Lirah Australian Vinegar - An interview with Ian Henderson
Ian Henderson is the man behind Lirah Australian Vinegar.
Easily one of Australia's finest artisans, Ian has poured his heart and soul into the incredible range of vinegars Lirah produce at their state-of-the-art Stanthorpe factory; situated right in the heart of the Granite Belt.
Ian very graciously gave up some time to chat with us about his story, what inspires him, and what becoming a vinegar-maker has made him appreciate about living here in Australia.
We know small business is hard. Is there an inception story to your brand? What got you started or gave you the push to start your own enterprise?
Sometimes you need to get a bit lucky and see opportunity when it comes by. I was working as a winemaker in a family winery when friend called me looking for vinegar to import to the USA. Like most wineries, we had a single barrel of vinegar for personal use, and while I learned at university how to stop vinegar happening, I never learned how to make vinegar intentionally. Honestly, it seemed like a fun project, and I wanted to help out a friend at the same time. I completely underestimated how hard vinegar making is, how fascinating it is and how much fun you can have working in a niche field. Two years later we are on the shelves of 2000 grocery stores in the USA and we have never looked back.
Who or what do you draw inspiration from?
When I started making vinegar, some people laughed, other winemakers joked that vinegar is just what bad winemakers do. People still think vinegar is just spoiled wine. Vinegar is carefully fermented and crafted, just like artisan wine, cheese and salami makers do. They are not seen as “spoiled” yet some still look down upon vinegar. I draw my motivation from showing consumers just how wonderful, diverse, and interesting vinegar can be. I draw my inspiration by travelling the world to visiting other vinegar makers, sharing knowledge, and tasting amazing vinegars they make. We have such a young vinegar making history in Australia, we have still so much to learn from the old world – and we are, every day.
Other than yourself of course, who is your favourite artisan producer here in Australia? How come?
I have two favourite artisans: The first is the Australian farmer. They work every day to grow our food, but when it reaches the shelves, or the restaurant plate, it almost never recognises them as the producer. It simply becomes an apple, a lettuce, or a steak. When you pick up a piece of fresh produce, take a moment to personally acknowledge the un-named producer who made it and doesn’t get the recognition they deserve.
The other would be Maggie Beer, who I have immense respect for. Maggie Beer's journey mirrors the values I hold dear – authenticity, innovation, and respect for ingredients. Her dedication to crafting exceptional products and her commitment to staying true to her values align with my approach to vinegar production. She began with a single product and grew an entire industry by staying authentic to her vision. Maggie Beer's journey reminds me of the untapped potential that lies within Australia's artisan producers.
We know Australia is the best place on earth, but what makes it so special to you? What’s your favourite thing about Australia?
Like every Australian, my favourite place is home. We chose to move to Stanthorpe Qld, about three hours drive west of Brisbane. We chose to start a farm, to raise children and build a business there. Our business is now a significant employer in our town and a strong supporter of our community. I believe Lirah Vinegar is proof that there is no reason you can’t start a smart, innovative, exporting business in regional Australia. So I guess, what I love most about Australia is the opportunities it gives those who want to seek them out.
We are in the business of gifting giving here at Mumbleberry? Why do you think your product makes such a beautiful gift?
My favourite product is the Lirah Grand Reserve Chardonnay Vinegar. It’s my interpretation of a style of vinegar that was a part of my educational journey in vinegar making in Europe. My vinegar master in Austria, who taught me how to make this, was impressed with it when I showed him about a decade after my course with him. I am still proud of my mentor’s feedback that it was better than most of the local ones – except his, of course. It’s not a difficult product to make, it just take time and attention to detail, and just one ingredient - Australian Chardonnay grapes.