1. Business Name and What it Does:
Nestled in the picturesque Snowy Mountains of Australia, the wildbrumby distillery is a small-batch distillery that takes both its name and inspiration from the stunning natural surroundings of the Australian Alps
Its range of spirits reflect the diverse and vibrant landscape – from its stable of
award-winning gins to the luscious, fruity notes of its schnapps – every bottle produced by wildbrumby distillery is a reflection of its pristine location.
One of the key factors that sets the distillery apart from others is its commitment to using local produce in both its stillhouse cafe and its distilling operations, using fruits, botanicals and traditional distillation methods to produce its range of spirits.
The distillery sells its entire range of award-winning products through its cafe cellar door, and has also established a strong online retail presence. It also collaborates with retailers, bars and restaurants Australia-wide.
2. Founder’s/Owner’s Story and Motivation:
Wildbrumby’s founder, Brad Spalding, explains that the wildbrumby story actually began with skiing, art and schnapps – that quintessential tipple from the Alpine region of Europe.
But looking even further back, Brad Spalding grew up in the fruit belt of New South Wales and Victoria as the son of a fruit and vegetable merchant and publican.
At the age of 15, he began working as a ski instructor in the Victorian Alps and went on to become the director of the Thredbo Snow Sports School. It was while working as a ski instructor in the Austrian region of Kitzbühel that Brad met his future wife, Monika.
Schnapps distilleries are native to the European Alps, where the winters are simply too cold for traditional wine production. There, Monika’s grandfather, Stephen Hagleitner, had been distilling schnapps long before the couple were born.
Fascinated by this rich distilling heritage, Brad studied the traditional methods with a dream to one day introduce home-grown spirits to Australia’s Snowy region.
With its pure mountain water and rolling green hills, Brad and Monika chose the breathtaking Thredbo Valley as the most fitting location to realise their vision.
With no local distilling equipment available, they imported an Ulrich Kothe still from Germany and, in 2004, opened the doors to the wildbrumby distillery.
The distillery focused on producing schnapps varieties that were well suited to Australian palates, using exclusive access to home-grown organic fruit and botanicals. In addition to schnapps, the distillery now produces vodka and award-winning gin.
“Australia’s craft liquor industry was still in its infancy when we first established the distillery but it is now considered a must-visit destination for visitors to the mountains,” says Spalding.
The Spaldings’ mission was not only to create a successful distillery but also to create a haven in the Snowy Mountains for the arts to flourish.
Wildbrumby is now much more than a distillery, with the very popular stillhouse café where visitors can relax, enjoy, and be inspired.
Here they can sample wildbrumby’s award-winning spirits, drink cocktails, and dine on Austrian-style fare such as beef goulash, schnitzel, and apple strudel.
Art is central to the spirit and workings of wildbrumby, and Brad has embedded his artistic vision throughout the very fabric of the stillhouse café and beyond, across the vast sculpture garden within its grounds.
Brad (a.k.a Spalding), is also a celebrated local artist in his own right, with a passion for the majestic beauty of the Snowy Mountains. He has made art central to the distillery, using the alpine landscape as his inspiration for his many paintings displayed throughout the distillery.
“The wildbrumby sculpture collection features works that engage with the alpine landscapes of the Snowy Mountains, prompting visitors to look more closely at the world and appreciate the beauty, strength, and fragility of this landscape,” says Spalding.
3. Challenges the Business/Market is Facing:
In spite of these successes, the past few years have also served up their share of challenges for distillers such as wildbrumby. From the 2020 bushfires to the pandemic restrictions, those operating in the hospitality industry have weathered changes to their operating capacity and dramatic shifts in consumer behaviour.
“The past few years have been incredibly difficult. During the bushfire summer of 2020 and again at the start of the pandemic we were forced to close our doors completely. And even when we were allowed to reopen, there were still restrictions on capacity and operating hours,” says Spalding
“We’ve had to pivot our business model quite quickly at times. Initially we focused on takeout and delivery, and figured out the logistics of delivering food and drink to people’s homes, which was a completely new area for us,” he says.
“We also expanded our ecommerce platform to manage a larger volume of online orders.
“Strict health and safety measures were also required to keep our staff and customers safe, which added an extra layer of complexity to our operations. But we managed to get through it by being creative and flexible.”
Worsening economic conditions and high spirit excise taxes in Australia have also had their part to play. However, Spalding says that having a highly loyal customer base has helped the distillery navigate these challenges and thrive even in times of uncertainty.
“We’re very lucky to have an extremely loyal customer base who have supported our business throughout the years, even when things have been really tough ” he says.
4. Opportunities the Business/Market is Facing:
Part of the reason for this loyal base of customers is the growing appreciation among consumers for locally sourced and sustainable products.
With their access to home-grown organic fruit and botanicals, the distillery has been well positioned to capitalise on the popularity of craft spirits and unique, innovative flavour profiles.
Their award-winning range of gin and vodka make use of pure alpine water and native botanicals such as mountain pepper berry, foraged from the nearby mountains.
And one of their most popular varieties of schnapps is made from home-grown raspberries, hand picked from the distillery’s own patch.
Schnapps is crafted predominantly from fruit and Spalding explains that in its traditional form, schnapps is known as Edelbrand, which is a full-strength spirit to rival gin or vodka but distilled purely from fruit.
“But in Australia, locals tend to favour a liqueur style of schnapps, which is lower in ABV and made from local produce,” he says.
As an integral feature of mountain life and its very close association with snow sports, it had become the quintessential mountain spirit for Australian skiers.
“The annual pilgrimage to the mountains for the winter snow season is not complete for many without a sip or two of locally-made schnapps during après ski.” he says.
Spalding says he tailors his recipes to suit the Australian palate, which means lighter, fruitier varieties based on seasonal produce and flavours.
While their premium schnapps varieties retain a strong following, Brad says that the popularity of their liqueur-style schnapps has really taken off over the years.
A particular customer favourite is baked-apple schnapps which is only available during the winter months.
“And the emergence of schnapps as a popular ingredient for cocktails has boosted year-round demand for customers Australia-wide and introduced schnapps and gin to an entirely new generation,” says Spalding
5. Advice to Others about Business:
By playing to their own unique cultural and artistic identities Brad and Monika Spalding have created a unique, authentic and resilient business with an extremely loyal customer base.
Their advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to focus on their passions, unique skills and to stay true to their values, in much the same way the Spaldings have made winter sports and art central to the spirit and workings of the wildbrumby distillery.
With Monika’s traditional heritage reflected in the distilling and Brad’s passion for the majestic beauty of the Snowy Mountains reflected in his artwork, the distillery has become one of the region’s most unique destinations.
6. Lessons Learned from Running This Business:
Staying abreast of trends such as the increasing popularity of DIY cocktails has helped the distillery to remain competitive in a rapidly evolving market.
Another important part of the equation has been perseverance and hard work, says Spalding, and knowing your customers and anticipating what they want to try next.
“It was inspiring to see how our customers rallied behind us and continued to support us, even in the face of uncertainty as we all experienced throughout the pandemic.
“That wildbrumby distillery is still here after 20 years is a true testament to the power of passion, perseverance, and hard work. We like to think our spirits give our customers an authentic taste of the Australian Alps in every sip,“ says Spalding.
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