Founder Interview: Paul White of The West Winds Gin

Before The West Winds Gin equity crowdfund launched, we sat down with the CEO & Founder Paul White. Since 2010 Paul and his team have been making Australia's most awarded gins, combining the desire to experiment with native Australian botanicals to produce some damn fine gin. The offer is now live on our platform. The capital raised will go towards marketing and expanding the business domestically and internationally and has already hit the minimum funding target.

What is the story behind The West Winds Gin?

I started a little distillery back in 2006 in Western Australia, as I thought it was an interesting industry to get in to. Being an engineer, I love experimenting and making new things, so I spent a couple of years playing around. I then attended a few training courses and spent time in various distilleries in the US before ordering a very nice 150 litre German still.

In 2010, I hooked up with three guys that all had backgrounds in the liquor industry and lived in Melbourne; a barman/chef, a barman/salesman and a wine industry professional. We ended up in a bar in Balaclava, and after an evening tasting a broad range of gins, we started to plan a gin company.

Over the course of the next year we developed our first two gins – The Sabre and The Cutlass. The Sabre is made of 40% of alcohol, made with Australian toasted wattle seed, and the Cutlass is made of 50% alcohol, made with Australian bush tomato which grows in the sandy desert.

We really started the business for fun, but in April 2011, three weeks after launching the gins in the Australian market, I got a call and we had won a double Gold medal for the Cutlass and a Gold medal for the Sabre at the San Francisco International Spirits Competition. In terms of spirit competitions this is generally considered to be the premier body.

At that point, we realised that we really had something and since then we have won a whole raft of awards to become Australia’s most awarded gin company. 

Where did the name The West Winds Gin come from?

Of the four founders, three of us had spent a lot of time in Margaret River, the famous wine region. We also all had ties to the ocean: surfing, sailing, these days also kite surfing. We wanted a name that would pay tribute to that part of the world, and to the ocean breeze, used for centuries by sailors to cross the Indian Ocean from South Africa, in search of the riches of the New World. Creating a gin have become a journey of discovery for us, a discovery of Australian botanicals and of some fantastic tastes. It just made sense to tie all the parts of the story together: the sea, the west winds and the sense of adventure and discovery.

Who is your target market?

In terms of the consumers that we target, Gin is a wonderful product because it’s not just drunk by the young or old, like your vodkas or brandys. This is especially true now there is a real culture around cocktails. People tend to drink Gin throughout their life.

Why Gin?

In terms of why gin, gin is a good product for many reasons.

Firstly, gin fundamentally is flavoured vodka. So we take a neutral spirit – we use a high quality Australian wheat-based alcohol – and then infuse it with all the flavours that we want to impart into the gin. The majority of the flavours come from the botanicals we use and not from the underlying distillate, so our Gins don’t taste of the alcohol. We love showcasing the Australian elements such as wattle seed, cinnamon myrtle, lemon myrtle, fresh Australian citrus (lemon and lime), fresh coriander root and Australian bush tomato (in the Cutlass). In the Broadside, which is our navy strength gin, we use Australian sea parsley, as well as filtered see water from Margaret River. This is the first global salty gin and it’s nice to see that there are now others trying to copy what we have done. We still think that we have the best salty gin out there though.

Secondly, Gin production can be scaled rapidly because it doesn’t need to be aged in barrels. To make a whisky or brandy or rum you must age the product in barrels for at least two years to get the most out of the flavours. This means we are flexible to many market needs and if we identify opportunities we have the chance to grow the business in that new direction. It’s important to us to focus on product development and distillation, outsourcing logistics and distribution, so we can focus on the core of the business and grow from that.

Could you talk about your distribution system?

In terms of distribution our focus was initially in the on premise trade, working with premium bars and restaurants. From there we grew a following and we reached a fortunate situation where we were approached by Woolworth and Coles rather than us chasing them. We’re now in all major alcohol retailers, duty free outlets across Australia and export to over a dozen countries including the UK, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, Singapore, the UAE, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Langkawi and Malaysia. We have also been on cruise ships for some time.

It’s a very solid distribution and in the last few months we have been consolidating it further, so we can focus on growth.

What do you think is one of the biggest lesson that you have learnt now that you own your own company?

There have been so many lessons to learn. It’s an interesting industry and you learn different parts of it, from production to packaging and logistics. You get an understanding of distribution, how to build relationships on and off premise, working with importers from other countries. An important lesson has been to stay true to our roots and core values, and only release the best gins that we can make. We don’t go out and release gins for every occasion, we work on our products to make sure that we pull together the best ingredients that we want to drink.

Another lesson is to have the right people in the business. Our employees are all passionate about growing TWWG and being part of the journey. What we want to do is to extend our crew to include investors who are as passionate.

Lastly, we’ve chosen our partners carefully, so they are all exceptional in their own fields: production, distribution and marketing. 

What motivates you?

My personal background is very technology focused and what really satisfies me is that we produce products that we love and that we get to share with the world. More than winning awards, it’s very satisfying to go to festivals or bars and see people with a TWWG drink in their hand really enjoying our product. We’re also excited about building an international brand and we think we are in the right position to do it. 

Where do you see the company going in the future years?

The plan at this point is to continue to grow our Australian market and consolidate our position as one of the leading gins. This means we’ll focus on increasing our distribution internationally, raising the profile of The West Winds Gin and making it more recognisable globally. We want to do this not just as gin in a bottle, but also foray into cocktails in kegs, gin and tonic in a can, and any other new ways we find that make our gins valuable to the world. For example, we worked hard to create distinct flavours amongst our gins including a very citrusy lemon dry style gin, a savoury new world style gin and a salty gin. In addition, we also have several products in the pipeline that complement these three very well. We want to continue to explore the possibilities, but without doing anything for the sake of it, it must make sense to us, it must appeal to us and it has to be something we want to share.

 

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