NZ Lifestyle Block - - Feature Farming Spirits -

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.”

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