In late February this year we heard rumblings about the Coronavirus hitting Australian shores. At the time, Italy seemed to be going through hell and all the talk was – what’s going to happen here. Even before the first stage of lockdowns started, Ben and I chatted about how we could manage the business through the potential bleakness coming our way. Our first move was to break the work group up into working panels, ensuring that no panel crossed paths with the other. To be honest, this started as a way of us protecting the business from shutdown as at the time we did not even feel a real threat to our health. At the time I remember thinking that the biggest threat was an overload of Corona Beer memes. We even launched our Straight Rye Whiskey around then – something we had worked toward for 4 years. Great timing is not just for dancing.
Moving forward a few weeks and the virus was into New York, a city I had lived in before and one where I still have friends. It was then that it started to feel real and that health was a factor, the memes started to slow. Unfortunately, around this time we also lost a big contract to make whiskey – that contract was what was paying us at the time considering we are a new brand (completely self-funded). So, here we were – revenue tanked, threat of virus and threat of shutdown. Ben and I talked constantly – shutdown, raise cash to survive, move to a cheaper location etc. We also talked about making hand sanitiser. Something we had noticed some larger distilleries in the US and Europe doing. I mean, we had a large distillery, we had a workforce, we could do it – so why not.
But one thing Ben and I started to notice is people were profiteering off of the pandemic. I saw others selling sanitiser for $40 per litre and spruiking this as ‘helping the community’. This was a bad vibe for us. We did not want to profit from such a shitty situation so we decided if we were to make sanitiser, it should be for one reason – help the community.
The first batch of Sanitiser we made we actually used some whiskey we had made previously that was not up to scratch. We used that and blended it with some spirit we distilled to higher proof. We sold it in little bottles and gave all the profit away to hospitality workers who had lost their jobs. From there we started to get contacted by front line workers including Hospitals. For each of these we sold bulk sanitiser or high-proof spirit at cost. I distinctly remember getting contacted by a national industrial wholesaler asking for 20,000L of sanitiser and I turned them down because everything we could produce, went to not-for profit businesses that needed it the most.
By this stage, after giving away profits (when we had no money) Ben and I again sat down to discuss the state of affairs. I remember saying to Ben – this is going to cost us the business if we continue to do this. Ben, whom I am known to debate constantly said – we don’t really have a choice. He was right, people were in need and we had the means. Keeping in mind that this was not that long after the Australian bushfires – where we, along with Melbourne’s hospitality community donated time, products, money and all we could to help the victims of the fire, I must admit I was getting weary.
Moving on to more recent times, we have since been able to get back to what we love the most – make whiskey. We did make some sanitiser for a wholesaler in the end but only well and truly after the panic had relaxed and to be honest, we continued to keep our margins minimal because making money of a health crisis is as I said – not our vibe.
Through all of this, I could not appreciate the people I work with any more than what I do. They have gone through a roller coaster ride which is still not over and continue to work through it. If bars were open, I would be shouting a round or ten. Its been this experience that has also helped define what type of business I want to be a part of. Sure, I want to drink whiskey and have laughs but I also want to build a community of friends that support each other.
In March, we joined the fight against COVID-19 pandemic by using our distilled spirit to produce hand sanitiser for medical, essential and front-line services.
For us, this was about community, to help keep the people where we live safe and healthy, to retain our staff in ongoing employment, and to provide some assistance to the hospitality community that were forced out of work overnight.
For more info on COVID E.A.D or to donate directly, head over here.