Whiskey distiller goes global – export success
Raised on a farm in Buntine in the Wheatbelt, Cameron Syme grew up devouring tales of how his canny Scottish forebears funded their illicit distillery from English excise authority coffers.
So founding Western Australia’s first whisky distiller was just as much beloved family tradition as a business decision.
Great Southern Distilling company
As a young man in the 1980s, Syme watched the global rise of Foster’s Lager and Margaret River wines.
“I thought: why don’t we make whisky,” he said. “But I soon realised that I didn’t have the resources, expertise or financial backing.”
So he set about becoming an accountant and lawyer, then visiting and researching distilleries in Tasmania and the UK and gaining a UK Trades Board General Certificate of Distilling.
Then, 16 years later, the niche was still open to set up WA’s first distillery. Syme drove up to 15,000km searching for the right spot before relocating his family.
His site in Albany has access to some of the world’s best barley plus pure, limestone filtered water — conveniently supplied through the area’s main water supply.
“We started in the business incubator at the Albany Business Centre in 2005,” he said.
“We had a 150sq m shed, but that allowed us to lay down some barrels and start distilling.”
Two years later the company bought its seafront Frenchman Bay Road site and later opened a second distillery at Margaret River, then another in Porongurup, northeast of Albany.
“We were looking to develop an iconic brand and believed it was important to build it in an iconic location,” Syme said.
His Limeburners whisky has attracted international accolades from eminent whisky critics and medals over a number of years. The company was named the Telstra WA business of the year in 2017 and took out the Australian Distiller of the Year award in 2018.
Critical acclaim has opened export doors to Scotland and the UK, China, New Zealand and, soon, the United States.
“Our core values are honesty, integrity, respect and trust,” Syme said. “We try to make sure we walk the talk; our mission is to make the best whisky in the world.”
Success has come from a policy of continuous improvement in production, customer service and management – as well as knowing when to say ‘no’ to tempting offers, such as outside equity or contract manufacturing, that don’t align with the goal.
“Keep focused on what you’re here for,” Syme advised. “And dream big.”