Gin makers’ spirited opening

Enterprise: Puss & Mew

What they offer: Brett and Deb have overcome a cancer diagnosis and COVID-19 lockdowns to open their distillery, which is fast becoming a destination venue in Nunawading.

Deb and Brett Clayton opened their Nunawading distillery, Puss & Mew, last November. Having had to delay the scheduled opening date due to COVID lockdowns, the couple spent the additional time doing lots of research and preparation to ensure they had the distillery, venue and retail aspects of Puss & Mew spot on and ready to fire when they were able to open the doors.

The distillery’s name is inspired by a legend in gin circles. When liquor sales were restricted in England in the 18th century, an enterprising gin slinger called Captain Dudley Bradstreet created a statue of a tomcat that would meow and open a small drawer in its mouth, which a visitor would put a coin into after saying, “Puss, puss, do you have any gin?” After receiving the coin, Bradstreet would pour a shot of gin through the cat’s paw, straight into the visitor’s cup. “This was the world’s first vending machine,” Deb explains.

“Supporting small businesses is a big part of the Puss & Mew persona, so we hope to collaborate with many other local businesses.”

Creating a new business as a start-up was a fairly daunting experience for Deb and Brett. “Facing such a giant leap from our previous lives to where we are now meant that we were looking at not only a significant financial investment, but also a change in mindset, as we looked to leave our old jobs to become our own bosses and create a business the whole family would be involved in,” Brett explains.

They sold their family home to fund the business, which took a few years to eventuate. Then, during the planning process of getting Puss & Mew up and running, Deb was hit with a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “With Deb going through cancer treatment during our journey, it was an unexpected hurdle but we are grateful to now be able to become advocates for lymphoma and are very supportive of cancer fundraising and sponsorship opportunities,” Brett explains.

Prior to opening, Deb and Brett did a lot of listening, learning and refining to ensure that they landed on the ultimate collection of craft gin. “We spent two years sampling, experimenting and learning the latest techniques and technologies and the distillation process so that we could create a collection of gins that are uniquely our own, while showcasing Australian distillers to a wider audience,” Brett explains.

Their ‘front of house’ venue includes a view into the distillery so visitors can get a bird’s eye view of the distillation process, and they also offer masterclasses in which participants take a deep dive into gin making and get the opportunity to create their very own recipes, using the wide selection of botanicals Deb and Brett have on-premises.

After an exciting first few months of being open to the public, the couple are working towards becoming a destination venue in Nunawading, for anyone looking for a special place to enjoy some downtime, a few quiet drinks and fresh, locally sourced food.

“Supporting small businesses is a big part of the Puss & Mew persona, so we hope to collaborate with many other local businesses, creating a welcoming atmosphere in our venue as we look to open up and welcome private and public functions,” Brett says. With regard to their offering, he describes the options for flavours as “unlimited” and is anticipating that Puss & Mew will be expanding the collection and introducing new and limited-edition flavours, distilled on the premises.

This article first appeared in issue 36 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine