From art director to gin distiller

Thursday 11 April 2019

Brad Wilson at his gin distillery.

Following an international design career, Brad Wilson decided to open a gin distillery in Melbourne.

In summary

  • Written by Nicole Cashman, Bachelor of Communication, Swinburne

Brad Wilson earned his start in the creative industry at a small printing shop in Richmond in the late 90s and went on to build  a career as a creative director for agencies across the globe. Fast forward more than two decades and he’s come home to Melbourne where he now owns and runs a gin distillery steeped in the city’s unique history.

With a passion for art and drawing, Mr Wilson chose to study a Bachelor of Design straight out of Year 12.

“I chose Swinburne because it had the best reputation as a design school in Australia. Swinburne gave me exposure to experienced lecturers and a solid foundation for design,” he says.

After graduating, Mr Wilson worked as a graphic designer in Melbourne before he was drawn to advertising.

“Lured by the big billboard and the fame of advertising, I crossed over from graphic designer to art director.”

“Shortly after that, I left Melbourne, deciding it’s a big world out there, and Singapore seemed to be doing the most exciting ads at that stage.”

Working with global brands

Singapore was just the beginning of Mr Wilson’s creative career, with highlights including shooting a brand ad for Martell Cordon Bleu, a premium cognac brand, with Italian fashion photographer Paolo Roversi in a Paris home designed by famous architect Le Corbusier.

Another highlight was working and living in Amsterdam and being exposed to a myriad of Genever distilleries.

His career in Singapore, China, Hong Kong and Amsterdam eventually led him back home to Melbourne where he founded Little Lon Distilling Co, a small gin distillery located in the heart of Melbourne.

“My passion for branding, design and ‘making’ inspired me to develop Little Lon Distilling Co,” he says.

“A lot of my advertising years as a creative director were spent working with a range of alcohol brands for giants Diageo and Pernod Ricard in Asia and Europe. I figured I’d like to put my efforts into developing and building my own spirit brand.”

The wonderful world of gin

Little Lon Distilling Co is one of the smallest distilleries around and in an un-orthodox building – an old heritage-listed red brick cottage built in 1877, says Mr Wilson.

“It’s wonderfully unique, and the building and location plays beautifully into the history of Little Lon and the brand.”

Little Lon gin distillery in Melbourne.
Mr Wilson opened a distillery that is located in a heritage listed building in Melbourne's CBD. 

All of Little Lon’s gin flavours are inspired by and developed around characters that used to live in the building during the late 1890s and early 1900s. Mr Wilson used Victoria Police records and the knowledge of Melbourne crime tour guide, Michael Shelford, to give the real characters a second life.

“We also make our base spirit from scratch using a malt wine/whisky wash. A lot of gin distilleries will buy in ethanol or neutral spirit – so this gives us a unique point of difference and more control around the flavours of our characterful gins.”

Mr Wilison also runs master classes for visitors wanting to learn about the distillation process and to get a rundown on the history of the building. He hopes to continue building a successful brand and perhaps even develop additional products and brands.

He leaves with this small piece of advice: “Always be persistent. Make a plan. Have goals. Choose the right opportunity that helps you get to where you want to get to.”