22 Nov 2019

The West Coast town in good spirits

From Country Life, 9:34 pm on 22 November 2019

Keeping it local and tapping into Reefton's rich history were two of Patsy Bass's goals when she founded the Reefton Distilling Company two years ago.

A crowdfunding campaign raised $1.385 million dollars for the start-up which allowed Patsy to buy stills, commercial distillery equipment and to employ staff. A large proportion of shares in the company have been snapped up by locals.

"We wanted Reefton to own this. We didn't want to ride into town and set up a business... and so we've got lots of local business owners and a lot of old people who have bought shares for their grandchildren and they all talk about 'our' distillery."

The first spirit to hit the market under the guidance of head distiller Nick Secker was Little Biddy Gin. Patsy says it honours the life of Bridget Goodwin, a big-drinking, four-foot-tall goldminer who worked mainly in the Buller Gorge area.

For Nick, the Little Biddy release was quite emotional.

"Even though you were in this small, well-ordered, tidy, mechanical room (the production area), tasting the rain forest coming out of the still was one of the most amazing experiences and I'll never forget that," he says.

Botanicals foraged on the surrounding hills are added to give the gin a distinct flavour.

"We use fresh watercress, snow moss, which is a lichen that grows locally, rimu, horopito, tarata and we've got different local springs in the area that we use to source the water for making the products," Patsy says.

Reefton identical twins Steffan and Nigel Mackay have lived in the town all their lives and are responsible for finding and supplying the plants and water for the distilling process.

Nigel jokes there's no shortage of water on the Coast.

"We've got springs that come out of granite, springs that come out of limestone and springs that come out of greywacke and it's pristine water too."

The brothers' ability as 'water and botanical prospectors' has been instrumental for creating 'a taste of the Coast' in the spirits.

They are also authorities on everything there is to know about the area, its people and its history.