It is a labour of love. That’s how Kate describes it. And by ‘it’ I am referring to Steampunk Distillery, a refreshingly unique, rural distillery set amongst the grassy knolls of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland.
The business idea was brought to life by two theatre nurses, Megan Coffey and Kate Gibney, over a drink on their deck as they pondered the similarities between sterilising and distilling. Kate says the conversation went from drip rate, titrate, condensate to distillate and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Megs and I have both worked in the nursing trade for more than 30 years each, been partners for about 17 and distilling around 18 months,” she says.
“It has been a challenge, especially as we got our local licence about five minutes before COVID hit.”
The couple purchased the Towen Mountain land they now call home, and home to the Steampunk gin and vodka distillery, about nine years ago and began the huge job of reclaiming the old farming land.
“We used to drive up from Brisbane every week for a few years as we were working on bringing the farm back from what it was, which was a bean and bok choy farm, to the beautiful grassy space we have today,” Kate says. “I am originally from the Sunshine Coast and Megs outback New South Wales and I think we have now both been up here on the farm for six years. We are pretty proud of what we have created.”
Not only have they converted their old shed into the distillery, they have also brought to life an on-site orchid and native beehives, and adopted six tame Angus lowline cattle.
“They are our fur babies,” Kate says. “The families love them too when they come up to the distillery, the kids hang outside and give the cows a cuddle or play in the orchard, while the adults get to taste and learn all about the gin and vodkas.
“We are a micro distillery, so we currently produce approximately 35 bottles at a time and the way we distil is time-consuming, but we want quality rather than quantity, using as many local and seasonal ingredients as we can. And we are incredibly fussy about the end product and love to chat about that process to those who come visit us at the distillery.
“We are really proud of ourselves and the fact that we were brave enough to start a new business despite a global pandemic, and the feedback we have had so far from the people who buy, support and love our distillery and our product is amazing.
“It has been a big job though, especially with us both working almost full-time in nursing still. It was a huge financial outlay and took about two years to get the licensing for a home-based distillery and fit it all out, and then of course COVID hit so we put the brakes on it for a while. We are hopefully coming out of the soft start era and ready to be more visible now.”
The name Steampunk is a fun play on words which comes from the sterilisation and infection control steaming process that the ladies engage in within the nursing field.
“Even the logo is created from medical equipment and surgical instruments including a few antique instruments from when I started my theatre career, and our logo has itself become instrumental in our operation,” Kate says.
The small home-based distillery currently produces six gin and three vodka varieties.
“We pour a lot of ourselves into the products too, using local produce mostly from our farm, like citrus and botanicals from the orchard – the lemon myrtle, lemon eucalypt, cinnamon, kaffir lime leaf, chillies. Every drink has a lot of us in it, and the vodkas are fermented on site and triple-distilled in a beautiful labour of love,” Kate says.
“It’s quite insane to think we have such a great range in just 18 months,” she says. “And that we already have a few awards under our belt too.”
“We actually entered our lemon eucalypt gin and signature vodka in the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards just five weeks after kicking off and ended up with silver. I was too gutless to enter the dry gin that round, but when I did work up the courage to enter it in the Australian Gin Awards in 2022, we won gold.
“There were over 200 entries in that category and we were top eight nationally. It was a pretty amazing experience and we didn’t realise the magnitude until we met another distiller who had been entering for 15 years and never won gold,” Kate says. “We also won a few more silver and bronze awards so the experience was huge for us.”
How Do Kate and Megan enjoy their spirits?
“We personally add ice, leave for a couple of minutes to meld and sip it straight. Our ambition is for our customers to be able to drink our spirits however they wish. Using a light tonic or soda (or a mix of both) is recommended, as this will not detract from the gin botanicals.”