Touching Base with Dervilla McGowan

Getting through it together.

By: Worksmith

Dervilla left behind bartending to become a microbiologist, but was pulled back into the beverage industry when the love for distilling took over. Her Spirits company Anther Spirits is facing an uphill battle like the rest of us, and, amongst other issues, they have had their ethanol supplier leave them to witch to producing hand-sanitizer only, so they are left with a blank space in their production recipe. We spoke to Dervilla to see how she's handling the current situation. Her commitment to and belief in this industry is the end-of-week lift that we all need.

Worksmith: Australia is about a week behind the rest of the world in terms of infection numbers and government responses. Who and what bars overseas have you been watching closely.

Dervilla McGowan: Honestly, I have not been watching any bars overseas. I have been watching our own industry very carefully and it has been absolutely devastating. It all seems to have come so quickly. Our industry has been one of the first to be hit and we have all gone through several stages. We have been disbelieving, shocked at the job losses and then a sad and grudging acceptance has followed. Our Government should have been better prepared with support for our most vulnerable, casual workers. I think as an industry we have been massively let down.

However hospo is populated by some of the most resilient people in the universe! We get shouted at, we have to clean up vomit, we take drunken abuse. We bear all this every week at work and who supports us? Other hospo people. We have already carried each other through tough times. Times when there was no work and we needed to sleep on someone's couch or when we got harassed at work and needed support or did something stupid and needed a shoulder. Hospo people forgive and accept each other as they are and EVERY time we are knocked down we get up. It's going to take a bit more to get up this time and we are going to need each others help more than any other time. We need to stay connected and to look around to see what we can do to help. Of all the industries across the globe right now there is none I would rather be going through this with. A group of people with huge hearts and souls.

Worksmith: How are you responding?

Dervilla McGowan: I am responding in every way possible. There have been loads of lows, periods of head in the sand and tonnes of thinking. Seb, Amy, Gabs and myself are in an industry that has vanished overnight. Manildra, where we get our ethanol from is no longer making food grade ethanol. It is only making ethanol for hand sanitizer. We have a massive shortage of sanitizer and we need this to keep our health workers safe from infection and keep the virus spread to a minimum. So while there will be a craft gin shortage at some point and it is putting massive pressure on everyone in the industry we are very proud to be part of an industry that is able to do something real to literally kill the virus. We were planning on opening our distillery and cellar door in the coming months and we have had to mothball most of this project. However we are planning to go ahead with building just our distillery and are talking to everyone we can to make this happen. We want to make hand sanitizer so we can help do something tangible in the fight against the virus.

Personally I have changed my own routine drastically. I have to switch off all media, radio, TV, social media. It is unrelenting and fills me with stress and anxiety. I haven’t looked at any media for 2 days and I feel more in control and more able to plan for the future. I am also exercising way more and going outside to soak in nature with Seb, my daughter and dogs. I made bread for the first time in years and plan to make a cake with Seb and my daughter tomorrow. My mindset is moving to a calmer place.

Worksmith: Whats been the biggest challenge so far and how are you planning to over come it

Dervilla McGowan: Our biggest challenge like everyone else is cash flow and understanding how we will survive this period of time when we are unable to produce any product (hand sanitizer will not be a big earner as we intend to produce at cost). I recently heard an economist saying that we just need something to get from this side of the crisis to the other side. He said if a business is strong now it will be strong after the crisis and that we need a time machine to get there - the time machine is money. To help us get there we are looking at getting grants, loans, tax relief, making sanitizer, and anything else to bridge the gap. We are not sure how we are going to get there but we will fight every step of the way.

Worksmith: Once all this is over what is your positive prediction for the industry

Dervilla McGowan: I think that not just our industry but our society as a whole will be better. When in living memory has literally everyone been in the same boat, money vanishing before your eyes, job losses. I keep hearing the same things and saying them myself...maybe this is a wake up call, lets hope we come out of this better than we went in, maybe we will wake up and see what is important. We were all so busy before this thing came along. It has literally stopped us in our tracks and we now a chance to reflect on ourselves personally and as a society. Is the life we were living the one we truly want to live or should we choose a different path? What kind of a person am I and what kind of person would I like to be? When the shit hits the fan will I respond in a morally sensitive way or will I take the opportunity to take advantage of people?

I think that we will remember the true value of kindness, of sharing and standing up and saying ‘I haven’t got much but I am willing to give you some so you get through this day’. I think this is going to be the hardest thing we ever do. I think it will be the hardest thing our society has done in a long long time but I know we will be far better, far stronger, and far kinder than we were before. After every devastating time in our history we see renewal. After the Spanish flu and the first world war we had the roaring 20s, art deco and surrealism accompanied by the new music of the age, Jazz. There will be innovation and art and music that will follow this that will blow our minds. I can’t wait to see what all that looks like.