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Meet Karu Distillery’s Ally Ayres – Australia’s youngest female owner-operator

Ally Ayres, co-founder, co-owner and head distiller at Karu Distillery in Australia, reveals the women who have inspired her career journey.

Image @karu_distillery Instagram

In addition to the numerous awards and titles under her belt, Ayres is also the youngest female owner and operator of a distillery in the country. She started Karu Distillery in 2018 with her husband Nick and has revealed to Australian Bartender how it took three years of research, development and hands-on experience to make it the success it is today.

She said: “We are an independent brand so everything we do is authentic to the max, and very hands on. We reside in the Devils Wilderness at the foot of the Blue Mountains which sets a backdrop to the work we do and spirits we create. Being in our fourth year now, we are lucky to have a small team of hand selected legends to help us to continue to grow.”

Ayes explained that the decision was mostly founded on her enthusiasm for good drinks. She added: “I really love good spirits, it’s a journey you take. I was not from a background of alcohol or hospitality, and I never thought about entering that field until one day over a dram of whisky I started to ask myself questions that provoked my curiosity and a love for it all. All I really wanted from this was to create something that I liked and hopefully others would too and start to bring more of that cocktail and spirits culture to where I am from. You can’t predict where this industry is going to take you, in my five-year plan I was still meant to be working my office job, now I make gin, vodka and rum full-time sometimes seven days a week. I love it.”

According to Ayres, working in the distilling world, which has for a long time been so male dominated, has meant that she has needed to shout louder to be heard and the battles against casual sexism and ageism are still a challenge, but times are changing.

She explained: “Being in a relatively new industry comes with its obstacles that you have to overcome and you have to find your own way over them. Some of those obstacles are truly difficult ones. I have had to fight very hard for my own identity in this industry, coming from starting out as the youngest female owner/operator of a distillery in the country to being the recipient of the best contemporary gin in the world from IWSC being the second Australian to win that award ever in 51 years. I have had a lot of people talk past me, I have had people tell me I ‘should stick to sales because I’m young and blonde and that sells product’ or ‘you’re the distiller?’. Or are you just saying you are because it’s ‘trendy’? The answers are No; I suck at sales and yes, I am the distiller, and wow that’s rude! The people in the industry have been mostly great to me which I am thankful for. What I really love and appreciate are the women and men in this industry that have shown support for not just me but other women in the industry too. The ones who stand with you, stick up for you, encourage you and celebrate you.”

Ayes added that she has so many women she looks up to and really enjoys “their energy” describing each and every woman who has as “such a breath of fresh air”. She said: “My aunt who believed in me so much that she allowed me to share her part of the world with me to create Karu Distillery & House Of Spirits. Greta Papps, when I first started – reassured me when I had my first bad interview and I was so upset about it, she always made me feel that she was proud of me”.

Additionally, Ayes also names Penny Sippe as her current mentor for the mentor mentee programme through Women In Hospitality (WOHO).

“I can’t wait to learn more from her. My sisters and mum, they have been my biggest fans since the day I was born and really helped me define myself and my goals,” she said and highlighted how Genise Hollingworth from Black Gate Distillery “opens up her distillery and home to me quite often and is so hospitable to me when I am burnt out and need to get away. She has also been very supportive in my path with rum”.

Ayes is, indeed, both grateful and inspired by the support network she has around her, namechecking “the incredible team at WOHO for literally everything they do”.

Ayes opens up the bar House Of Spirits this month which, she admits, “will bring a lot of change and new things into my life but I am very excited about it” revealing that “the thing that I am excited about the most is releasing our flagship rum. Rum feels as though it’s my life and I am very keen to see where it takes us and the people we will meet through it”.

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