Strait Brands' Philip Ridyard shows how to add value to products

Tasmanians are known for their pioneering spirit, but when it comes to alcohol value adding, York Town vodka and gin producer Strait Brands set the bar.

Established in 2003 when flavouring white spirits did not hold the same interest as it does now, Strait Brands committed to adding value to Tasmania’s produce.

To this end, vodka and gin produced by Strait Brands is flavoured with Northern Tasmanian pepper berries; Tamar Valley lemons, strawberries, raspberries, cherries and hazelnuts; and sloe berries from Evandale.

Managing director Philip Ridyard spoke about adding value to produce at the Australian Native Food & Botanicals and Tamar NRM Growing the Growers event at Riverside last week.

“We were ahead of the game in the spirit market in Australia which, at the time, was focused on Bundaberg Rum or a burgeoning whisky industry in Tasmania,” Mr Ridyard said.

“The original strategy was to add value to fruit and nuts grown by similarly brave people who had invested their time and effort.”

Another essential ingredient in the spirit-making process is spring water from York Town, which flows through the national park and then 280 million-year-old gravel, which is the “world’s best natural filter”.

Strait Brands’ first foray into infusions was to create a pepper berry vodka that went on to win a bronze medal at the International Wine and Spirits competition in London in 2006.

“The samples that we sent [to London] were actually filtered through paper coffee filters in my kitchen,” Mr Ridyard said.

After perfecting the infusion process – which Mr Ridyard likens to using a “big teabag” in a vat of alcohol – the team tried their hand at flavoured gin, using a a classic British-style spirit as a base.

Strait Brands gin base is much like a curry in that includes all the flavoursome botanicals for the spicy dish, such as cumin, coriander and Indian spices.

“At the time nobody was making flavoured gin in Australia and in our original business plan I predicted that gin was going to be the next big thing after vodka,” Mr Ridyard said.

“I knew that at some point the marketing people would say ‘we’ve forgotten about gin’ and, consequently, we were probably about four or five years ahead of everybody else.”

When Strait Brands began it was selling five bottles of vodka to one gin, but since Mr Ridyard’s prediction has come true, Straits’ four gins collectively outsell the vodka by eight bottles to one.

Strait Brands produces its vodka and gin at the airport-based Launceston Distillery at Western Junction, but has plans to build its own distillery at York Town within the next 12 months.

The business is also considering reintroducing hibiscus products in Asia and creating a higher strength gin using the botanicals Colonel William Paterson collected in the region and sent back to Joseph Banks.