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Not just spirits, but an experience

A love of family, and heritage, helped give rise to Granddad Jack’s.

A love of family, and heritage, helped give rise to Granddad Jack’s, an Australian distillery piling up global acclaim for its Gold Coast-produced spirits. Adam McCleery writes.

For David Ridden, founder and owner of Granddad Jack’s distillery, every aspect of the company is a love letter to his own grandfather, David Goulding AKA Granddad Jack.

The craft distillery is run by the Ridden family, with Ridden’s son Luke taking on the role of head distiller.

And in just a few short years Luke, and some of Granddad Jack’s products, have gained acclaim and awards from across the world.

“I had a close relationship with my grandfather, who was born on the 11th of June 1919 and grew up in a hard time,” said Ridden.

“I sat with him several times and he told me stories about his life and on his 90th birthday, my mum and her two sisters wrote a this is your life story book for him and ever since then I really wanted to tell his life story.

“The story of someone who grew up in a time when it was tough to survive.”

This connection and love for his grandfather has always stuck with Ridden, in a deep way, and it has informed everything about Granddad Jack’s.

“After selling a former business, I wanted to do something to tell my grandfather’s story and it just seemed like a distillery would be the best place to tell that story. My grandad loved whiskey and drank it every day and lived to be 93 years old,” said Ridden.

“My grandfather was all about supporting the local neighbourhood, so for us it was important that the distillery kept that alive.”

Opening the first Granddad Jack’s distillery on the Gold Coast meant Ridden needed a distiller. His son Luke, a 20-year old mechanic at the time, put up his hand and when the distillery opened in August 2018 Luke become the youngest commercial distiller in the country.

“Before opening the distillery we didn’t know anything about the process,” said Ridden.

“We didn’t have huge expectations of what it would become, but today it has become much more than we ever anticipated.”

When we decided to build a distillery in November 2017, we had no idea what we needed, said Ridden. Luke, much like his father, knew the importance of what they were trying to achieve and immediately flew to Tasmania to get some first-hand knowledge about distilling, before taking things one step further.

Demonstrating the commitment which helped him, and Granddad Jack’s become global award winners.

Luke Ridden was Australia’s youngest distiller when he took up the role at the family run business.
Luke Ridden was Australia’s youngest distiller when he took up the role at the family run business.

“From there things gathered momentum and we realised the commercial commitment, so we got more serious than we were thinking,” said Ridden.

Ridden and Luke both had an affinity with craft distilleries out of the USA because many had built brands on neighbourhood recognition and storytelling, two tenants of Granddad Jack’s.

“They are passionate about being small and true to their neighbourhoods,” said Ridden.

“We had two objectives, to find out what we needed to build a distillery and to find somebody that we could entice to come to Australia to teach Luke how to be a commercial distiller faster than anyone had done it before.

“We visited 40 distilleries across California and New York state, and while in a San Diego distillery with a distiller called Trent Dalton, thought we had found that person.

“He is an incredible distiller and storyteller and although he wouldn’t take up the opportunity, he knew someone who fit the bill as well as he did.”

Ridden and Luke were introduced to Blake Heffernan who now is the head distiller at Old Harbor Distillery in San Diego.

“That’s where things all really got going,” said Ridden.

Ridden flew Blake to Australia to spend time teaching Luke everything he needed to know about the distilling process, knowledge which normally takes years to learn.

“He helped teach Luke everything he needed to know to become the award-winning distiller that he is today,” said Ridden.

“The number of awards he has won locally and around the world is amazing. Best coffee liqueur twice, we were in the top four gin producers in the world in 2022 at the IWSC awards.

“Without Blake, there is no doubt we wouldn’t be producing the quality spirits and have won the awards and acclaim that we have in just five years.

Luke, and Ridden, were already making waves from the very start of the distillery coming into operation.

“When we opened, Luke was only 21 and was the youngest commercial distiller in the country,” said Ridden.

“And we were the fastest distillery to have ever opened in Australia. We opened in eight months from when we took possession at the building, and I’m not sure if that’s been beat since. Now I think about it, it’s been beaten by us, we open our Brisbane distillery in just five months and three weeks, said Ridden.

“There is no way starting on your own with no input would lead to this level of success. Blake spent hours a day with Luke helping produce and showing Luke every step of the process.”

“Our first ever whiskey release won two gold medals in world whiskey competition for the packaging and label design, a book with the bottle of whiskey hidden inside and leather label,” said Ridden.

“Everything we do is to encourage people to take the time to sit down and taste the whiskey and feel a part of the whole process, a part of our family. That is a special part of our brand that not everyone can have.”

The book Ridden mentions is related to the first five whiskies released by the distillery, all of which were paired with a hand-crafted book telling the story of Ridden’s grandfather and how his legacy informs everything Granddad Jack’s does.

“That book was 100 per cent hand crafted by the last remaining book maker on the gold coast,” added Ridden.

This is a great example of the attention to detail Granddad Jack’s puts into its premium offerings. Never losing site of its roots and goals.

For example, Granddad Jack’s is distilled as a craft level to retain its premium quality while not moving away from the true heart of the company’s brand and storytelling.

Granddad Jack’s inspiration was Ridden’s grandfather, David Goulding
Granddad Jack’s inspiration was Ridden’s grandfather, David Goulding.

“I think that is the number one thing, a lot of people ask what we do, we are storytellers who just happen to make world class spirits,” said Ridden.

“We have been super lucky that we’ve been able to make this world class spirit and have that story. The essence of our business is 100 per cent the story.”

This goes into every aspect of the company.

“Every spirit has a name from my grandad’s life story,” said Ridden.

“You see photos of him, captions and little sayings he had everywhere in our distilleries and bars, everything we do has that element.

“We don’t design something new or put something in the distillery that he wouldn’t have approved of.”

An example of how the success of Granddad Jack’s hasn’t muddied the message for Ridden and the rest of the team, is their emphasis on quality over quantity.

“We release only small batch whiskey because we only age in 100 and 50 litre barrels and we don’t blend,” he said.

“My grandfather sipped away at whiskey like a traditional old boy, for me it’s about sitting and sipping and for us we make sure our whiskey is always premium and tells the story about not just what was in the bottle but the whole process. Drinking less but better is what we believe in,” said Ridden.

Ridden said they don’t just provide customers with whiskey, but with an experience, something to savour.

On top of keeping the whiskey program limited to 50 and 100 litre non-blended barrels is the environment they are in. Which Ridden said helps create a smooth end product.

“We don’t put our barrels in a false environment, the air pressure and humidity is different on the gold coast and our barrel room never gets below 10 degrees all year round and in summer its closer to 40 degrees,” he said.

“With the combination of small barrels and the environment we age our whiskey in, creates an amazingly smooth whiskey.”

And based upon the feedback of their customer base, the smoothness of the drop goes a long way to reinforcing premium status, while also encouraging the whiskey to be consumed in the right way.

“The feedback we get is that it’s not only smooth, but you never want to drink it all because when its’ gone, it’s gone,” said Ridden.

“We have been lucky to produce something that isn’t just a whiskey, but an experience. When you buy our whiskey it’s a 100 per cent experience.

“From the packaging to the bottle. It’s not just here is your bottle and go. We give our customers something to savour.”

While whiskey is at the core of Granddad Jack’s, the company also produces gin, vodka, coffee liqueur, and other specially limited lines as part of its growing range of products.

“Ultimately, for us, small batch super premium is core to our being.”

And Ridden says this is a concept that Granddad Jack’s company will never abandon.

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