MEET THE PRO­DUC­ERS

How a gin made with lo­cal botan­i­cals is reviving a West Coast town and do­ing its name­sake proud

Dish - - CONTENTS - Words MARIA HOYLE

Reefton Dis­till­ing Co. is reviving its West Coast home town.

Lit­tle Biddy was quite a woman. Small, coura­geous, pi­o­neer­ing – and the em­bod­i­ment of West Coast spirit. Which pretty much de­scribes the dis­tillery re­spon­si­ble for the gin bear­ing her name.

We wouldn’t nor­mally start a busi­ness pro­file with a his­tory les­son… but trust us, this is key to ex­plain­ing how and why Reefton Dis­till­ing Co. does what it does.

Brid­get ‘Lit­tle Biddy’ Good­win mi­grated from Ire­land to New Zealand’s rugged West Coast in the 1860s. Life was tough, but she was tougher. This pipe-smok­ing, pick­axe-wield­ing, gin-tot­ing, 4f tall rebel with a don’t-mess-with-me de­meanour prospected for gold – and more than a century and a half later, she and her ilk con­tinue to in­spire the team at Reefton Dis­till­ing Co., in the town of the same name.

“The story of our dis­tillery has a strong con­nec­tion to the pi­o­neers of old; it has all the en­thu­si­asm of the gold rush, the dogged de­ter­mi­na­tion of those early pi­o­neers and the fore­sight of the Reefton pop­u­la­tion of the 1880s,” says Reefton Dis­till­ing Co. manag­ing di­rec­tor Patsy Bass. Even the black and gold la­bel on the brand’s bot­tles speak to Reefton’s coal- and gold-min­ing past.

MEDAL WIN­NER

The dis­tillery only opened last Oc­to­ber, but al­ready this crafter of spir­its made with botan­i­cals found deep in the forests where Biddy hunted for gold has won praise both at home and abroad. The Lit­tle Biddy West Coast Botan­i­cal Dry Gin won sil­ver and Lit­tle Biddy Black La­bel Dry Gin scooped bronze in the San Fran­cisco World Spir­its com­pe­ti­tion this year. Then, at the in­au­gu­ral NZ Spir­its Awards, Reefton snaf­fled four medals – sil­ver and bronze – for their Wild Rain Vodka, Reefton Dis­till­ing Co. Tay­berry Liqueur, and Lit­tle Biddy Botan­i­cal and Gold La­bel gins.

“It shows that our gutsy lit­tle dis­tillery can stand with the best,” says Patsy.

LO­CAL CHAM­PION

Reefton-born Patsy – her fam­ily lived on the site of the orig­i­nal Mon­teith’s brew­ery – moved to Christchur­ch when she was small, but she’s al­ways felt a strong con­nec­tion to her birthplace, es­pe­cially as her home­sick par­ents took the fam­ily back for hol­i­days when­ever they could. She and hus­band Shane bought a bach in Reefton some 15 years ago, and she be­gan to won­der what it would be like to live

there. But if she was going to re­turn, Patsy – who has a back­ground in project man­age­ment – wanted to have a hand in re­vi­tal­is­ing the town. What had been a hub of in­no­va­tion in the gold rush days (it was the first town in the south­ern hemi­sphere to have a pub­lic elec­tric­ity sup­ply) had been strug­gling in re­cent years, with busi­nesses re­luc­tant to set up there.

“A cof­fee with John Bougen [co-founder of Dress-smart], who’d moved to Reefton a few years ago, re­sulted in me do­ing a short­term con­tract with him in the town. Over the next few months I met with a lot of tourists and asked why they were in town, what they thought of it and what they’d like to see there?

“We wanted to create some­thing that would gen­er­ate jobs for Reefton and en­cour­age peo­ple to visit the town and give them a rea­son to stay.”

The an­swer was a dis­tillery – the per­fect fit for a her­itage town with a proud Mon­teith’s his­tory. With $1.385 mil­lion in cap­i­tal raised via eq­uity in­vest­ment mar­ket­place Snow­ball Ef­fect – the 211 in­vestors in­cluded in­di­vid­u­als from the West Coast and fur­ther afield, plus sev­eral larger in­vestors – it was all go.

Lo­ca­tion was key; the dis­tillery had to be in the heart of historic Reefton, to make peo­ple stop and stay. They set­tled on the former Min­nie Har­ald’s build­ing, built in the 1870s – a gen­eral store that sold shoes and even dis­tilled vine­gar – which has been re­stored to house the work­ing dis­tillery, tast­ing bar and re­tail store sell­ing Lit­tle Biddy Gin, Wild Rain Vodka and Reefton Dis­till­ing Co. sea­sonal fruit liqueurs.

There are four full-time staff, with more to come on board soon, and Reefton Dis­till­ing

Co. is com­mit­ted to us­ing lo­cal busi­nesses where they can. “There is an amaz­ing skill set in Reefton,” says Patsy.

A GIN WITH AT­TI­TUDE

All the prod­ucts – the Lit­tle Biddy Gins, Reefton Dis­till­ing Co. Tay­berry and Blue­berry Liqueurs and Wild Rain Vodka – are crafted in small batches, with the dis­tillery up­scal­ing to meet de­mand as ev­ery prod­uct has been a sell­out suc­cess. There are also plans for a sin­gle malt whisky by 2021.

Reefton Dis­till­ing Co. follows tra­di­tional dis­til­la­tion meth­ods, us­ing lo­cally for­aged and sourced in­gre­di­ents where pos­si­ble to make a ‘gin with at­ti­tude’. It’s these botan­i­cals, to­gether with the pris­tine wa­ter from lo­cal springs, that gives the spir­its their dis­tinc­tive West Coast flavour. “We have a large es­tab­lished gar­den at our dis­tillery, which pro­vides an abun­dance of fruit, berries and na­tives. We also have a num­ber of lo­ca­tions and sup­pli­ers lo­cally for our botan­i­cals.”

Lit­tle Biddy Gin is blended with for­aged wa­ter­cress, snow moss, toa­toa and kahikatea tips to de­liver a “soul­ful aro­matic ex­pe­ri­ence”.

CHEERS, BIDDY

The liqueurs are made from lo­cal sprayfree fruit and in­fused with, among other in­gre­di­ents, rata honey, cloves and fresh le­mon peel. The Wild Rain Vodka “takes its name and its essence from the West Coast rain, which be­gins as ocean mist”, says Patsy.

And if the spir­its are rich in lo­cal colour, so too is the dis­tillery. Even the 1800L tra­di­tional cop­per pot still ‘Ge­orge’ (named after lo­cal leg­end Ge­orge Fair­weather Moon­light) has “al­ready taken on a per­son­al­ity as large as his foot­print”, says Patsy.

“When I was plant­ing up the bar­rels out­side the dis­tillery in the weeks be­fore we opened, I watched a group of lo­cals stop to look at Ge­orge and over­heard them in­tro­duc­ing him to their friends and their chil­dren; “this is Ge­orge, he’s come to Reefton to make jobs for peo­ple like mum and dad.”

And then there are The Twins – Nigel and St­ef­fan Mckay – the brand’s am­bas­sadors and wa­ter and botan­i­cal prospec­tors. The iden­ti­cally dressed pair, who also host the Biddy’s Back­yard Premium Tour, pos­sess a vast botan­i­cal knowl­edge that “has en­abled us to for­age for unique aro­mat­ics,” says Patsy. Although nei­ther twin drinks al­co­hol, both have ex­cep­tional palates and can dis­cern sub­tle dif­fer­ences in flavour through aroma alone.

So if Biddy were alive, would she be clink­ing glasses with the team and of­fer­ing con­grat­u­la­tions in be­tween puffs of her pipe? Hell yes. And no doubt she’d find – of all the awards and ac­co­lades, daz­zling reviews, sales and book­ings – one particular as­pect of Reefton’s suc­cess es­pe­cially grat­i­fy­ing.

“One of the com­ments we are get­ting from lo­cals is the rea­son they in­vested is what we’ve done for Biddy. All of our team feel a real sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity to hon­our her; she had such a tough life and we are on a bit of a per­sonal cru­sade to make her proud.”

“We wanted to create some­thing that would gen­er­ate jobs for Reefton and en­cour­age peo­ple to visit”

Dis­tiller Nick Secker pre­pares a tast­ing for a cus­tomer

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