HOW TO START A SUCCESSFUL DISTILLERY
TERRY’S ROUTE to master distiller started after he sold his popular ecolodge, set in the bush of Abel Tasman National Park.
“I was a lonely alcoholic in the forest with no friends!” he jokes. “I had a little stint after selling the lodge where I went and sold bread for a local bakery because I wanted something to do but within a week I could see it was a loser’s game.
“I thought, what can you make that gets better with age, tastes great, is fun, and it’s money in the bank? Like keeping your finances liquid in many ways. There was no-one making whiskey in New Zealand then, and what we’re doing now is trying to make a New Zealand-icon whiskey.”
But starting a distillery, even a small one, is a scary and expensive business.
“It’s a very difficult business to get into, you’ve got to sit and wait for four years when you start to age stuff. You’re taking a minimum of a year just to make a good liqueur, that’s the inhibiting part for most people.
“You also need a minimum of about $500,000 because the cost of your basic still is hitting on $150,000, so it’s inhibiting to get into because of the cost, but also because of the time it takes to get your products off the ground.
“Starting up is very difficult, so I say ‘no fear of failure’ or you won’t do it.”
His first idea was to make a champagne out of honey, a drink he loved but which turned out to be too much of a hard sell to Kiwi palates, uneducated about honeybased drinks.
“I realised there was no use beating my head against the wall about the champagne, I’d be there forever trying to educate people and I learnt very quickly if you have to educate people
about it, you’ll be educating every second person and it’s just hard work, whereas if you make a gin they know what gin is, if you make a rum they know what rum is, so I went back to basics.
“I don’t dwell on failure – if something’s not working we move onto the next thing quickly. I make a joke about ‘no fear of failure’, but I plan really well too.”
That planning starts with basic research on how to make a drink and what the competition is, then Terry does a small run to see if he can make something palatable. If it is, it’s then sent to the Cawthron Institute laboratory to check for safety, before undergoing taste testing by a panel so secret, its members don’t know they’re on it.
“We check it on a couple of likely souls that visit, and normally I’ll sit on something for three months and try it out with the locals before we branch too far out with it, I have a testing panel I suppose… they don’t know they’re part of it!
“You then spend $5000 with a designer, another $5000 for printing, a couple of thousand on bottles and $20,000 later you’ve got a product on the shelf.
“I don’t jump into a new product lightly but if I do it’s with full faith and no fear because fear holds us back in so many things in life, a lot of people fear success.”
Terry has run experiments using all kinds of fruits, a few which have become the company’s success stories, with restaurants and customers buying it up from all over New Zealand. If you buy direct from the Schnapp Dragon stall at the Nelson Market or the cellar door, any customer can buy it at wholesale price.
Any experiments which don’t find favour don’t go to waste though.
“I’ve got cranberry liqueur, 500 litres of it, I’ve got apricot liqueur, aguta (baby kiwifruit) liqueur, but they’re not commercial runs, all they were was just me feeling out ‘will this work?’ In my old age I plan to sip my way slowly through these litres of experiments with friends.”