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Think Local: Very Manly Spirits

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The local couple behind Manly Spirits has taken the craft distilling scene by storm, with gin and vodka that captures the essence of Sydney’s coastal lifestyle.

They’re as Manly as it gets. Surf lifesavers, scuba divers, original ‘Bold and the Beautiful’ swimmers, with a house opposite the North Steyne sand.

So, it made sense that David Whittaker and Vanessa Wilton would name their brand Manly Spirits.

Only three years since opening the doors of their craft distillery in Brookvale, Manly Spirits has already become a firm favourite, particularly with premium gin drinkers on the North Shore and Northern Beaches.

It has a lot to do with the local connection, David insists, explaining how they forage locally for the botanicals that flavour their spirits.

“We’ll just wait for a bit of a storm and then go grab a frond of seaweed off the beach, which we use for one of our botanical vodkas,” he tells Peninsula Living.

“We also use sea lettuce in our gin, which we collect off Curl Curl headland below the boardwalk, and even pigface, which grows along the sand dunes at Freshwater beach.”

Vanessa nods. “We use Australian natives, because for one, they’re awesome botanicals with high oil content and really punchy flavours, and two, because we pride ourselves on our local story.”

Even Vanessa’s design of their custom glass bottles – “blue like an ocean wave, with the Fibonacci sequence patterning on the base” – is a homage to their beach backyard.

Her skills in design, marketing and branding, and David’s background as a chemical engineer has certainly helped the husband and wife team turn their dream into a reality.

A dream that can be traced back to a ‘foodies’ trip to Tasmania in 2015, where inspiration struck while touring a distillery.

They extensively researched the industry and global trends and could see that Australians were demanding more premium spirits, and cocktail consumption was on the rise.

So, after seeing a gap in the market, they agreed to sacrifice their comfortable jobs, and leverage their house, to embark on a venture that Vanessa cheekily describes as “a little insane”.

“You have to go in with your eyes open, but you also have to go in with a bit of naivety to have that passion and that energy, because it is a touch crazy,” she laughs.

They set about learning the process of distilling themselves, with David experimenting on a small still “every night, month after month after month”.

“I wrote all the DA’s, built the website, and did all the packaging; and Dave designed the stills and equipment, and could commission and project manage it all,” Vanessa continues.

“In the beginning, if you have to outsource all that, it’s a huge amount of capital.”

An original team of three – including a master distiller – has ballooned to include sales reps in different states, a venue manager, and much more. In fact, they’ve almost reached capacity.

“I’d say we’ve been incredibly pleased with how it’s going so far, but it’s like when you’re playing golf or driving, you’ve got to look where you want to go,” David says.

In Manly Spirits’ immediate sights, is a launch into the Australian whisky market. There’s currently a quarter of a million bottles worth of whisky maturing in barrels. With tastings and tours to start at the end of the year, there’s plenty to look forward to.

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