There is an explosion of innovative award winning gins, vodkas and moonshine — yes, that’s right, moonshine — coming from a livewire new distillery at North Richmond in Sydney’s north-west.
After only three years or so, Ironbark Distilleries’ superb spirits are winning acclaim at international award shows, and are also a favoured brand at many upmarket hotels and bars around the world and across Australia.

Driving this exponential growth and international recognition are Reg and Greta Papps, and they’re doing it alone. They have no staff at all, but sometimes the kids pitch in for labelling and packing. Reg Papps is the epitome of the obsessive scientist bubbling with creativity and commitment, often staying up late, he says, just to watch his pristine stills steaming into action. So earnest is he that even when asleep he’s dreaming up new flavours. Reg is what many of us would call a boffin, being both serious and supremely knowledgeable while simultaneously elated and irrepressible about his craft. He is buoyant and enthusiastic, and his face shows immense satisfaction when he sees you appreciate his finely made spirits. Making and selling alcohol is in his blood and goes back seven generations to his ancestral grandfather, Obadiah Iken, which is now the name of one of Reg’s stills. He names them because of a deep distiller’s superstition. Greta Papps is the other half of Ironbark’s success. From sales and marketing to supply chain management and even the labelling, she is the business force behind Ironbark’s rise. “It’s a hard sell to get into the market,” she says, but this energetic lady shares real plans for global success with her husband of 17 years. An industrial distiller at the Shell Oil refinery for over 30 years, Reg says distilling petrol is virtually the same process for creating exceptional moonshines and white spirits. The only difference is that petrol is born in crude oil, while alcohol comes from a mash, usually corn and barley for white spirits, among other ingredients.

Making Moonshine

To achieve the finest moonshine, the subtle differences in flavour are realised through the distiller’s sense of the balance of different grains and botanicals, and the wooden ageing barrels which give it flavour. It is chemistry meets creativity. Moonshine, you may ask? What’s that? The name conjures a vision of illicit bootleg concoctions, as if this delicious amber liquid has been created under cover of a shotgun in the dark hills of Dakota. That’s what people used to think, but not any more. “Today moonshine is a $1.2 billion dollar industry in the USA,” Reg says. Moonshine is just unaged bourbon, and it was moonshine which gave rise to the bourbon industry. Today, almost every state in the USA produces moonshine. “We’re just starting to develop a taste for it here in Australia, and the trend seems very positive.” When Reg thinks of an idea for new flavour notes or a new idea presents itself, he’s off in search of the right buds, flowers and even teas to create his next drop, sourcing from all over Australia. He has produced a Wattleseed Gin that has a uniquely Australian flavour, and he says proudly that all his ingredients are Australian sourced and organic. He’s also been inspired by Asian flavours, creating a Chai Spirit (yes, like the tea) which is unique. “There’s nothing like it in the world. It tastes like chai tea but it is 40% alcohol,” he says with a grin. “This is an Australian distillery, and we are honoured to be part of the wave of Australian craft spirits that is getting recognition and sales around the world.”

Taking it to market

Greta’s marketing platform is straightforward and effective. “Our whole strategy is to go to the very high-end market at first and then slowly filter down to a wider audience. We looked at being in some of Australia’s most beautiful and iconic places to have our products stocked, and now we’re stocked with them,” Greta says, with an air of accomplishment. “We’re in Emirates Hotels Australia-wide, at the bar in the Four Seasons in Sydney’s CBD, and we’re served at Neil Perry’s famed Rockpool restaurant. If you’re at Longitude 131, the luxury tent resort at Ayers Rock, or at the Loise Appellation in the Barossa Valley, we are there as well,” Greta reels off her list of sales achievements with as much pride as Reg talks about their awards. “We also do small bottles for minibars,” she said. “We’re known throughout Asia, throughout the UK and Germany and of course in the USA, where we’ve won those prestigious awards.” This hasn’t happened by chance. This duo, so close-knit that they finish each other’s sentences, has done the hard grind of cold calling for sales and promoting Ironbark’s original range wherever there is an opportunity. Both Reg and Greta have high standards, so they go to the ultimate spirits authority in Australia, Nick’s Wine Merchants (NWM), whose proprietor Uri Chlednikowski is the tasting guru. NWM scores the spirits 1 to 100 on a whole range of aspects (known as the Spirit Spider classification). “Our benchmark is that every one of our products has to score between 90 and 100 before it is released,” Greta said. The Papps are delighted to have gained international recognition with their many international awards. Ironbark’s gins are currently entered in the World Spirits Awards in the UK, with Reg himself picked to be one of the judges in the final round. “The best accolade we could get would be to pick up an award in gin’s traditional heartland,” Reg says. The awards, to be held in London, are so impressed by the new range of Australian contemporary gins they have created a special category for our home-grown product. After their competition successes, the host of American Booze Traveller, Jack Maxwell, visited the Papps earlier this year with a film crew wanting to know how Reg creates his award winning moonshine. When that show goes to air, Ironbark will become very well known indeed. One could guess the type of reaction that will have among devotees of moonshine. “I want to see our whole industry develop as the Australian wine industry has done, and for Ironbark Distilleries,” as Reg puts it, “the product is right, the process is right and we know we’re going in the right direction.” Ironbark’s gins, vodkas and moonshine are available in the Hills District at Chambers Cellars, Lochiel House restaurant at Kurrajong, Loxley on Bellbird, and close by at the bottle shop in Kurmond. ❐

Global recognition for Ironbark
From a flying start in 2013, Ironbark’s first offerings have already picked up a clutch of prestigious International awards.
San Francisco World Spirit Awards 2015:
Silver medal – 313 Dry Gin
Silver medal – 4 Week Barrel Aged Moonshine
Bronze medal – Clear Corn Rye Moonshine
Bronze medal – 313 Wattleseed Gin

These awards were won against 1,800 other entries, in the homeland of moonshine!
Melbourne International Spirits Competition 2015:
International Distillery of the Year.

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