Birds of Isle is a female founded rum brand using native Australian botanicals to reinvent this classic liquor.

Founders Chanel Melani and Sally Carter are passionate about developing flavours which celebrate the beauty of Australia and practising sustainability in everything that they do. We talked to Chanel about experimenting with Aussie botanicals and changing outdated perceptions of rum.


What inspired you to start making rum?

We’ve always wanted to start our own drinks business. Sally has had a long-standing love for rum, growing up in country NSW in the heartland of rum drinkers. Chanel wanted to create a business that challenged social norms and broke down cultural barriers. Rum was the perfect spirit for us to craft because it blends our passions and gives us the chance to fight rum’s outdated perceptions.

We believe that Australia should be one of the world’s greatest rum producing countries. Sugarcane is the main ingredient in rum, and Australia crushes 30 million tonnes of sugarcane every year. Despite this, countries growing less sugarcane than Australia are more well known for rum than we are. Birds of Isle was established to change this.


Birds of Isle founders Chanel Melani and Sally Carter

How did you discover bunya nuts? Did you know about them before your rum-making venture?

When we started, we knew we wanted to find a way to bring terroir into a molasses rum. So, we spent a lot of time reading cookbooks from Indigenous chefs, and learning about native Australian ingredients that grew locally in our region, Bundjalung Country-Northern Rivers.

Bunya nuts were one of the top ingredients on our list, but we didn’t know a lot about them. We wanted to learn more from our Indigenous community first-hand, and we were very fortunate to find Bundjalung woman, chef and Indigenous cultural advisor, Mindy Woods, to help us with this process. 


What insight did you gain while working with an Indigenous chef and cultural advisor?

Mindy taught us that we could use the shells as well as the nuts. She showed us how smoking the shells, or setting the shells on fire, before soaking them in the rum can impart beautiful aromas and flavours. 

And that was it for us. We knew we could make a molasses rum that not only had terroir in it, but also took inspiration from peated whiskies and smoky mezcals. Bringing smoke into a spirit in a new, Australian way that felt relaxed and mellow, reflecting Australia’s easy-going culture, really hit the mark for us.


Talk to me about the value of sustainability. Why is it important to engage with sustainable practices?

We want to do our part to help preserve the environment that gives us life every single day. That starts with small, everyday choices that anyone can make. 

  • Our distillery runs on solar power.
  • We use both the nut and the shell from the bunya nuts in our maceration. Typically, only the nut is used in cooking and the shells are discarded.
  • Our label is made from sugarcane waste pulp.
  • We chose to use cardboard for our cases and D2C shipping boxes (including the protective inserts). So, our packaging is curbside recyclable across Australia. Our packaging was also custom made to fit our bottle, so it reduced excessive packing materials.
  • We reuse the cardboard that our supplies are shipped in as inserts for our cases.
  • Our daily life and practices in the office carry over sustainable practices too, since every little bit helps. 



What makes you a good team?

Not only are we business partners, but we are partners in life too, so we really knew each other well before co-founding Birds of Isle. We are polar opposites, which works well for us, as our individual strengths are the other’s weaknesses. We’re like a mini football team, continually supporting each other, and enabling each other to let our strengths shine.


Have you had any feedback from happy customers?

We’ve been overwhelmed with so many great comments so far. Bartenders have congratulated us on making such a beautiful rum, and customers who don’t normally like rum say that ours is delicious and different to what they’ve experienced in the past. It’s been one of the best parts of creating this spirit.


What’s next for Birds of Isle? Are you planning to experiment with other Australian botanicals?

Bringing terroir and the flavours of Bundjalung into our rum is something we’re passionate about, and we are the first distillery to use bunya nuts in alcohol. We unexpectedly discovered that bunya nuts elicit childhood memories for a lot of people in the Northern Rivers, so many customers have shared their bunya nut stories with us. It’s been a really genuine and special way of connecting with our customers. 

Our next release will feature a different native Australian botanical that we are currently exploring. Following that we will release our flagship rum, made from local molasses sourced from the Northern Rivers. There’s lots in the works that we can’t wait to share with our customers. 

To read our Q&A with Jessica Bragdon, co-founder of Koala Eco, click here.