Tucked away in the bustling hub of East Melbourne’s Nunawading, Puss & Mew Distillery is a passion project of husband-and-wife team, Debra and Brett Clayton. The pair had a dream of running a business before retirement; together it led them head-first from an initial spark of discovery, and to turn their gin-making hobby into an award-winning enterprise.

Their story began more than three decades ago on a nightclub dance floor where Brett’s “impressive” dance moves caught Deb’s eye. This chance encounter was the beginning of an incredible life adventure together, raising three children into adulthood.

Brett and Deb Clayton won Victorian Champion Distiller of the Year in 2023.

Neither initially seemed destined for hospitality – Deb comes from a career in education and teaching, while Brett’s background in insurance brings a practical perspective to their endeavours. However, Brett’s creativity knows no bounds and he’s constantly bubbling with ideas for projects. Whether it’s constructing a new deck, a lush garden or adrenaline-packed holidays, his adventurous spirit has led the family to incredible places. Most recently, this creativity has found a new outlet in the form of distillation.

After dabbling with home brewing, it was a short step into the world of gin. Inspired by the diverse flavour profiles and the artistry that craft distilling offered, they were hooked. Armed with a small still, the pair began experimenting with botanical combinations to create their very own gins. They immersed themselves into study and resources about gin, visited distilleries and attended gin-making classes. All this laid the foundation for what would later become Puss & Mew Distillery.

In 2020, after diligent searching, the perfect location for their vision came to light. However, with severe COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne, it posed significant challenges and delays. Undeterred, they persevered and were finally approved for production in August 2021. The distillery door and tasting room finally opened its doors to the public two months later. To Deb and Brett’s shock (and delight) on opening day, a line stretched out to the road and down the street – a testament to the power of the local grapevine!

With seating for around 60 people, the venue can be described as a blend of an upscale speakeasy and an old English pub. Crowd favourites are Chesterfield couches, alembic stills on display for masterclasses, and the wall lined with mason jars of botanicals. The space has also become sought-after for events including weddings, corporate gatherings, and zero birthdays.

Central to the distillery is ‘Dudley’, a 500L column still manufactured by Metalcraft Engineering. The name pays homage to Captain Dudley Bradstreet, whose ingenuity inspired the very essence of Puss & Mew.

Deb and Brett don’t plan to stop at gin, either! They’ve just set up a new whisky still alongside Dudley and hope to be commencing bespoke whisky experiences in 2024.

Puss & Mew recently won the Victorian Champion Distiller Major Trophy at the 2023 Australian Distilled Spirits Awards – an incredible moment for new kids on the block in a little over two years! Deb and Brett are immensely proud of the award, which sits alongside gold and silver medals for their individual gins.

Curious to visit? The distillery door serves as the perfect blend of industrial charm and beautiful ambience. Only a short walk from the nearest train station, it defies its factory setting to create an inviting escape. Even on busy Friday and Saturday nights, Deb and Brett prioritise the customer experience and teach anyone willing to learn about their gins and the distillation process. Private masterclasses, often booked out six months in advance, offer an intimate and educational experience for those wanting a deeper dive – and a chance to take home your very own gin creation to enjoy.

The inspiration for Puss & Mew’s Honey Coconut Gin came from close to home. Through their daughter’s partner and their family, Brett and Deb were keen to showcase Castlemaine Honey from Victoria. Determined to still keep the gin dry, the couple experimented to achieve the taste they desired. In their own words, “we categorise this gin as sweet by name, not by nature”. This meant using the honey in the pot, and (after many trials) vapour infusing lightly toasted coconut, figs and spiced botanicals. ‘All flavours of this delicate gin are achieved through the distillation process and not added post-production.’

Deb and Brett were looking for a complex gin with the notes of honey and coconut but without the sweetness you’d expect from a liqueur. It’s perfect when enjoyed on the rocks, and is fantastic with a mixer or in a cocktail.

Castlemaine honey is added before distillation

Deb and Brett had countless iterations and experiments while crafting their perfect Honey Coconut Gin. They landed on this recipe as they felt the figs, allspice, nutmeg and cassia bark provided a beautiful partnership with the undertones of honey and coconut. The result is a gin that exudes Christmas vibes but is adaptable and enjoyable year-round. On the nose, Puss & Mew’s Honey Coconut Gin is a delightful fusion of buttery biscuit notes with honey and coconut. You’ll notice the juniper and coriander come through on the palate, accompanied by smooth honey and fig followed by a warm spice finish.

A delicious gin needs a look that will sing its praises – and we can’t help but shout about how obsessed we are with the Puss & Mew branding and bottle labels! Studio Von, a design and branding agency, played a pivotal role in crafting their unique look. Their double-sided rear label, visible through the bottle, showcases a contemporary puss-and-mew inspired cat design. Each label boasts a specific colour palette and a blend of botanical illustrations. The playful ampersand, with a bit of a nod to a cat’s tail, adds a touch of whimsy to their branding.

This smashing gin is not only gorgeous on the outside and inside, but judges at this year’s Australian Distilled Spirits Awards thought so too, awarding it Gold for Contemporary Gin in 2022 and 2023.

For those seeking the perfect gin and tonic pairing, Puss & Mew recommend a 2:1 ratio of Honey Coconut Gin with any light tonic to let the subtle flavours shine. We love the Midnight Mixers Amber Tonic to amp up the spicy cinnamon flavours that make it perfect for Christmas time. Top off with a garnish of fresh or dehydrated apple, or grapefruit. Alternatively, trade tonic with a ginger ale or grapefruit soda to build upon the flavours in this gin; and experiment with pear, strawberry, or fig ganishes for a veritable feast of delightful flavours.

Speaking of flavours, the team at the Puss & Mew Distillery make a delectable Honey Coconut Gin ice cream. They’ve kindly allowed us to share the recipe with you if Nunawading is a bit too far to trek anytime soon, so be sure to give it a try on page 22. For other food pairing recommendations, the sky is the limit! Think coconut-based curries, salmon dishes, anything with soy and ginger, pork chops, cheese boards (especially a triple brie and goats curd with a drizzle of honey – yum!), Vietnamese salads with a honey and lime dressing, or a honey and mustard dressing on chicken salads. It is so versatile and can pair well with spicy foods, figs or fig inspired dishes as well as creamy desserts such as lemon meringue, fig parfait and so forth.

Puss & Mew Distillery has rapidly carved a name for itself in the world of spirits with its remarkable range of award-winning gins in just two short years of competitions.

Their latest addition, Australian Dry Gin, is a silver medallist at the Australian Distilled Spirits Awards, offering a robust juniper-forward flavour with refreshing finger lime and peppermint gum notes.

Incredibly, the other four gins in their range are each three-time award winning craft gins! The Signature Dry Gin is smooth and complex, and strikes a harmonious balance of botanicals. It offers spiced warmth with citrus and earthy undertones, rounded off with a subtle sweetness of vanilla.

The Navy Strength Gin is an intensified version of their Signature Gin. It delivers an enhanced flavour experience, with each botanical dancing on the palate. The higher ABV carries fragrant citrus aromas, subtle vanilla sweetness, and a warm, peppery juniper finish.

And for something unique, their Spiced Turkish Delight Gin pays homage to the world-famous Middle Eastern dessert. It captivates with vapour-infused rose petal infusions to collect rosewater, and a delightful mix of botanicals. Infused with hibiscus, this gin boasts a lovely colour and delightful hints of orange, cinnamon, and vanilla that transport you to the flavours of the Middle East without added sweetness.

In the pipeline for future products is a plan for whisky (say no more—with their track record we’re already sold), plus a genever inspired Old Tom Gin and a Honey Coconut Barrel-aged Gin that has just launched! Deb and Brett are certainly ones to watch, so we can’t wait to see it all continue to unfold. Cheers!

The perfect Honey Coconut G&T

Gin type – Honey Coconut Gin

Appearance – Clear, bright

Botanicals – Juniper, coriander seeds, Castlemaine honey, toasted coconut, figs, allspice, nutmeg, cassia bark

Aroma – Buttery biscuit with notes of honey, coconut and a hint of cinnamon evoke memories of gingerbread

Palate – Fresh juniper and coriander notes with subtle smoothness of honey and fig on the palate

Finish – Warm nutmeg and allspice linger


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