A peek into illicit brews of the past
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.
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.
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.
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