No gimmicks for ‘authentic’ distillery

Bluff Distillery Company head distiller Chris Fraser has led the development of the distillery...
Bluff Distillery Company head distiller Chris Fraser has led the development of the distillery site at the former Ocean Beach freezing works in Southland. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Do not expect an oyster gin any time soon from Bluff’s new gin distillery.

With a flood of flavours already on the shelves during what has undoubtedly been a gin renaissance, those behind the Bluff Distillery Company did not want to create a gin that was a "gimmick".

"No-one’s done a possum fur [gin] yet. That’s not us either," head distiller Chris Fraser said.

Instead, it drew influence from the spirit and resilience of the southern town, producing gin that reflected the essence of Bluff — "clean, bold and unapologetically authentic".

Bluff Distillery Company, which was officially opened by Sir Tipene O’Regan last week, is located within a building in the converted Ocean Beach freezing works which was a major employer in the region until its closure in 1991.

Now an industrial property, it had coastal permits to extract salt water from the fast-moving waters of Foveaux Strait and it has industrial, aquaculture, seafood and tourism tenants.

The distillery was one of only two in the world cooled by salt water, Mr Fraser said.

After being used for aquaculture ventures, the water was filtered and then flowed past the door of the distillery before being discharged back to the sea.

Like many great ideas, the genesis for the idea came from a conversation around a table, three and a-half years ago, discussing "the next thing to try and give something back to Southland".

Unashamedly passionate about the region, Mr Fraser grew up on a farm at Heddon Bush before spending a decade in Dunedin where he studied and then worked in the electrical industry before returning to Invercargill.

The owner of Miele Apiaries Premium Honey and co-founder of the Southland Food Hub, he has led the development of the distillery site, construction and still build.

It was a challenging time for all food producers and it was frustrating so much Bluff and Southland produce "disappears in the middle of the night" instead of being used locally.

It was difficult to find Southland-produced lamb in a restaurant in Southland and, at Foveaux Strait was just 30m from the distillery building, people should be able to sit there and eat blue cod, Mr Fraser said.

The design of the bottle pays homage to Bluff’s maritime history.
The design of the bottle pays homage to Bluff’s maritime history.
He hoped to eventually open a restaurant on the site but in the meantime the company wanted to "do everything properly", and there were no timeframes on that or potentially other spirits including rum, which fitted well with Bluff’s maritime heritage.

"Unfortunately, our climate in Bluff is about as far away from Jamaica as you can get," he laughed.

Asked about the gin’s point of difference, Mr Fraser cited the custom bottle design, reminiscent of the maritime heritage heritage that defined the town.

"It’s all about taking the story of Bluff to the world."

As the story goes, Japanese fishermen developed the glass buoy and would lay their whaling nets off the coast of Bluff.

Bluffys, as the locals were affectionately known, would head out in all conditions, lop off the buoys and let those nets drop to the ocean floor.

There were 300 bottles air-shipped for the company’s launch and a container of bottles on its way by sea.

Stocks were sold out over the weekend and pre-orders were now being taken.

The gin would be rolled out into stores throughout the country next month and May.

A significant amount of money had been spent on the development including plenty of "sweat equity", he said.

The distillery, which had an electricity-powered still, was working towards being certified carbon neutral.

A contribution from every bottle sold was given to the Bluff Hill Motupōhue Environment Trust.