A confession: up until this week, my relationship with gin was a somewhat dysfunctional one. Basically, I have a habit of switching from wine or beer to G & Ts towards the end of the night, when I feel I need hydration. (“How’s that working out for you?” you ask. “Not so well,” I reply.) A connoisseur I am not.
However, I’ve been hearing whispers for a while that craft gin is the Next Big Thing, and the appearance this month of Denzien Urban Distillery in Lombard Lane seems to confirm that. Desperate to stay on the cusp of new drinking trends, I paid owners Eamon O’Rourke and Mark Halton a visit. Here’s what I learnt.
Ladies love gin!
Across Australasia, 55% of gin drinkers are women, Eamon tells me. It’s the only spirit we drink more than men. (Glass ceiling? What glass ceiling?) Eamon and Mark know women will likely form their core customer base, and that’s part of the reason they chose to set up shop in Lombard Lane, a Wellington fashion destination. Their still, a gleaming, vaguely steampunky copper contraption from Germany, sits behind an immense glass window facing on to the street – just the thing to draw in foot traffic, specifically us gin-guzzling women. What better way to break up a shopping spree than by sampling some of Denzien’s wares (or buying a bottle to take home)?
Gin tastings are less scary than wine tastings
I grew up in Hawke’s Bay, so I’ve fumbled through many a cellar-door visit in my time, claiming to taste things like chocolate or mushrooms or tobacco in wines that patently do not contain any of the above.
Tasting Denzien’s Te Aro Dry gin is a completely different experience, since it’s made in a super-sterile still, not in the earth or in wooden barrels. As Mark says, “What you smell and taste is what’s in the gin.” What’s in Te Aro Dry? Cardamom, sweet orange peel, lemon peel, coriander, angelica root, fennel seed, horopito, kawakawa, liquorice root and juniper (legally, in order to be called “gin”, at least 50% of the botanicals have to be juniper). “Ah, yes, I taste all those things,” I say, knowledgably. “It’s very good.” Mark and Eamon don’t say so, but I’m pretty sure they’re impressed by my insight.
There is more to life than G&Ts…
Okay, so, the botanicals that go into gin have to be 50% juniper. But that still leaves another 50% with which distillers can experiment – and experiment they do. Te Aro Dry is just “the first track of the album”, Eamon says. He and Mark are viewing Denzien HQ as an R&D lab, where they can play with “totally wild ideas” on a small scale and get instant feedback from their customers.
What’s next for them? Pink gin is all the rage at the moment; they might have a play with that, or they might set their sights on something completely new. G&Ts and Negronis will always account for most gin orders, but Eamon says gin can work with plenty of other mixers. (He’d like to see us Wellingtonians get educated enough that we can ask to taste a gin at a bar and then choose our mixer based on that.) And there are even gins that are designed to be drunk on their own, such as the Chardonnay Barrel Gin from Australian distillery Four Pillars.
…but there’s nothing wrong with the classics
At one point, in an attempt to endear myself to Eamon and Mark, I make a snobbishly dismissive comment about Schweppes tonic (even though it’s 100% what I buy). The guys swiftly set me straight. Pretty soon, they’ll be serving mixed gin drinks onsite, so they’ve been trying to decide which tonic to pair with Te Aro Dry. They recently did a blind tasting of 11 different tonics, with Schweppes included as the control, and both of them independently ranked it as a not-too-shabby number five. (They’re yet to lock in a tonic partnership, but, for now, Eamon recommends East Imperial Burma Tonic Water.)
So, there you have it. Am I an expert now? Um, no. But I feel decidedly “gin-curious”, as Mark and Eamon would say. No more bleary-eyed orders of house gin for me – the craft gin renaissance has arrived in Wellington, and I am here for it.
New Zealand’s first urban destination distillery, making brazen craft gin in a gorgeous copper still right in the heart of the city. Popular for tutored tastings and distillery tours, it’s the perfect place to learn about the distiller’s art over a tipple or two.