There's no denying gin's time in the sun isn't going anywhere. No longer destined for your grandma’s top shelf, this humble spirit is well and truly having more than a moment on the drinks scene, and local Kiwi distillers are leading the charge.
From flavoured numbers to classic craft bottles and colour-changing concoctions, here are 12 New Zealand-made gins that will turn your typical G&T on its head. You can thank us later.
On the scene since 2016, the award-winning Curiosity Gin is made 100% in-house, in small batches, starting from locally sourced malted grain and the best quality botanicals available including east coast manuka berries and leaves, fresh Gisborne orange and lime zest and Otago lavender which all conspire to bring out a true New Zealand twist. We're particularly partial to their Sloe Gin (which incidentally, is NZ's only sloe gin), where sloe berries are steeped in Curiosity Gin for several months in a barrel that was previously used to age Otago pinot noir. Simply divine. Further props must be given to comedian @meegwai AKA The Unicorn who graces the top of this article, preparing for a night of comedic storytelling at Curiosity Gin's Christchurch headquarters.
Another worthy entry on the artisanal gin list, sustainability-focused Great Barrier Island business Island Gin took out the coveted Innovation Award at the New Zealand Spirits Awards 2020 despite the fact they’d only been distilling for a year. Scooping silver and bronze for their moreish Navy Strength gin and Original gins respectively, they also scored top marks for their use of recycled NZ Visy Glass for their beaut kīna-inspired bottles filled by a solar-powered bottling machine. Using locally-sourced botanicals and suppliers, such as honey from Great Barrier Island, this little company proves that you don’t need to be on the grid to create beautiful drops.
Scapegrace Black Gin
From award-winning Kiwi gin brand Scapegrace (formerly Rogue Society), this number boasts something so special that it sold out on the first day. The naturally black liquor offers a blend of Aronia berry, saffron, pineapple, butterfly pea and sweet potato, making it sippable straight from the bottle. But the addition of tonic water is where the magic really happens, transforming the black gin into a moody purple tone right before your eyes. Garnish with an apple slice and you’re set to sip.
The boys at Blush (yes, lads are behind this stunning pink gin) have been cooking up something special since the release of their first bottle of Rhubarb Gin back in the summer of 2017. A few years on and they’ve added to the line-up Boysenberry Gin and Hot Toddy Gin. Packaged in a particularly ‘Gram-worthy bottle, this triple-distilled, handcrafted tipple is best served with premium tonic, garnished with frozen berries and rosemary.
Based out of East Tamaki in Auckland, let’s just say 1919 Distilling is proud to be Kiwi. Named after the nearly history-changing prohibition vote of 1919 in New Zealand—49.7 per cent of us voted in favour of banning booze—the brand honours the slim majority of Kiwis that stood up for their right to a drink. Their sips are all about using New Zealand-grown botanicals like Manuka honey and Central Otago cherries, and their Pineapple Bits gin that started off as a limited-edition sip only is now a permanent addition to their catalogue—we’re so ready.
Inspired by the infamous Cape Palliser Lighthouse on the southernmost tip of the North Island, Lighthouse Gin takes influence from its surroundings in picturesque Martinborough. The sip showcases a unique blend of nine native botanicals like Yen Ben lemons and oranges, and with two options up for grabs, we recommend trying the original for a refreshing citrus taste or the Hawthorn Edition for a more intense, peppery flavour.
Broken Heart Barrel Aged Gin
Step into the realm of sipping gins with Broken Heart’s limited-edition Barrel Aged Gin. This unique bottle combines two of the brand’s core products—the original Broken Heart Gin and the more intense Navy Strength Gin—which are then aged for six months in French chardonnay oak barrels. It typically only takes two days to make gin, so this labour of love gives Broken Heart’s a unique toasted oaky finish which is best served on the rocks (or neat if you’re brave).
Hidden World Gin
If creative small-batch craft gins are your jam, keep your eyes keenly peeled on Hidden World’s ‘gram. It doesn’t get much more authentic than a bottle of booze from these guys, complete with hand-written labels. Take your pick from seasonal specials like Chocolate Orange Gin, Carolina Reaper Chilli Gin or even a cheeky Hot Cross Bun Gin—we can promise you one thing, your taste buds won’t be bored.
Dancing Sands Gin
Made with water from Te Waikaroropupu Springs—one of the purest springs in the world—it’s no surprise that Dancing Sands is New Zealand's most awarded distillery. Match this with their meticulous craftsmanship and killer flavour combinations and you have yourself a winner. We can’t choose between their Wasabi Gin, Saffron Gin or Chocolate Gin—so we’ll just have to recommend all three. They're also coming in hot this summer with their latest release, fittingly deemed Sun-Kissed Gin. Aromatic and bright, it sings of sweet, candied strawberry, perfectly balanced with tart and floral rhubarb—it's basically sunshine in a bottle. Created using locally sourced and all-natural ingredients, it'll take your boozy brunch spritzes to the next level. Cheers!
The Source Gin
You can’t round up New Zealand’s best gins without mentioning The Source from Wanaka-based Cardrona Distillery. Locally foraged botanicals and rosehip are handcrafted to make the original gold award-winning blend, or alternatively, opt for their Pink Barrel Aged Gin which spends some time hanging out in Central Otago Pinot Noir seasoned oak barrels. Better yet, it’s in support of Breast Cancer Research—that’s a win-win.
Little Biddy Gin By Reefton Distilling
No self-respecting list of the best artisanal New Zealand gins would be complete without the award-winning Reefton Distilling Co.’s Little Biddy Gin. Though one of the newer kids on the block having been established in 2018, this brand has been snagging awards since its inception. The range was created in honour of Reefton legend Bridget ‘Biddy’ Goodwin, a gin-toting, four-foot-tall, female gold prospector. Their search for native botanicals takes the distillery team deep into the same West Coast rainforest where Biddy once fossicked for gold, to craft a range of uniquely New Zealand gins with a pioneer’s attitude. Distilled from fresh native botanicals Little Biddy Gin captures the West Coast rainforest in a bottle.
Grey Lynn Gin
Last but certainly not least comes Auckland's very own Grey Lynn Gin. From humble garage-distilled beginnings, this gin quickly won over newcomers and purists alike with its bold, uncomplicated flavours using minimal botanicals so its hero notes shine through. These guys keep things simple with their two wildly different offerings. Keep it old school with their Signature Citrus gin comprising punchy citrus, supported by juniper berries and fennel seeds, or take things up a notch with the delightfully perfumed Parma Violet which gives a sweet finish and lasting lavender aroma.
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Image credit: Curiosity Gin
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