of us.  All of them involve stepping through that doorway onto the threshold of uncertainty.  It takes courage to move out of what is comfortable and familiar and take risks.  That exhilarating first step not only leads to the development of new skills, rejuvenated passion but the most of all an enormous level personal satisfaction in tackling a new challenge.

Wherever you are in your life journey I would encourage you to push your boundaries.  You can do it and you will surprise yourself!  Take on those challenges and make whatever you learn count for you.  Don’t be afraid to give things a go and run with it until you develop your skills and feel confident.  I hope 2018 is YOUR year to celebrate opportunity and live a life less ordinary.