Spirited approach to craft liquor
A new taste revolution is under way in Nelson - craft distilling.
Liquid Alchemy co-founder Maria Grau believes that after embracing craft beer and other artisan products, Nelsonians are ready for craft spirits.
"We have amazing ingredients, people here get craft and support small or local producers," she says.
"This is the time and this is the place."
Liquid Alchemy started distilling spirits last year, making small batches of gin and rum under its 1st Cut label.
In a nod to Nelson's Italian heritage it has also made Limoncello, using hand-zested Nelson lemons. It also distilled a bittersweet digestif Nocino. Nocino is a green walnut liqueur and Liquid Alchemy make theirs with green Nelson and Canterbury walnuts they collect themselves.
This month the craft distillers started making their first whisky.
Friends Fritz Kuckuck, Maria Grau, Jurgen Voigtlander and Mary Bronstet have teamed up to form Liquid Alchemy.
The couples were already keen home brewers who have also tinkered in home distilling for years. They "really like making stuff".
Fritz and Maria are well known in the community for their passion for Craft Beer. They write a beer column for The Nelson Mail.
Jurgen and Mary run their own craft business, the Nelson Cooperage in Founders Heritage Park.
Maria says the philosophy behind craft distilling is similar to craft beer.
It involves small batches of lovingly made product using the best ingredients, local if possible. They value tradition but also like to experiment with new techniques.
Liquid Alchemy is based in a warehouse on Vivian Pl next to the Nelson Recycling Centre.
So far it has made 237 bottles of gin, and 192 bottles of rum.
The fragrant complex gin, loosely based on a London dry style, is made with 18 botanicals including Motueka hop cones, manuka tips and citrus from mandarin peel grown in their garden.
Each bottle is labelled to show the batch and bottle number. Maria says the idea of 1st Cut Limited Release Series is to get feedback on the small batches.
"As we go along, we will learn what works and develop permanent product lines."
Jurgen says they welcome feedback from customers and if there is a batch that gets rave feedback they might start distilling it under its own label.
The couples are passionate about distilling and sensing that New Zealand is ready to embrace craft spirits, and wanted to work together and eventually to distill commercially.
That opportunity came sooner than planned when a long-standing craft distiller, Bernd Schnabel, died in 2012. Bernd had a licensed distillery and bar at his Queenstown home and Jurgen suggested the couples buy his two stills and go into business.
Bernd had built his own still and also had a hand-built German copper still from Jacob Carl, the oldest commercial still maker in the world. Bernd had helped set up a similar distilling operation in the Anchor building on Wakefield Quay.
The friends found a warehouse, and after navigating a series of start-up obstacles, including council regulations and the death of two parents overseas, they are finally in business.
Jurgen says the options for distilling alcohol are endless, because most fruit can be distilled into some form of alcohol.
Under its Vintage Alchemy label it plans to make small runs of up to 200 bottles of seasonal flavours.
They are keen also to undertake contract distilling and hear from people who have surplus produce they do not want to throw away that could get a second life by being distilled into alcohol, or if they have a dream of making a brandy or a liqueur.
"We are trying to stop people throwing it away and wasting it."
There is only a handful of businesses actively distilling in New Zealand and the company feels it is entering the business at a great time, just as it hopefully takes off.
They call themselves the first "craft distillery in New Zealand".
"We are the first one using that language."
They envision creating an industry group similar to the Nelson Craft Brewing Capital for combining forces with other craft distillers.
"Craft brewers talk about growing the pie instead of fighting over pieces, and we want craft distillers to do the same thing."
The couples still love craft beer and have contracted Martin Townshend to brew them a beer for Marchfest that will be aged in rum barrels.
They also sell riggers of speciality craft beer at their warehouse.
First Cut is served in Rhythm and Brown, Harry's, Moutere Inn and Golden Bear. It is also selling at the Malthouse in Wellington.
The distillery is open Thursday to Sunday from 12pm till 6pm. Visit liquidalchemy.co.nz or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.