Vintage Cellars

Meet the Maker: Vanessa Wilton, co-founder, Manly Spirits

Vanessa Wilton and David Whittaker are the dynamic husband and wife team behind Sydney-based, coastal-inspired Manly Spirits, which has a unique gin range.


Having spent most of her life in Sydney’s Northern Beaches – which she describes as the most beautiful place in the world – Vanessa was keen to capture the essence of the region and the beach lifestyle she loves in every aspect of Manly Spirits. The result? Spirits infused with foraged Australian marine botanicals, and bespoke bottles and labels with a distinct coastal vibe.

You and David started Manly Spirits in 2015. How did that happen?

A fit of madness, I’d say! David – my husband – is a chemical engineer, while I have been a branding designer for most of my life, and when you put those two skill bases together, you get booze! Back in 2015, Australia had a strong wine industry and a strong craft beer industry, but we saw a gap in the market for premium spirits. I am a gin drinker, so I wanted to make white spirits, but David is a whisky drinker and wanted to make dark spirits. We had to make both for the sake of our marriage!

Your gins feature foraged native botanicals like lilly pilly, sea parsley and coastal dune daisies. Do you forage yourself?

Yes, in the beginning we literally foraged everything ourselves and had all these different botanicals lined up on our dining table – it was quite an adventure. The hardest part is developing your recipes so you can get a balanced profile. For instance, lilly pilly on its own is quite dry, but when you add raspberries and lime, you balance it out. It’s quite funny, now I have lilly pilly trees in my garden and sea parsley growing all along the rock stairs, and the pigface is taking over my garden with all this rain.

You have some stiff competition in the local gin arena. What sets Manly Spirits gins apart?

We have only ever released high quality products – I think all our spirits have won gold at some stage in their life cycle. And we do everything in-house – when it’s your own brand you always put more into it, so a lot of passion has gone into Manly Spirits. Plus, it makes people feel like they are on the coast – it always has the same bright oceanic vibe and that appeals to people.

What’s your favourite gin and what do you pair it with?

At the moment, it’s our Coastal Citrus Gin, which is a little bit ‘out there’. It’s like a real savoury citrus gin and has some interesting Australian native botanicals, including lemon aspen, lemon myrtle and sea parsley. I like to drink it with Fever-Tree Mediterranean tonic, which has a bit less quinine, and to pair it with seafood, like barbecued prawns or grilled barramundi. Yum!

Any wow moments in the journey?

Right back in the beginning I designed our glass bottles – a first for me. We had to order 60,000 of them and they arrived in a shipping container. I was too scared to open it at first, because I thought, I’ve either got something beautiful that reflects what I want the brand to be, or I’ve got a big mistake on my hands. Thankfully they were how they were meant to be. And the lids fitted! It was the start of our journey and the bottles went on to win awards and set us apart, so that was definitely a ‘wow’ moment.

Anything new in the pipeline for Manly Spirits?

Oh, my goodness, Manly Spirits is on a juggernaut right now. We have a limited ‘Beaches Summer Gin’ coming out, which is your quintessential sort of pina colada-style gin. Then there’s our RTDs, and we’ve just launched Lilly Pilly Zero Alcohol. Our second whisky, Nor Easter, which is named for the wind that blows in the summer along the coast is about to launch, too.

Sounds like busy times, you could do with a super power – what would it be?

To be as fast as lightning, so I could fit a week’s work into a day and not be exhausted at the end of it. Dave’s always going, ‘Do you ever turn off? I really don’t want to talk about business in bed at 10.30 at night.’ And I’m like – why not?

Now try these gins

Manly Spirits Australian Dry Gin Ten carefully selected marine and traditional botanicals are blended to create a gin that is fresh and bright, with gentle peppery notes on the palate.


Manly Spirits Coastal Citrus Gin A small batch gin to savour. Fresh, summery and distinctly citrusy with a juniper core.


Manly Spirits Lilly Pilly Pink Gin A classic, balanced gin, naturally crafted with pink lilly pilly berries, raspberries and native dune flowers, complemented with citrus from native limes.