Location is everything for Manly Spirits Co in Sydney.
“We’re all about the coast,” says Vanessa Wilton, who co-founded the business in 2016 with her husband, David. “And we put that in our product.”
That product benefits from the couple’s lifelong proximity to the beach. Prior to establishing the brand, David worked as a chemical engineer and Vanessa a branding designer. Based in Manly, they also volunteered as surf lifesavers. But it was a trip to Tasmania, where they admired the state’s range of small distilleries, that inspired them to try their hand at creating their own products.
The couple quit their day jobs and built their own distillery in Brookvale, less than 10 minutes’ drive from Manly Beach. “It was the perfect storm,” says Wilton, “because it requires both of our core competencies.” The resulting Manly Spirits Co range – which includes vodka, whisky, lemon and coffee liqueurs, and a core range of gins – is laced with botanicals and ingredients found on their doorstep.
Native botanicals such as aniseed myrtle and sea lettuce – which the Wiltons forage sustainably themselves from the Curl Curl Beach rock shelf, allowing time for it to grow back in between cuttings – are the point of difference for Manly Spirits Co. As its collection – they sometimes even pick up floating kelp while on surf lifesaving patrols, for use in one of its vodkas.
“They tend to be bolder flavours,” says Wilton of the local botanicals. “They’re quite punchy, but well balanced.”
The company’s Lilly Pilly Pink Gin uses lilly pilly, an Australian winter-fruiting shrub. Other key ingredients from sand dunes and coastal gardens are riberry, native limes, sea fig (also known as pig face) and nasturtium.
“It’s quite a floral, fruity gin,” Wilton says of the resulting spirit. “But it’s got a whole lot of foraged botanicals that are quite seasonal.” That makes it a natural – and zero-sugar – successor to the brand’s other beach-centred gins, such as its flagship Australian Dry Gin and Coastal Citrus Gin.
Manly Spirits Co also thrives as a popular cellar door and cocktail bar. The self-described “experience space” in Brookvale hosts cocktail-making classes and tours, plus a class that teaches making your own bespoke gin from mini stills and more than a hundred botanicals. There are also regular events for local charities and council. “We’re part of the community,” says Wilton. “Not just a venue.”
Case in point: the cocktail bar also serves beer from four breweries within walking distance. Fresh bread for the charcuterie boards comes from Berkelo Manly, and large groups of visitors can order pizza from nearby Mimmo’s or Sale Pepe. Fresh raspberries are used in the production of the distinctive Lilly Pilly Pink Gin, and the distillery passes its remaining berries to local cafe Luscious Kiki Cakes. The cafe has also recently begun experimenting with the distillery’s gin-infused vanilla beans. All of the spent grain and barley from the company’s whisky production is donated to a local farmer for cattle feed.
One of the most popular cocktails at Manly Spirits Co is the Lilly Pilly Sour, a refreshing sweet-and-sour showcase of the fruit-driven pink gin. We asked Wilton to share the recipe. It requires only four ingredients. (You can find recipes for the riberry shrub online, or use a simple cordial or extract instead.)
Lilly Pilly Sour
Makes 1 serve. Approx. 1.9 standard drinks.
60ml Manly Spirits Co Lilly Pilly Pink Gin
30ml fresh lemon juice
20ml riberry shrub (cordial) or simple syrup
15ml egg white
Dry shake all ingredients, then shake with ice. Double strain into a chilled coupe (Martini) glass. Garnish with edible flowers or fresh thyme.
Explore the great range of locally-produced Australian gins at Dan Murphy’s.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Dan Murphy’s.
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Photography: Vaida Savickaite