Why we make our alcohol from scratch
In the early days of getting Herrick Creek set up, we had a big choice to make. We had to decide whether or not to buy in neutral grain spirit for making our gin. Why's that matter? 99% of New Zealand gins don't actually make the alcohol that they use to make their gin - they buy the alcohol, and redistill it.
What is Neutral Grain Spirits, or NGS?
NGS is a 96% abv (alcohol by volume) clear spirit that is completely without taste or odour. Overseas, this is typically made from grains, but here in New Zealand, the most popular "NGS" is actually made from Whey. You could call it Neutral Whey Spirit. NWS.
NGS is hugely popular across the world for making gin because it offers a blank canvas to make gin. Anything you add to your still during redistillation will easily be picked up by the NGS, and it means less work for the distiller. All a distillery has to do is order their NGS, water it down, distill it one time with their botanicals, then they can bottle and ship it almost immediately. It's great for the business plan and keeps the lights on and the doors open.
The Neutral Whey Spirit used by most New Zealand distilleries is made by a Fonterra subsidiary that takes the leftover whey from the dairy industry, ferments it, and then distills it into high proof, neutral ethanol. Some people love it, some people hate it - it's a personal preference.
Why don't we buy NGS?
At Herrick Creek we make multiple whiskies, moonshine, and of course gin. Each of those products has its own waste products - alcohol that comes off the still early or late that can't be used in the final product.
With our Whisky, made from 100% Canterbury malted grains, the leftover alcohol is still good alcohol - it's just not suitable for whisky flavours at this point. So instead of dumping it, we redistill it with nine botanicals to make our Nine Fathoms Navy Strength Gin. A 100% grain to glass NZ Gin - there are only a couple of those out there. The grain offers beautiful mouth oils and a heaviness to the spirit that you can see in the glass. It also means that each batch of Nine Fathoms will impart some of the flavours from the most recent whisky that we've made. When you drink Nine Fathoms, you're drinking a bit of all the whisky we've ever made.
Likewise, when we make our Moonshine from corn sugar and New Zealand corn, we have leftovers. We take those leftovers and redistill them with six botanicals to make our Moose Lake Classic Gin. Why waste good alcohol?
The bottom line
A gin made by hand isn't necessarily better than one from NGS, but it is at least true local craft gin. There are so many amazing gins made from NGS in New Zealand but most people who enjoy gin would never know that the distillery they bought it from didn't actually make the base alcohol.
Does it matter? It's up to you.
The painter doesn't usually make his canvas, but one that did might have a different, unique approach. What are your thoughts?