Before talking to Andrew Rall, founder and distiller at Distillery 031 in Durban, South Africa, we did a quick Google search to figure out the time difference. We caught him at the tail end of his day to get to know the distillery’s journey, the challenges they were faced with starting up, as well as those he was encountering today as they grow. What once started 12 years ago as an idea among friends and sugar cane has
evolved into trying to break into new markets, new products and find more efficiencies. In those years, and even before that, the interest in spirits stemmed from travels abroad, particularly with rum, and that interest grew into bottle collections, equipment piling up in the garage and the realization of an opportunity in his local market – and if you are a distiller or distillery owner, our bet is that this sounds familiar.
The first of its kind.
“One of the challenges was we were the first craft, or non-massive commercial distillery in our province. The local authority had never done a licensing application before and didn’t know what do to, and we didn’t know what to do so we knew it was going to be a long process.”
Like in the United States, they had to commit to a location before they could receive their license. During that time they improvised the space to be mixed-use for art and other businesses, which has since lead on to other endeavors as well as a massive, positive change in their neighborhood.
Getting ready to launch the distillery they knew that up to that point only big-name brands were on the shelves. To make a quality rum, which was is passion and their end goal, he knew he needed years to age it and so they also focused on products like gin and liqueurs to get the cash flow going.
Sounds easy enough right? After all, that is what countless distilleries in the states have been doing. The reality was that this was easier said than done.
“At that stage no one knew anything about craft spirits at all. So we had to educate people and we figured the best way to do that is for people to come and see how we produce it and be able to talk to them. We set up a visitors center and the distillery… and at the end of 2015 we were able to launch to the public.”
The Daily (or Nightly) Grind
… And while we’re not referring to coffee, that certainly played a large role in the long nights spent setting things up, distilling and keeping their ducks in a row.
“That [the day-to-day operations] has actually changed a lot. You end up doing a lot of things that you don’t necessarily want to be doing but are necessary to run a business. A lot of night shift work!”
Those nights were also consumed with questions like “How are we going to complete with these big name brands?” and concerns like “cash flow, cash flow, cash flow.” But indubitably as they learned more, the market also started to come around with a little coaxing.
“When we launched our first gin we had to print the word “gin” in big letters because no one even knew there was such a thing as craft gin,” recalled Andrew.
While initially they were very much focused on the area around the distillery, their distribution started to grow throughout the country. As you well know, gaining sales is always a “work in progress” but after getting past the initial and considerate bumps in the road, Andrew and team started to look toward the future.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
The shift from working through the night to get things started, getting past the initial market introduction and education, setting up a system to help them run efficiently and ending up where they are now means they have time to focus on what’s ahead.
“I think [DISTILL x 5] has been fantastic. I always kind of knew we needed to keep control of the business and when you’re a small business, as the owner you are torn in a hundred different directions with things you’ve got to do. Keeping control and doing the admin and record-keeping ends up being the thing you leave off. So having a system where the production team and the logistics team has to follow it means that it really helps because I can go back and see what is going on.”
This journey started with an empty building, garage full of distilling equipment and, most importantly, a vision. After working through some unique hurdles to figure out how they would do what they wanted to do, Distillery 031 has entered the stage of growth with new challenges that partnerships and systems like with FIVE x 5 help them overcome.
“We are now managing sales and distribution and forecasting and regulations and people, growing a lot with people. Longer term is our vision is to become more of an international brand. We have been fortunate enough to win international awards so people have recognized that we have a quality product,” Andrew told me.
Hanging out (even virtually) with Andrew was eye-opening in so many ways. The barriers to entry into the distilling market aboard are not always all the different to the states. Setting yourself up for success with a goal in mind, like making perfectly aged rum for the masses, starts with a vision and is aided by passion, organization and a lot of creativity to become a reality. We are proud to support Distillery 031’s journey!
About Distillery 031: South African Distillery of the Year 2018 and The Zulu Kingdom’s First craft distillery. Distillery 031 is located in the Station Drive Creative Precinct in Durban. Distilling began in 2009, and the Distillery was opened to the public in 2015. Distillery 031’s exceptional quality spirits have quickly made a name for themselves helping Distillery 031 become South Africa’s most internationally awarded independent distillery. The product range reflects the best of contemporary Durban and its unique flavours. Like the multiple faces of this coastal paradise, this artisanal distillery offers a journey of discovery. Photographs by Jacqui Engelbrecht and Dane Forman, www.distillery031.com.