Home' Hospitality Business : HB JUL 2016 Contents An artisan boutique distillery has opened high in the heart of rural
alpine Central Otago in the beautiful Cardrona Valley, perfectly
positioned along the popular Queenstown to Wanaka tourist route.
Cardrona Distillery is family-owned and represents a 17-year odyssey
for Kiwi founder Desiree Whitaker. She and husband, Ash, used time-
honoured traditional methods hand-crafting spirits from scratch and
buyers have been champing at the bit to reserve a barrel of their single
malt whisky, which will be ready in 10 years.
HOW DID AN EX-LAW STUDENT END UP OPENING HER OWN
BOUTIQUE DISTILLERY IN THE HEART OF RURAL CENTRAL
OTAGO, AND WHAT FOSTERED THIS PASSION IN YOU?
Life is very short. Both and my husband Ash and I believe you need to
spend your time doing what you love. Ash loves his gin and distilled
spirits have fascinated me since living and working in London. As a 20
to 21-year-old I ended up running a busy bar opposite Eric Clapton’s
house in Chelsea, despite coming from a home where there was very
little alcohol consumed. As I learned about the craftsmanship in a bottle
of gin, vodka or whisky, the more the process fascinated me. From
London I returned home to New Zealand and finished my business
degree. I went farming for the next 10 years, and served as the elected
representative on the Fonterra Shareholders’ Council for six years.
However, that old passion slowly grew. In early 2011 I decided a change
was in order, and started seriously researching and learning about the
art of distillation. In 2013 I sold my farm to build the distillery. Ash also
sold his business and my parents joined the effort with the other half of
the capital. We finally opened the doors just before Christmas, last year.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD WHISKY AND HOW DOES
THE DISTILLING PROCESS WORK?
Good spirits take care, time and quality ingredients. All of our spirits,
our gin, vodka, orange liqueur and whisky are made from scratch, from
all natural ingredients. In the distillery, each production step adds layer
upon layer of character and complexity. Altogether these layers create a
spirit which is distinctly recognisable as Cardrona spirit. Pure mountain
water is mashed together with malted barley and then fermented with
yeast. Our long fermentation gives our distinct banoffee note. From
there our stills give yet another layer of complexity; the shape and size
of our stills influencing the taste and mouthfeel of the spirit. From the
stills our character-filled spirit is sent one of four ways, to become either
single malt vodka, rosehip gin, orange liqueur or whisky.
DID YOU BRING IN EXPERT HELP FROM OVERSEAS
TO MASTER THIS AGE-OLD PROCESS?
Yes. I spent a lot of time abroad learning how to distil from some of the
world’s most renowned Master Distillers. When it came to building the
distillery, we went to the world’s best coppersmiths – fourth generation
Forsyths from Scotland. They were very generous with their help and
advice. The entire building process - from crafting the architectural
plans to gaining consent, building and final completion - took more
than two years. We brought over two distillery experts from Scotland to
commission the distillery; to calibrate the mill, mash tun and the copper
stills. One of the engineers was nearly 80 years old and had spent most
of his working life as the distillery manager of Bowmore, Islay, Scotland.
The pair spent the best part of a month working with our team, getting
the distillery to hum. The very first spirit flowed on October 23, 2015
and the first cask laid on November 5. We opened the doors to the
public just before Christmas.
WHAT’S THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND INTRODUCING
AND SELLING FOUNDATION CASKS, AND
HOW ARE THE SALES GOING?
We’re selling just one hundred Foundation Casks. It is traditional for
distilleries to set aside a number of casks each year for their supporters
to purchase. We’re following in this tradition, but have limited the
number to only 100 – less than half what other small distilleries offer in
Scotland. Any more would mean we would not have enough of our own
whisky in 10 years’ time. We were very conservative in our expectations
of uptake, and those expectations were well broken within just the first
three months. There are just a few left, but they’ll go quickly. Once
they’re gone, they’re gone.
WHAT OTHER SPIRITS KEEP THE BUSINESS VIABLE WHILE
YOU SIT OUT THE 10-YEAR WAIT FOR THE WHISKY?
We’re making truly artisanal vodka, gin and orange liqueur. Our newly
released, ‘The Source’ Rosehip Gin is Ash’s baby, and is a gem. The
Cardrona spirit is re-distilled, with traditional botanicals, as well as local
rosehip collected wild from the Cardrona Valley. The entire distillery
BY SUE FEA
Desiree and Ash Whitaker, proud of
their new project – Cardrona Distillery
56 | July 2016 | Hospitality BUSINESS
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