4 Mar 2022

Maniototo farmers in high spirits

From Country Life, 9:34 pm on 4 March 2022

A hobby has turned into a business for organic Central Otago farmers John and Susie Elliot.

The couple makes single malt whisky in a farmyard distillery using their own barley and peat from a local swamp.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

A history of distilling spirits in the area goes way back. John's grandfather found a little copper still when he was out mustering.

Since then the remnants of a small hut in hidden gully have also been found.

"It's only a couple of kilometres from the Dunstan Trail that was the main road into Central Otago 140 years ago, so a little bit of illicit distilling was probably going on out there," John says.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

He started making his own whisky at Lammermoor in 2016.

"We abide by the Scottish law and give it three years before we even look at bringing the whisky out to taste it to see how it's maturing," he says.

Now more than 70 oak barrels of maturing whisky line a wall in the distillery.

Susie says the process is totally paddock to bottle.

"Only four percent of distilleries in the world will grow the barley and take it right through to the bottle process like we do and to have certified organic grain makes it even more rare."

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

So far the Elliots have released several limited edition Lammermoor whiskies. One, John says, is named after Jock Scott, a local farmer who does a lot of work in the community.

"He's an ice master at the local curling rink and plays the bagpipes at local weddings, funerals and events in the Maniototo, so in honour of Jock's good volunteer work barrel number 7 is named after him, The Jock Scott Single Malt."

Lammermoor Station grows crops and runs sheep, cattle and more recently deer.

John's grandfather purchased the property in 1928.

Since then his family has slowly acquired more land and now it covers roughly 6000 hectares of hill country and river flats.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

In 2002 the farm became certified organic.

Synthetic fertiliser has been swapped for chicken manure to feed the soil.

Currently the Elliots use 3000 tonnes of manure a year with most of it going onto the cropping paddocks.

John says costs are about the same and cropping yields are on par with what they were prior to going organic.

Prices for organic wool, meat and crops have been steadily rising above conventional schedules.

"The premium on the grain is probably the big winner, it's getting close to double market value," John says.

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Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

The road to Lammermoor Station.

The road to Lammermoor Station. Photo: RNZ / Cosmo Kentish-Barnes

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