New Zealand is famous for the stunning landscapes, friendly people, and -of course- the Lord of the Rings movies, which were shot in its breathtaking mountains and hillsides. The country is also known as Australia’s smaller, less glamorous sibling: unjustly. Because it can most definitely rival the bigger island. Not only with its countryside, but surprisingly, also with its gin. New Zealand has caught up with bigger countries, perhaps even mothership England when it comes to the delicious drink. In 2018, the New Zealand gin “Scapegrace Gold” even beat its British competitors for best London Dry Gin in the International Wine and Spirit Competition.
New Zealand has a complicated history with alcohol: in 1919, 49% of the population voted for the prohibition, and the laws that excluded Maori (New Zealand’s native people) from consuming alcohol were only overturned in 1948. When it comes to alcoholic drinks, the country is famous for its craft beers and wine: The islands lie in the perfect latitude for barley and hop cultivation, and the southern island is a great place to grow sauvignon blanc grapes. Because New Zealand is so remote, gin first arrived with the British settlers, probably in the 19th Century. Some say gin Gimlets were drunk on the long boat journeys to prevent scurvy with the limes in the drink.
The Start of Something New
The popularity of Kiwi craft beer might have paved the way for hand-crafted gin, but it took some time; only in 2003 was the first one introduced: “South Gin”. From then, it all went very fast. Now in 2020, there are about fifty gin distilleries on the islands, most of them produce small batches of craft gins. With “Gindulgence”, the country even has its own Gin Festival now. However, New Zealand gin is not out to conquer the world: most brands are small, family-owned, and convince with their original flavors and authentic craft distillery process, the most widely exported being “Lighthouse”, “Scapegrace” and “Broken Heart” gin.
The story of “Broken Heart” is, as the name already tells, a rather sad one: The two German expats Joerg and Bernd spent three whole years creating their personal gin in their chosen country. When Bernd sadly passed, Joerg went on to complete their dream: He released the spirit and called it “Broken Heart Gin”. So now, his friend lives on in a magnificent gin made from eleven botanicals with a twist of orange. As of lately, there are even three new gins to try from this brand with an unusual, but inspiring backstory.
Some of the botanicals used in New Zealand gin are unique to the country, like kawakawa, horipito, and manuka, making the beverage special and modern. These botanicals give the gins earthy and leavy flavors, very different from traditional European gins. One brand that really screams New Zealand in this regard is the “Ariki Gin”. The spirit is not only distilled there, its name comes from the Maori word for royalty: An “Ariki” is an aristocrat. The star ingredient in the “Ariki Gin” is the manuka flower, world-famous for its healing properties, especially in the form of honey, and native to the islands. The brand is also big on sustainability, a trend that has become more widespread internationally in recent years, while New Zealand has tried to preserve its natural beauty for decades now.
One big reason why so many spirit brands have been popping up is that since 1996, New Zealand is the only Western country that allows the distillation of beverage alcohol for your personal use. Because anyone can legally start distilling as a hobby it is hardly surprising that some of these hobby gin makers went professional after some time.
The Clearest Water in the World
The clear advantages of New Zealand in gin production are its interesting botanicals, but also the clear springs and, not to forget, the seemingly endless space New Zealand has to offer.
The „Dancing Sands“ distillery even advertises that they obtain their water for the gin production from the clearest spring in the world. And there are plenty more distilleries, most of them small and family-owned. The “Puhoi” distillery was named by Lonely Planet the “top of the list boutique distillery worldwide” and is the only distillery in Auckland that is also open for tourists. The “Black Collar Distillery” has its own unique charm: Their copper pot has been there from the beginning and has a name: Frankie. “Black Collar” does not work with “flash automated distilling settings or computer programs”, but only with Frankie and the distiller.
A New Gin Era
“1919 Distilling” got its name from the almost-prohibition in 1919, celebrating the 51% of New Zealanders who fought to keep drinking. The brand owns a craft distillery where they produce gin and whiskey. “1919” additionally owns the first “Pineapple Bit Gin”, a fruity, fun change of the usual gin flavors.
With all these fabulous new kinds of gin, it is no wonder that New Zealand now also has its very own tonic water: “East Imperial”. The tonic is inspired by a 1903 family recipe, and because they use a traditional small-batch method they fit perfectly into New Zealand’s cozy, family-owned gin world. “East Imperial” provides a variety of tonics, for example, their popular Grapefruit Tonic. The brand even has a subscription service, so you never run out of their delicious soft drinks.
New Zealand has a lot to give and can surprise anyone who goes there. Since it may not be possible for a longer period of time for us to visit this extraordinary country, we can only dream of Hobbits and Rugby and beaches with a nice bottle of New Zealand gin by our side-maybe even one of the above.