The co-founder of Spice Islands Distilling Co., Indonesia’s very first craft spirits distillery, talks about the challenges and the victories of her spirited venture
These past few years has seen the rise of some pretty interesting local brands. A particularly interesting case in point in this regard is Indonesia’s first authentic craft spirits distillery: Spice Islands Distilling Co., which is based in Bali. Combining age-old distilling techniques with distinctly Indonesian ingredients, its products – namely Nusantara Cold Brew and East Indies Archipelago Dry Gin – has been recognized by liquor afficionados and has been internationally acclaimed as well. On the former note, Nusantara Cold Brew has won Bronze at the International Wine & Spirits Competition 2022, while East Indies Archipelago Dry Gin won Gold at the International Spirits Award 2022 in Austria.
Running a business is definitely not easy, especially one in an industry with its own, unique market. But Spice Islands Distilling Co. has proven that creating good quality products will result in good outcome. Recently, Prestige had the opportunity to chat with Audrey Purwana, the co-founder of Spice Islands Distilling Co. and also the woman behind the success of the brand. Below are excerpts from our interview.
What keeps you busy lately?
What keeps me busy is, of course, apart from normal life – we moved to Bali last year with two young kids – is the business we started, Spice Islands Distilling Co. After four years of preparation, it has been officially in production for the past two years.
For any of our readers might not have heard of Spice Islands yet, can you tell us about the brand concept and the inspiration behind the name?
We’ve always wanted to create something – a beverage brand – because Indonesia has many liquor producers. Also, I think people are very focused in price, because Indonesia is a very price-sensitive market. Since the beginning, when we tried to figure out our positioning, we realized that the safest answer would probably be creating something affordable. Then we noticed that there are no local liquor brands in the premium market yet. Here is the thing: Some people still have that mindset of not wanting to pay more for local products; but we created this brand because we believe in making something that’s actually premium quality. We wanted to take a risk and give it a try.
I think this is a great time for our generation. The younger folks are more open to try local brands. Or, at least, they are willing to believe that local brands can be good. We have been dependent on imported products for so long. So, the idea is to create something equally good.
In the beginning, when we first started working with the branding team, we looked at what Indonesia truly is. What do people identify Indonesia with? Then we realized that we still identify with our rich history. We also picked a place which is very relevant to our products. So, we finally found the perfect name: Spice Islands. I think foreigners would understand the meaning behind it. And in terms of product, well, our gin, for instance, incorporates a lot of botanicals that used to be found only in Indonesia.
What sets Spice Islands apart from other distilleries and what makes it unique?
For now, it seems like we are the only distillery in Bali that, I would say, puts a lot of focus on quality machinery, packaging, and so on. We don’t cut corners; we don’t use cheaper packaging materials, for instance. From the beginning, this was something that we are willing to do to improve quality.
We are the first to produce non-wine liquors at the same, premium quality as important brands, in Bali. We don’t produce millions of bottles because everything is still handmade. The distilling process is handled by its own team, and the other parts, from selecting ingredients to even the bottling is still done by hand.
What are the major challenges of running a distillery, especially here in Indonesia?
Challenges are normal. There are day-to-day challenges such as machine breakdowns. Of course, the last two years has been the most difficult, as we’re dealing with the pandemic. Someone would get sick in the middle of a production run and end up having to self-isolate, so we had to look for temporary replacements. Another challenge is how raw materials, such as cartons or labels, would come in late. Since we are still new, and we still have to import some materials, late shipping has become one of the issues we had to face. Commercially, the challenge for these past two years is how we move forward with these products. Our products have good quality, but proving that local doesn’t necessarily mean cheap is not that easy. But we are getting there.
On the flip side, what are some of the unique opportunities and possibilities from running a distillery in Indonesia?
First, let’s narrow down the scale to just Bali instead of Indonesia as a whole. Bali, fortunately, is more open to new industries. There are many liquor brands and they are all fantastic. Really great brands. I can say that for Bali, this is definitely a new kind of business opportunity. The government is still quite strict, but the business can still get support since it is an investment for Bali. And, of course, we also create jobs.
In Spice Islands Distilling Co.’s mission statement, the company states that it aims to raise Indonesian spirit by raising a glass with our communities. Can you tell us about any community outreach programs that you’ve conducted so far?
For our coffee liquor, Nusantara Cold Brew, we support a number of coffee plantations managed by local farmers. We donate funds to them and we buy green beans from them for our production. In Bali, when we open a factory in an area, we only employ workers from that area. People from others area can join too, but only for positions that can’t be filled by the local community. I really appreciate this aspect of Bali. Another thing that we do to raise the spirit of the communities we operate in is by only buying botanicals from local farmers. Anything we can buy locally – like kecombrang or torch ginger flowers – we do so. We definitely support farmers and local markets.
“We are based in Bali, so it’s the most natural thing to source the coffee locally. We have built a strong relationship with local coffee farmers and we have created a training program for them”
Now that Bali is recovering, how excited are you for the future of Spice Islands? And what have you been planning to make the best out of the evolving market?
This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. Basically, we’ve been waiting for two years and now we’ve started to notice the differences. But it’s still nothing compared to what it used to be.
As for how we prepare, we would definitely produce more, because all this time we have been rather careful in terms of inventory and didn’t stock up too much. Now, we feel encouraged to ramp up production. In terms of listing, commercially, our sales team are more aggressive.
We heard that Spice Islands is currently working on programs to help farmers improve their coffee quality. Can you tell us more about it and what encouraged you to start the program?
We are based in Bali, so it’s the most natural thing to source the coffee locally. We have built a strong relationship with local coffee farmers and we have created a training program for them. Surprisingly, we learned that many coffee farmers simply harvest the beans they plant, dry them, pack them and sell them. Through our training program, we have a coffee specialist from a roasting company educate the farmers to improve their know-how. That’s what we’ve done so far.
We actually want to also do a program to help local arak producers, which has been requested by the regent. As there are many home-producers of arak in Bali, he hopes that we can help in educating these brewers on how to perform better distillation and generally create better products. Hopefully by next year we can have this program in place.
What is next from Spice Islands Distilling Co.? Are there any future launches, event, or anything exciting coming up?
Hopefully we can gain increased momentum in Jakarta and Bali. We have done a soft launch in Bali previously, but finally did an actual launch event last month. We are also planning to launch the East Indies Archipelago Dry Gin in Jakarta to spread awareness and so that we can better fit the branding with the market there.
Next, we would like to launch two more gin products. But, again, we are waiting for the right momentum. Hopefully, we can add one more gin flavour in the third quarter this year, or later. Another one that we have been planning to launch is rum. But because of the pandemic, it was delayed. Hopefully, we can launch our rum sub-brand near the end of the year.
What are your hopes for the future, for yourself, company, and Bali?
Simple. Our hope is to build a brand that we can be proud of. A brand that is exportable, or at least one that can become recognized and trusted outside of Indonesia. It doesn’t have to become a big global brand, just for our brand to be accepted and gain footing in overseas markets.
For Bali, we hope to be a brand that the island can be proud of. And basically just to be recognized as a company that can make good beverages. That would make us very happy