From a herbal medicine to a much-loved spirit deriving its predominant flavour from juniper berries, the history of gin has a storied past.
Chris Reid started out as a wine maker in Martinborough and making gin was a little side project, although as Reid says, “it accidentally became my full-time job”.
With a taste for the spirit, and a love of creating different products he founded Reid + Reid Gin and fell in love with what was happening in the gin industry – moving from using only juniper berries to bringing a sense of place to the product.
“I think craft beer opened the door for us, certainly within New Zealand, there was always a perception that products, probably from Europe, were far better than something from New Zealand.”
Australian gins reminded him of walking through the Australian bush and he wanted to do the same for New Zealand.
“Gin is multiple botanicals, the main one being juniper, but after that you can use whatever botanicals that you like. Traditionally most people use things like coriander and angelica root, things like cardamon but with modern gins, people are using things that come from their country.”
In Australia that’s things such as eucalyptus. Here, its kawakawa, horipito and manuka – lending to a spicy, herbal taste.
Gin is essentially a flavoured vodka, but it didn’t taste very nice – juniper berries were added to mask the terrible flavour of the spirit.
“Most distilleries for gin will use a neutral based spirit and then they’re steeping in their botanicals inside the still and those botanicals, the oils have been extracted from the ethanol. Then heating up the ethanol to boil over the flavours which have been condensed back into a liquid, they’re then cut down to a drinkable proof.”
That’s why gin is colourless, he says.
The latest craft gin movement started about 10 years ago in London, although New Zealand’s been late to the game, possibly due to the popularity of craft beer.
For Reid, it’s in the blood – although perhaps not in the way you’d think.
Reid’s great grandfather was the head of the New Zealand alliance that was a lobbyist for prohibition.
“Fortunately, they failed,” he says, while noting that he is a fan of the problem drinking legislation that went through at the time.
Reid will be speaking at the Highball cocktail event in Wellington next month.
“It’s a great way to show that we’re not just burgers and beer, we can also do cocktails and wines.