Next in our ‘Meet the Distiller‘ series, aimed at promoting the hard-working individuals behind Australian craft distilleries and their brands, we meet Steve Timmis of Fossey’s Gin in Victoria.
Tell us a little about yourself, your position, where you work and where it’s located.
I am the owner of, and head distiller for Fossey’s, located in the food bowl of Australia, Mildura in Victoria. This area has an enormous wealth of fruit and vegetable and nuts grown under irrigation. It’s also in the heart of the mallee wheat belt. Mildura is an oasis in the outback, on the edge of the desert, but on the Mighty Murray river. Most of the wine made in Australia is made here.
I was bought up on a vineyard/farm just out of Mildura. Apart from farm life, my first job was in the Lab at Lindemans, one of the biggest wineries in Australia. Learning how to make wine out of grapes became a fascination with me, firstly the science of making wine from grapes and then secondly the more less understood influence to the terroir on the final product (this was in the late 70’s).
How did you get started in distilling?
25- 30 years of semi professionally making wine primarily for the simple enjoyment of the whole process and then the end product become immensely satisfying. Grow some grapes yourself and hand pick /crush etc and actually make the wine yourself, then share it with friends…Fantastic.
About 10 years ago, I become a little bit bored with wine making and began experimenting with stills, pure spirit, whisky etc. About 5 years ago, I purchased and renovated an old building in Mildura that was once a men’s only club called the Mildura Settlers Club. After renovating the building and letting out part of it as a hotel, part of it as offices and part of it as a commercial kitchen, we were left with a ‘function” room which was a grand old room that was originally the library.
I was starting to give serious consideration to making whisky, then the Gin concept popped up. I did a bit of research and homework and decided that this would/could be a bit/lot of fun and set about getting approval and licences and well as building the still and setting up the business. R&D on a small home “essential oil” still was undertaken at the same time.
Initially the plan was to only run the still one day a week and leave the room as a function space. A fantastic response from the public lead us to open on a Sunday afternoon and then Fridays as well as the Thursday distillation day (Saturday is still set aside for functions).
The ‘lifestyle” business that was created had to react to public demand and now we have 20 people who work at Fossey’s. We have a small distillation team, Tash Faulkhead and myself. We have our normal bars crew, the functions team, and the away team (events festivals etc). Life is good.
Tell us a little bit about your distillery, when it was founded, the vision behind it and the spirits you currently produce.
The distillery itself is now 3 years old in a building that’s 125 years old. We currently produce about 10 different Gins. We have 4 core gins, Fossey’s Original, Fossey’s Pepperberry, Fossey’s Desert Lime and Fossey’s Navel Strength.
We have seasonal/fun/small batch Gins such as Fossey’s Gin Shiraz, Frontignac, Christmas Pudding, Rose Petal, Kaffir Leaf, Hot Cross Bun, and the new kid on the block, Fossey’s Salt Bush Gin.
We also have an unusual thing we call Gin Toddy, a sweet wine style fortified with strong gin. It’s what the Queen drinks everyday, but that’s another story.
What has been the most rewarding part so far?
It might sound a bit of cliché, but it’s still very rewarding to create something that is liked by others and the source of a lot of fun and laughter.
Aside from taxation, what has been the most challenging part so far?
The most challenging part of this business is the endless compliance with Local State and Federal government laws… and then still make a buck. An ongoing challenge for us is our remoteness, but this also gives us access to many things that others can only dream of.
What advice would you give someone considering distilling as a career?
Distilling is a very rewarding career that can take you around the world if you wish. Start small, understand the science, understand the detail, then try and do something unique.
What’s your opinion on the current state of Australian distilling, and is it sustainable long term?
Australian distilling is on the cusp of becoming great, it is definitely sustainable long term. Like wine in the 80’s, we are making very superior gin and whisky in this country that stack up against anything in the world. I just wish the government would encourage this instead of taxing us into oblivion and weighing us down with compliance.
Where do you see the future of Australian distilling heading?
Australian distilling is only going one way… up. We are seeing now all the big boys hustling for a position in the spirit market and I think you will see a lot more of this. I just hope it’s not at the expense of the boutique distiller.
Are there any projects in development that we can look forward to?
Funny you ask, by the time this article comes out we would have released our first Fossey’s Single Malt and our first is Fossey’s Peated Single Malt.
But the most exciting thing on the near horizon is our very own Red Gum Rum. A secret recipe involving red grape molasses, maturing on 100 year old red gum, then finishing in charred red wine barrels. Watch this space.
Any closing comments?
It’s a wonderful time for this industry in Australia right now. We are developing our own style of gin, whisky and maybe rum. From primary producers through the distiller, to the bars and cocktail makers, stockists and consumers, we all need to support our industry and buy Australian.
Fossey’s Gin is listed in the Australian Distillery Directory.
In partnership with Fossey’s Gin