Skip to content
>>>From doctor to distillery owner | Dr Michael McLaughlin

From doctor to distillery owner | Dr Michael McLaughlin

We moved to Roma in 2019 after fellowship to take up a Senior Medical Officer position in the South West Hospital and Health Service. I work as a Rural Generalist with surgical advanced skills and spend my time between clinics treating skin cancers, minor procedures, and endoscopy.  I also work in emergency and the general ward, as well as support exercise stress testing and cardiology clinics. Up until this year I had been working full time but have taken parental leave with our second child and am working part time for a while.

At the end of 2022 we bought a 55 acre farm, which was a grape and citrus orchard a long time ago. Prior to the pandemic, my husband had been working in corporate financial services and was commuting to Sydney. After our first son was born, he took parental leave and worked from home. Being on the farm we came to appreciate all the great produce and interesting flavours grown in the region. We also saw an opportunity to further develop tourism within the Maranoa after having many visitors during lock downs who travelled from Brisbane. We were always looking for some way to enjoy a drink and enjoy sunset in the afternoon. The distillery became an idea to create something new in the region and for us to spend more time in the region as a family.

The distillery idea came about mid-2021. We started researching licencing, excise, and local council rules. We also attended a short course through the University of Adelaide on distillation sciences. After that we met with a number of craft distilleries to talk about the challenges and opportunities. Originally, we were trying to work out if we would distil in our shed and have a horse float or mobile bar to sell mostly at markets, with our focus on wholesale distribution. After our approvals, we started making products in early 2022. It took about 6 months of research and development to get recipes and a product we were happy with. We started with pre-release packs of our first two products in August 2022, and focused on markets and local Christmas sales and events.

As time went on, the advice we got from other craft distilleries was vital and we focused more on tourism and creating a space for locals to visit and enjoy. We were lucky to have great support from the local council, our builder and many trades, which enabled us to build a cellar door within nine months in time to open for Easter. Since then, we have had great support from the local community and are really focussing on trying to expand out further across other areas in Western Queensland. This year we have been to RFDS fundraisers in Charleville, Brisbane, and Mount Isa, and have been to Longreach, Cloncurry, and Birdsville. I think Will is now spending more time away than he was before, but it’s great to see the community interest.

It hasn’t been without its challenges. Distilling requires approvals from three levels of government – federal for tax, state for the liquor licence, and council for development approvals, the build and food compliance. These three levels all have a different focus, so navigating who wanted what information took some time to work out. We also set a deadline for ourselves to be open for Easter as there is a large festival in Roma at that time. This really put pressure on the approval process and probably extra stress, but it did however give us a hard date to work towards.

Before starting the business, we had open discussions and knew that the first year would be the toughest and would require a larger direct workload from us. I’ve been lucky enough to have parental leave for the first half of this year. This has enabled me to be home with our second son and do farm / distillery work around his naps and care. I try to set aside Mondays as a day to be with the kids and do things around the farm. I am currently working 0.6FTE, keeping Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays for the distillery at present. I try to keep the days separate, but there have been some occasions where I do a ward round in the morning at the hospital, then of the afternoon I head to the distillery to make cocktails. Will is very understanding that being a Rural Generalist is still my priority and accepts that sometimes I get pulled away from the distillery. We are also very lucky that my in-laws moved to Roma from the coast to be closer to grandchildren and support us as well. We are very excited as we have just hired some full time staff which will allow us to focus on strategy and growth and less on the day to day running of the business.

Being a generalist meant that having a go at something new wasn’t as scary as it could have been. Much like rural generalism, we knew we had to build the skills and learn the essentials to be able to create a new business, but also there are things that we leave to specialists and have the right team around us to support. Within the business, I have my roles and I’m very lucky to have a partner who has a strong finance and strategic background. I think Rural Generalists are in a good position to try something different within our communities. It shows faith in a community to invest in it in a different way, and it also gives us an opportunity to make the places we work more ‘liveable’. One of the local councillor’s says that it’s great, because they’ve locked in another doctor for the long term. It has certainly given us a different perspective on the community.

Dr Michael McLaughlin, Rural Generalist | Roma

Dec 1st 2023| Blog, |