words & images: Judy McAuliffe
Back in the day, before my time, and yours – we’re talking the 1700’s here – gin was so popular and so addictive, that people (mainly women) supposedly resorted to prostitution and even selling their children just to get their hands on the stuff! Hence it was known as ‘Mother’s Ruin.’
I’d heard murmurings about a gin distillery recently opened in Geraldine and was intrigued. Is gin popularity enjoying a resurgence, and who is behind this latest boutique distillery? I didn’t have to go far for my answers.
It was on a holiday to Canada in 2019 when Andrew and Saskia Lewis found themselves on a distillery tour. “There were distilleries everywhere and everyone was drinking gin.” With their backgrounds in engineering and science, they were fascinated by the gleaming copper equipment and the process. “We seemed to be the only ones interested, though,” they laugh. “Everyone else was more interested in what the equipment produced!”
Back home, still buzzing from their experience and convinced that gin would become “the next big thing” in NZ, they purchased a small still and began experimenting in their kitchen. It wasn’t long before they had the makings of a very good product. “We used to enjoy the odd glass, but we’ve never been big gin drinkers. For us, it’s about using natural botanicals to produce a handcrafted product and a unique experience for visitors and locals.” Needless to say, they are now gin connoisseurs.
Early last year, they took a lease on an old building on Talbot Street in Geraldine, intending to open a tasting bar, however Covid-19 had other ideas. Undeterred, they carried on, sympathetically restoring the property. They recently moved their burgeoning business into this rustic, character-laden concrete, exposed brick and steel location, down the alley behind Little Hero Kids Store.
Humdinger Gin produces a Classic Dry and a Citrus Gin, using a total of ten botanicals including Canterbury barley, orange and lemon from Gisborne, and the remainder from around the world. “We have a spice trader in the UK and really good suppliers now. “Seemingly small things, like using real juniper berries grown specifically for distillation, not a ready-made product, make a big difference.”
“You can make gin and bottle it in a day, but good things take time,” Andrew smiles. “If you want to create a really good gin, there’s a little bit of extra time, effort and creative magic required. We’re always testing and refining what we do to make sure we produce an authentic gin. That’s what really gets us – wanting to keep it as real as possible.”
And word is getting out. A few tourists drop in for tastings, door sales and a brief tour. Some know their gins, others not so much, but Andrew is in his element discussing recipes and lingering tastes. “Everyone is different, but most are less interested in the process. They like the vibe, the neat building and the taste, and they just want a yarn. If the still is operating they can see how it all works. It’s all very open. Young people are always keen to hear our story. They want to do what we’ve done, and it’s good to be able to share a positive story.”
So, what’s next? They smile. “We’re always looking for ‘the next big thing,’ but for now, we have quite a lot on our plates. We’ve started a distillery and we’re staring a family. That might be enough, for the short term, anyway.”