Touch of Scotland in the deep south
Visiting the Cardrona Distillery, you would be forgiven for thinking you had driven from New Zealand to the Scottish highlands. The beautiful schist-clad buildings are home to a passionate team that combine traditional and modern methods to create unique craft spirits.
Where/What is it?
Located 15 minutes from Wanaka in the Cardrona Valley, the distillery is a boutique maker of Scottish-style whisky and other high quality spirits, such as vodka, orange liqueur, and an award-winning gin.
The family-owned facility is the dream of former dairy farmer Desiree Whitaker, finally opening in December 2015 after years of careful planning.
Their products are distinctive in that they are all single-malt alcohols, made from the same base spirit.
Though the whisky may still be ageing in casks, the other spirits are ready to go, and the beautiful stone buildings alone are worth making the trip for.
The cafe is a great spot for a drink and a snack, but the tour is the real draw. We’re shown around the facility by distiller Daniel Quinn, who gives us an easy to understand walk-through of how single-malt spirits are made.
The process of turning malted barley, yeast, and water from the Cardrona Valley into spirit comes to life as we get to touch, smell, or taste different stages of production.
Two hand-beaten Forsyth’s copper stills from Scotland are a functional tip of the hat to traditional whisky making methods. An impressive Germanmade column still is also used for vodka-making.
The tour finishes with a well conducted tasting, which helps any palate get the most out of each mouthful. It’s great to learn more about the locally sourced botanicals that give the gin its distinctive flavour. The tasting room is elegant, with painted animal skull art pieces adding splashes of colour and character.
The distillery also produces a small run of rose perfume yearly, made from damask roses. There are plans to turn the cafe area into a museum, using flat screens on the walls to display the history of the area.
The famous Cardrona Bra Fence lines the driveway to the distillery, so come prepared with any old, worn bras and some loose change to support the Breast Cancer Foundation.
On the way/near by
There are plenty of nearby activities to make it a day trip to the valley, though most are best done before your alcohol tasting.
Directly across from the distillery is the Cardrona Alpine Resort, a ski resort in winter and downhill mountain bike park in the summer.
Horse trekking and quad bike tours are available from The Cardrona tour company, conveniently located next to the distillery.
A five-minute drive up the valley is the historic Cardrona Hotel, established 1863. While it does offer accommodation, the hotel pub is also a great place for a meal and a pint.
A tour of the distillery costs $25 a person and takes about 1 hours. If you’re planning on taking some spirits home with you, pack an extra $110 to $130 a bottle.
Best time to go
It depends what else you want to do in the region, as gin and vodka taste just as good year round.
Visit cardronadistillery.com for more info. — Michael Hayward
The writer travelled courtesy of Lake Wanaka Tourism.
Gentle Annie, one of the distillery’s two copper stills.