Michael Ward, owner, Tamborine Mountain Distillery



Michael Ward and his wife Alla began making spirits as a way to use the excess fruit that was growing on their Tamborine Mountain property, their little hobby has grown to become Australia’s most internationally awarded distillery and liqueur brand this millennium. We had a chat with Michael Ward from Tamborine Mountain Distillery about secrets to success and the business of brewing.

How did you get into the business of brewing your own alcohol?

Well it really began when my wife Alla became ill. We lived in Tasmania at the time and her specialist suggested we move to a warmer climate. I couldn’t really understand why they said that, I think they just wanted to get rid of me! We’d been up to Tamborine Mountain in the past and we said that if we ever left Tassie we could probably cope with living on the mountain. We bought this property in 1992 and the next year, Alla mentioned that she wouldn’t mind making some schnapps and liqueurs so that’s what we did. We now make over 80-different products including schnapps, liqueurs, fruit brandy, gin, vodka, whisky and rum.

What were some of the initial challenges getting Tamborine Mountain Distillery off the ground?

The government really didn’t want to know us at all. We’d never done it before and we were applying for the most powerful liquor license you can get. Way more powerful than a brewery or a winery license because you’re producing pure alcohol. Anyway, try to tell me that I can’t do something and it’s like a red rag to a bull and 18-months later, we got the licenses and on July 1 1998, we opened to the public. We had six products and I think we sold ten bottles the first week.

Tamborine Mountain Distillery is Australia’s most internationally awarded distillery and liqueur brand in this millennium, that is quite an achievement! It must feel pretty amazing to see your work recognised on the world stage?

Absolutely! Come 2000 or 2001, we decided to start entering world competitions and since then, we’ve won 310 international awards. What we have achieved, no other distillery in Australia has achieved in this short time. In the beginning I would send my media releases out and we’d get lots of interest but now they tell us it’s not news because there has been so many!

What have been some of the highlights?

When we won the Gold Coast Business Excellence Awards, god that was a fun night. Everywhere I go I just wear some shorts, TMD shirt, Blundstones and long socks so I suppose I standout without even trying. Anyway, we went to this gala dinner and everyone has got their penguin suits on and people kept coming up to me all night asking why they can’t be dressed like me. I don’t give a shit about that sort of stuff, I just always have a bit of fun. Life has to be fun.

What do you think is the secret to your success?

Well, we both work 60 to 80 hours a week so we work pretty hard! Like just about everything in life, the multi-nationals control the industry and there’s generally no room for a little player so we went where they couldn’t, which is why we’re successful. We’ve created a niche market business based on high quality, premium spirits in a beautiful hand-painted bottle.

CWSA Awards

What was that first batch like?

You really can’t muck it up too much because if you do have a bad batch and it’s really undrinkable you can just put it back through the still. The very first one we did was from the citrus fruit that was growing on the property when we came here. We used oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit and we made a citrus liqueur, which we called Bells Of St. Clements after that old nursery rhyme. It was fairly mediocre but certainly drinkable.

The range offers some rather unusual tastes, what’s the strangest concoction you’ve come up with?

We’ve got several strange concoctions! Musk liqueur is pretty unusual and we’ve got this other one called Quandong and Gentian Bitters Liqueur. Bar tenders love that because it’s good for making cocktails. We also make a Lilly Pilly gin that is made with Lilly Pilly and 30 other botanicals.

What is the biggest lesson you’ve learnt on this journey so far?

I suppose the biggest lesson, which applies to anything you do in life, if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again. It’s cliche but that’s life. When we first started this business, I was a property developer, we didn’t know anything about making spirits but here we are.

Are you like the mad scientist of schnapps?

Well I suppose we do look a little bit like that! The tiny room where we have the still really is like a mad scientists laboratory.

Do you have a favourite tipple?

I don’t actually like alcohol all that much! Thank god because I’d be pissed at 10:00 am every morning! I do enjoy a wild citrus vodka cocktail from time to time. Wild citrus is made from oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit and I put about 30 ml in a large glass filled with crushed ice topped with a dash of lime juice cordial and soda water. It’s a lovely refreshing summer drink.

You look like a fairly happy chap. What’s the secret to a happy life?

Keep busy and enjoy your work because ultimately it is the most important thing in your life. People don’t always agree with me on that but how are you going to love your wife and feed you family if you don’t have a job or any income? So few people love their work but I love what I do. I love living here, it’s the most beautiful environment and we meet beautiful people, what’s not to love?

Short of driving up the mountain, where can people taste Tamborine Mountain Distillery’s wares?

We’ve got quite a few customers down the Gold Coast. You can find various products at Q1 and Black Coffee Lyrics in Surfers Paradise as well as Black Angus Bar and Grill at Sanctuary Cove, to name a few.


Perk up … Spending a few precious hours gardening on our wonderful property.

Relax … In front of the TV watching a nice sloppy tearjerker.

Indulge … Sitting in front of the fire eating currant buns that Alla has just made and a nice strong cup of tea.

Dine … At home with friends. Alla is such a great cook that I am constantly spoilt.

Be inspired … Living on Tamborine Mountain is inspirational enough but a walk in one of the many rain forests up here is the icing on the cake.


See original article here: http://theweekendedition.com.au/gold-coast/the-locals/michael-ward/