10 May 2024

Five minutes with Claudia Roughley, Underground Spirits

| Claire Sams
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Woman in colourful geometric shirt smiles

Claudia Roughley started in fashion and is now running a distillery. Photo: Alexandra Orme Photography.

Who are you?

My name is Claudia Roughley and I’m CEO of Underground Spirits.

How did you get involved in the hospitality industry?

My background is in events and venue management. A big part of my life was spent in the UK, and back in 2007, my first job in London was working for a wine tourist attraction. While I was working there, Bombay Sapphire was on site, and that’s when I became really interested in gin. I started to understand this magical world of gin and the fact that they’re not all the same drink.

Back in Canberra, my brother started the distillery in 2017. When I first started there, I used my design skills on the first labels and website, but over the years, I took on more tasks. Now, my husband and I run the business.

Underground Spirits products

Underground Spirits’ range features various varieties of gin and vodka. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

What is your distilling philosophy?

The botanicals that we use can really help to build taste profiles [in the spirit]. They can taste amazing and remind people of the story we’re trying to tell – whether that’s the Botanic Gardens here in Canberra, an NRL team or something else entirely. I love the stories that we have in our core range and we are now starting to take those into the amazing collaborations we’ve been able to land.

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What are your best tips for making cocktails?

Ice is your friend. It’s an essential part of a drink – for chilling it and diluting it.

My handy hint if you’re making martinis at home is always to keep your glass in the freezer. You pour the stirred martini into a frozen glass, and the cold makes all the difference. Add a bit of lemon peel (or whatever citrus you’ve got to hand) for the oils and aroma, and you’re done.

guests sitting on chairs in Leyla Bar enjoying the afternoon sun

Since opening in 2022, Leyla Bar has become a favourite venue of many, Claudia included. Photo: Zen Photography.

What is your comfort food?

I’m a cheese and biscuit lover. There are so many beautiful Australian cheeses out there! I just get whatever I can pick up, and I’ll try different things, but any goat’s cheese is probably my favourite.

What was your best dining experience in Canberra?

I love Leyla Bar [in the Burbury Hotel in Barton]. The cocktails are awesome, I love the view and the food is spot on. We’ve also recently dined at Med downstairs, and that was excellent. I’m a sucker for a view and some good food, so I love popping over to Walt and Burley in Kingston. Picking up a nice set of dumplings or a sandwich at the Fyshwick Markets is often delightful, as well.

When we went to Cartel Tacos, a Mexican restaurant on the river [in Queanbeyan], they had really good tacos. I’ve been lucky enough to eat at Contentious Character’s new place at Dairy Road, which was delicious.

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Who are your biggest influences in your professional life?

There’s a lot of distilleries in England I was able to meet with early on! The Bombay Sapphire team was my first point of call because I knew them, and I also love the Silent Pool Distillery in England. Closer to home, I work with some great people – around NSW and in the ACT. I love Manly Spirits, owned by Vanessa and David.

What was your dream job as a kid?

As a child, I thought I was going to be a fashion designer – I loved everything about that world and ended up in fashion school. I did a bit of a stint in fashion, but I came away from that and went into events. I found my broader skill set really came to life in events.

An easy one to finish – what’s your go-to coffee order?

For me, it’s always a flat white. It’s the quintessential Aussie coffee – it’s how we drink it. It’s coffee and milk. It’s beautiful.

Underground Spirits is based in Kambah. Their gins and vodkas are available online and from third-party stockists across the ACT and surrounds.

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