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2017 Champion Australian Distiller - Old Young's

Located in the Swan Valley, WA, Old Young’s Distillery grew out of an idea for a gin that is yet to be launched.

While looking to set up the distillery, owner James Young heard that a small operation in the Swan Valley might be looking to close, and with some convincing of the now-internationally based previous owner, took over the property.

Whilst the Distillery’s success could be seen as almost ‘overnight’ from the outside, Young was faced with a number of challenges, before the dream was realised.

We speak to owner James Young about the distiller’s challenges and successes and find out how the award wins and linked opportunities have boosted business.


The beginning…

“I got in touch with the previous owner (who had moved to Canada) and convinced him to let me take it over. That presented all kinds of challenges, not least moving all the distilling equipment back onto site into a 36sqm shed. We’re still in there! I didn’t have a magical pot of cash to solve all the challenges I faced, so it took 18 months to get to a point where I felt comfortable to relaunch the distillery as Old Young’s.”

The growth…

“The Swan Valley attracts a lot of visitors, so originally I was surviving on passing trade to our tasting room and over the last few months I have managed to get some good take up across Perth and WA. Now its time to hopefully spread our wings a lot wider, with nationally and internationally. I have been talking to a few potential importers in international markets. Our trophy and medal wins has definitely strengthened our case for them to take on our products."

The people…

"Old Young’s still only has one full-time employee which is me, I have a part-time employee who works 5 days a week at the tasting counter and my 22 year old son helps me in the distillery every now and then."

The difference…

"The ridiculously small size of the distillery is a point of difference for a start! I don’t know of any other Australian distilleries distilling, bottling, labelling and packaging everything they make in 36 square metres.

Everything is touched by me, I source prepare the botanicals, I run the still, fill the bottles, sign the labels, tape up the boxes and deliver everything. I know my process inside out and back to front.

I’m lucky to be a part of an industry that is full of talented and passionate people, so while I think anyone who meets me knows I am incredibly passionate about what I do, I can’t say that sets me apart! I’d like to think that the fact that everything I do has a “why" behind it - every product starts with a philosophy of what the product will be and why has been a part of our success.”

The business philosophy….

“We have a manifesto! It’s the first thing people see when they walk in.

Generally, we have “Hand-crafted spirits” “From the Swan Valley” front and centre on our labels.

Wherever I can I use local produce in our products. The Swan Valley is the second oldest wine region in Australia (and the closest to a CBD in the world) and in some ways it’s been underdeveloped - the majority of businesses are still failed owned and operated and a little old-fashioned in lots of ways but Old Young’s fits into that well.

We try to live within our means and rely on the quality of produce and attention to detail to make good product rather than expensive plant and machinery.”

The awards…

“The Australian Distilled Spirits Awards is the benchmark for Australian Spirits and overall it’s the best run, toughest competition we enter. We have only entered two competitions in 2017, and won 14 medals and 3 trophies (or 5 trophies depending on which way you count it).”

Australian Distilled Spirits Awards

Trophy - Champion Distiller
Trophy - Champion Vodka - Pure No 1
Gold Medal - Pure No 1 Vodka
Gold Medal - Six Seasons Gin
Silver Medal- Smoked Vodka
Silver Medal - Pavlova Vodka
Silver - Barrel-Aged Vodka
Bronze - 1829 Gin
Bronze - Old B.A.G.

ADI: American Distilling Institute Craft Spirits Awards

Trophy - Best International Vodka - Pure Number 1
Best in Class - Best international Neutral Vodka - Pure No 1
Best in Class - Best International Flavoured Vodka - Pavlova Vodka
Gold - Pure No 1 Vodka
Gold - Pavlova Vodka Silver - Six Seasons Gin
Silver - 1829 Gin
Bronze - Old B.A.G.

“Unfortunately the Smoked and Barrel-aged Vodkas did not make it intact en route to the US so weren’t judged”

The Champion Distiller….

“The trophies mean a great deal. It’s a lovely reward for the work I’ve done so far and motivation for the future. It opened doors in 2016 when we won the Champion Vodka trophy and I expect that to happen again especially with the Champion Distiller title now as well. It’s generated some greater exposure for Old Young’s but I know I have more work to do in that area!”

The opportunities…

“Exhibiting in the Winning Tastes pavilion at the 2016 Royal Melbourne Show was a major branding and exposure opportunity, but also resulted in significant sales. The setup and support from RASV allowed me, as a very small producer, to showcase the distillery in a very professional manner.

Our participation in the Hong Kong Wine & Spirits Fair in 2015 opened up an avenue into the Hong Kong market that we are still pursuing. Its more been our readiness, than vice versa that has slowed us down.

I don’t have the resources to organise the logistics for a trade show on my own so teaming up with RASV is a definite benefit.”

The industry….

“Australians have proved with both beer and wine we can make world-class products. I think spirits are following in those footsteps - we seem to have a knack for producing incredible quality, with some innovative flair that goes down so well in international markets. I’d sat number one though – it’s the dedication to make the best quality we can.

Its an exciting time to be a part of this industry. Its still very much in its infancy - we’re not competing with each other, we’re working together to build a category.

The industry is collaborative - I’ve had a couple of great mentors as I got started and already I’m starting got help others who are earlier on the path than me. We’re making great liquid that we can show to the Australian market and beyond.”

The future…

“I need to get back in that shed and make some more booze! And then build a bigger shed! A slightly more useful answer would be hopefully I’m not too far away from employing a couple more people to help me out and then we can look seriously at selling more product locally and nationally. “

The drink…

“We list all the venues you can buy our spirits on the website - and when I get around to it I’ll be adding an online shop as well. The To Do list is long.

My favourite way to drink our spirits is with friends. Every single one of my spirits have both cocktails and simple mixers in mind when I created them. They can be drunk straight, but I like the idea of how they are drunk - shared and enjoyed with friends - whether that be in an amazing cocktail bar or at a Sunday BBQ.”