A peek into il­licit brews of the past

Sunday Star-Times - - ESCAPE -

Where/what is it?

Of course you know about Gore’s coun­try mu­sic con­nec­tions, and its gi­ant leap­ing brown trout statue – but this sturdy South­land town once had a se­cret vice. Ex­ces­sive live­li­ness amongst whalers, seal­ers and gold prospec­tors in the prov­ince in­spired a vig­or­ous tem­per­ance move­ment, which re­sulted in 1902 in Pro­hi­bi­tion: 51 long years of al­co­holic drought in the Mataura elec­torate – of­fi­cially, at least. Scot­tish set­tler Mary McRae and her de­scen­dants, who with others had al­ready been il­lic­itly pro­duc­ing whisky for the pre­vi­ous 30 years, sim­ply went fur­ther un­der­ground, con­ceal­ing their stills in the nearby Hokonui Hills, and con­tin­ued to sup­ply the area with this sta­ple for another 50 years. The Hokonui Moon­shine Mu­seum, in video, dis­plays and recre­ations, records the in­ge­nu­ity shown on both sides through­out 120 years of sly­grog­ging and law en­force­ment. Mary once sat on a whisky bar­rel, her long skirt hid­ing it from a con­sta­ble.

Why go?

The mu­seum is well pre­sented and full of fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries – like the one about Ir­ish­man Owen McShane, a car­pen­ter and the re­gion’s first dis­tiller. He brewed cab­bage tree sap into the mem­o­rably-named ‘‘McShane’s Chained Light­ning’’. His chief claim to fame is the in­evitable se­quence of his build­ing the town jail in Bluff, be­ing paid for it, and get­ting so drunk on his earn­ings that he ended up as its first oc­cu­pant. His hooch is re­spon­si­ble for at least one ship­wreck. And there’s the hor­ren­dous de­scrip­tion of the des­per­ate af­ter-work race from dry Gore to nearby wet Man­dev­ille, a 1921 pho­to­graph show­ing taxis lined up, en­gines run­ning, along the main street at 5pm ready to whisk thirsty work­ers to the Rail­way Ho­tel be­fore six o’clock clos­ing. And if you fancy do­ing a McRae and hav­ing a go at mak­ing your own brew, there’s a very pre­cise parsnip-based recipe you can copy.

In­sider tip

If find­ing out about all this ded­i­cated dis­till­ing has whet your ap­petite for a taste of the wa­ter of life, you can have a wee dram for free be­fore leav­ing the mu­seum.

On the way/nearby

The Moon­shine Mu­seum ad­joins the Gore His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum, which be­sides trac­ing the dis­trict’s lively Ma¯ori and Euro­pean his­tory also has a unique dis­play cel­e­brat­ing trout fish­ing. Across the road is the East­ern South­land Gallery, also known as the ‘‘Gore-ggen­heim’’ be­cause of its im­pres­sive col­lec­tions of Theo Schoon, Rita An­gus and Ralph Hotere art­work, as well as in­dige­nous art from Africa and Aus­tralia. It’s still worth driv­ing the 10 min­utes to Man­dev­ille, to visit the Croy­don Avi­a­tion Her­itage Cen­tre’s fine dis­play of small planes and per­haps tak­ing a flight in an open bi­plane.

How much?

At just $5 an adult and un­der-18s free, this has to be ex­cel­lent value – and vis­i­tors will have change left over for a lit­tle bot­tle or two of Old Hokonui whisky or honey liqueur (yes, the In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre is li­censed). See goredc.govt.nz

Best time to go

The mu­seum is open daily – but con­sider be­ing in Gore for the one-day Hokonui Moon­shin­ers’ Fes­ti­val, held mid-March in odd-num­bered years. Mu­sic, whisky and hag­gis: un­beat­able! – Pamela Wade

There’s more to Gore than its gi­ant leap­ing brown trout statue.

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