The Inspiration & Creation
Mt Fyffe Distillery – short story
Hello, my name is Justine and welcome to my small batch artisan distillery. I have always loved gin and a few years back discovered the wonderful world of botanical gin. I live on a sheep farm on the slopes of Mt Fyffe in Kaikōura, one of the most stunning places in New Zealand where the mountains meet the sea. I realised how many interesting botanics surrounded me and the potential for creating my own unique botanical gins.
Mid 2019 I took a gin making course and the journey began. I started foraging for botanics and playing with blends and flavours with my shiny new 3 litre Portuguese copper still. The learning curve has been steep, and despite a few hiccups along the way which only made me more determined, I’m very proud to have launched two unique Kaikōura gin’s.
My gin blends have been influenced by the stories that surround them. I’m completely absorbed by the entire process from foraging for the botanics, creating each small batch gin with its own bespoke uniqueness through to hand bottling, labelling and creating each gift box. You can be assured of my personal attention to detail at every stage.
I spend my time juggling being a farmer’s wife, a mother of two young boys, creating gin in my wee distillery and running or biking around the hills looking for potential botanics!
Read the full version of ‘The Mt Fyffe Distillery Story’
Life is full of challenges, I thrive on them and after having my children I started looking at ways to diversify and utilise my time on the family farm so I set myself a goal of following a dream I’d had for a long time… to make good, really good gin.
With a midwifery background and married to a sheep farmer with two young boys, I knew nothing about what distillation required so happily booked into a gin course in Auckland. I went thinking I’d quite like it. I didn’t like it, I LOVED it. I found I had a passion and a talent for working with botanics. That was in mid 2019 and since then I’ve been busy creating, absorbing information to learn the trade and negotiating all the obstacles of setting up a new business.
To create a really good gin, you have to start with using a high ethanol percentage, the higher the ABV (alcohol by volume) you start with the smoother the gin. I opted to import my ethanol, using a grain based ethanol from Southern grain spirits in Kaiapoi at 96.5% ABV. This ensures I start with a fabulous neutral spirit base to distill and infuse through my botanics.
Gin is a wonderfully balanced drink whose traditional ingredients are juniper, coriander and angelica root. Many more flavours can then be added to create each blend of gin … citrus or earthy tones, floral or fresh.
After completing the gin course I realised I had a whole range of exciting botanics right on my doorstep! I spent the next 6-8 months foraging and playing with the flavours. I gained a feeling for what was working well together and started developing my two distinct blends further.
The botanics I add are inspired by my surroundings on the farm and local area and these are what gives my gins their unique flavours. I am especially busy during spring and summer when the elderflower, kanuka and blue borage flowers are blooming. The rosehips are foraged in late summer over the Kaikōura ranges and my seaweed is sourced from a local licensed harvester. My limes are also sourced locally.
After many botanical tweaks I happily settled on my first gin.. Woolshed Gin, called so as the botanics I use to create my blend are found near and around the woolshed. It is also an integral part of farming life, I wanted to draw interest to these old historic, working or non working woolsheds. Yes they are places that conjure up images of sheep, men bent over shearing and wool presses thumping away baling the wool over the noise of the machines… but they are also places of historic wonder, steeped in New Zealand sheep farming history. Many these days have been beautifully restored and have a second life as a café, bach or house.
Woolshed Gin finds its uniqueness by using elderflowers which hang over our lamb pen, mint that grows in little pockets scattered about and the flowers of the kanuka bushes which protect and shelter our stock in adverse weather… The blend was formed along with traditional botanics found in a London dry style gin, which I am extremely proud of. It is a botanically bold infusion. Juniper is the hero of the gin as it should be, this combined with the pine notes found in the kanuka and paired with the floral fresh flavours which linger from the elderflowers and mint balances it perfectly. It took a few attempts to get it just right but once I found it I knew I had a cracking gin which was described as bold, botanical and bursting with just the right amount of attitude to make you want another taste.
Shearwater Gin is the complete opposite in taste sensation from the Woolshed Gin… My idea with the shearwater came literally from the Hutton shearwater bird, unique to our beautiful part of the world. These birds breed and nest in the high Kaikōura mountain ranges and come down to the sea to feed. So pairing botanics from the high country and sea excited me beyond belief… would it work? ….. and oh my it so does! Using the beautiful rosehip with the subtle delicate blue borage flowers I paired this with native seaweed (Karengu) which is found on the Kaikōura coastline.. The blend is oceanic fresh and fruity, light and crisp but with the depth that only a great blended gin can produce.
The Still and Gin process
Having started out with a 3 litre copper Alembic Still (Teddy) set up in our old family caravan I soon realised I needed a more permanent place to blend and create my flavours. I revamped the workshed, armed it with a fabulous 40 litre copper alembic still from Portugal and named it Bruce! I have found my happy place there, surrounded with fresh botanics drying from the ceiling or the aromas coming from a blend of botanics.
During a run, Bruce sings to me as he warms up and I can tell when the vapours starts to infuse through the botanics, carrying the aromas along the copper pipes before cascading down through the condenser turning back into its liquid form. The gin which comes through is at roughly 80% ABV. This is blended with fresh spring water which bubbles up from the ground on our farm to bring it down to a very drinkable 42% ABV.
Only 34 bottles are produced per batch. I always love unwrapping the beautiful bespoke gin bottles which I source from France, and feel them spark into life as they are hand filled. My wooden stoppers are imported from Italy and made from synthetic cork so as not to taint the gin.
After the gin is bottled the label stopper is applied and I turn to my rather smart label applier which was created by my husband. Even by hand it allows me to align each label perfectly onto the bottle, every time. I’ve had a lot of fun with the heat gun whilst perfecting the shrink wrap which goes over the top of the stopper. One final eye over the bottle before I hand mark the label with the batch number and individual bottle number for traceability.
Family involvement has been important to me and has become part of my story. My son Toby (aged 10) wanted to help, so I asked him to draw me his idea of what our future ‘woolshed style’ distillery would look like. His drawing is on the label which I’m so very proud of. My other son Jack (aged 9) helps forage for botanics with me. I’ve been so grateful to my husband’s number 8 wire ability to help get my distillery up and running. And my brother in the UK who has patiently worked with me to create the brand and label design.
Being the only person in this business certainly has its ups and downs when it comes to developing and setting up a new product, but I love a good challenge, love to learn and create and if I can bring a little smile to your face when you drink either the Woolshed or Shearwater Gin, then that makes a me very happy person indeed.
A big part of this business is to be as sustainable and community orientated as I can be. My sustainability goals will grow and develop as my business does. I am committed to supporting the economy of a small rural town. My unique bottles are imported from Europe to give stand out, but everything else is sourced locally, from the boxes I make myself to the marketing, foraging and maintenance of the distillery.
In keeping with my ethos of supporting the local community, for every bottle I sell, $3 will be donated to local causes such as rural mental health from proceeds of the Woolshed Gin and the local wildlife rescue centre who tend to injured shearwater birds from the Shearwater Gin.
The final word is a big thank you to all who have helped and supported me along this journey of mine. Their trust and understanding in my beliefs and in achieving these goals of mine has been amazing, from my wonderful husband, my children who think it’s a hoot that their mum makes gin, to friends who have offered time and help and my brother who lives half a world away but who has been so inaugural in helping me brand my business, thank you x
Woolshed is a London dry style gin where juniper will always be the hero. My aim with Woolshed was to create a boldly botanical gin, knowing the botanics to use are all strong flavours finding that perfect balance was essential.
Pairing earthy tones found in kanuka, the freshness of mint and floral elderflowers along with the traditional botanics like juniper, coriander and angelica root, gives this gin bold flavour that evokes another sip. Described as “A bold, botanical party in the mouth”
My botanicals are vapour infused with neutral spirit using a 40 litre copper still. These stills are not just eye candy to the distiller, but the copper helps to enhance the flavours through it. As the steam passes through the pipes the copper sings and the smells that surround me as I distil are exquisite. The gin is brought to a very drinkable 42% ABV using fresh spring water which bubbles up from the Mt Fyffe foothills. My small batch artisan approach to creating this gin ensures attention to detail as you receive this unique fantastically smooth botanical gin to tantalise your tastebuds.
Imagine standing on the coast, take a big breath of fresh sea air…. welcome to Shearwater Gin! Coming from Kaikōura, I was excited to see how local seaweed would work in a gin.
To gain a balance I used floral flavours of rosehip and blue borage found in the mountains and along with the three other main gin botanicals discovered this unique tasting oceanic gin. This unique blend has been inspired by the little Hutton shearwater birds, endemic to the Kaikōura coastline. These birds nest and breed in the high mountains behind Kaikōura and go to the sea to feed. The botanics used mirror their flight path. The shearwaters often get drawn to the town’s lights, they crash land on the roads and cannot get flight again, so an army of volunteers work during the season to safeguard them. Each sale of Shearwater Gin will impact their survival as I will donate to organisations who help these special birds.
Again like the Woolshed gin, the botanics are vapour infused in my copper alembic still. The alcohol by volume is brought back to a very enjoyable 42% using the fresh spring water directly sourced from our hill, this gin is what Kaikōura is all about.
I’m passionate about sustainability and having a low carbon footprint. Everything I use, I look to reuse and repurpose where I can. Used botanics are composted and help grow future botanics on the property. The bottles and tops I had to source from Europe, but it was important to have a stand out bottle that was both aesthetically elegant, worthy of reusing around the house and unique to New Zealand. Everything else I have sourced as locally as possible. Supporting our small rural town is paramount.
You’ll notice when you receive your gin by mail that it’s wrapped in hessian, stored in a wooden box made by myself and packaged in paper to avoid plastic.
In the not to distance future I hope to offer a refill service of the same gin type for a reduced price. As the business grows so will my sustainability.
Another part of my ethos is the desire to give back. Through the sale of my Shearwater Gin I will support the welfare and long term protection of the unique Hutton Shearwater birds. Donating $3 from every bottle to local charities who help with breeding programmes, rescue and rehabilitation.
The other area I am keen to support is rural mental health and wellbeing. On the sale of every Woodshed Gin I will donate $3 to a rural support organisation.
Details will follow in future newsletters of how the donations are making a difference.