When Reid+Reid co-founders, brothers Chris and Stew Reid took a trip through Scotland in 2013, they were somewhat enthralled by the thriving craft distilling market. This appreciation turned into a business idea a few drams later (as is so often the case with budding ginsmiths), when the duo decided it was time to take some of that buzz back to New Zealand.
Of course – up in Scotland they were supping on whisky, but gin stood out to them as something that could excite their fellow Kiwis. “What we love about gin is its versatility: as far as spirits go, gin can lend itself to a wide range of styles, and it manages a good balance between traditional and modern. This gives rise to plenty of opportunity to experiment, which we find exciting,” Stew explained. “And we’re both big gin drinkers, so we knew we’d have at least two customers.”
The idea didn’t come to much of anything until Chris returned to New Zealand in 2014, wherein he began to seek distillery premises. While this was happening – and from opposite sides of the world – the brothers began to work on the recipe for Reid+Reid Gin, exchanging and trialling recipes created on small home stills.
Reid Brothers Distilling is located on the Chris‘ vineyard in Martinborough, South Wairarapa. Chris’ winemaking background, Stew tells us, played a huge part in shaping the flavour of Reid+Reid Gin: “The concept of a product with a ‘sense of place’ is ingrained in his outlook, and we’ve sought to apply this in creating a uniquely Kiwi gin. We felt we could offer the world something different by releasing a gin that not only uses, but highlights, native New Zealand botanicals.”
The thirteen botanicals used in the gin are: juniper, coriander, angelica, orris, liquorice, cardamom, cassia, nutmeg, fennel, fresh orange peel, kawakawa, manuka and horopito. The latter three botanicals are foraged locally by the brothers themselves.
Kawakawa is a relative of black pepper and a complex botanical, bringing savoury, spicy and floral characters to the gin (although different to taste in a similar way that Cubeb berries do), while horopito shares white pepper characteristics. Manuka is perhaps the most commonly known of the native three, known for the honey the bees that pollenate it produce. The plant brings floral hints, along with a gingery warmth.
“It was important for us,” said Stew, “to produce a gin that demonstrated both a traditional base along with its Kiwi roots. We found this to be quite a balancing act – needing to express both the floral and savoury aspects of the native botanicals, whilst still retaining the freshness and structure of a classic gin.”
Scaling the recipe up to fill the walls of their custom made, Chinese imported 200-litre still took very little tweaking, much to the brothers relief, so they were able to begin bottling very quickly.
To make Reid+Reid Gin, Chris steeps all of the botanicals in a neutral whey spirit (a surprisingly common base in New Zealand, yet an incredible marketing tool when done on this side of the world). The 45% ABV spirit is kept at a temperature of 25°C for 36 hours. After this, the kawakawa is removed (to avoid any overtly green characters coming through).
The hearts cut of the run is taken over a 6-hour period, before being blended to 42% ABV with water and left to rest for a week. After this, each of the bottles is filled (and labelled) by hand. Each run produces around 180 70cl bottles.
Reid+Reid gin to taste…
Unsuprsingly given the unusual botanical line up, this is a gin like no other. Whey is a base spirit that catches a firm grip on fire, holding the spicier botanicals – kawakawa, horopito, coriander seed, cardamom, cassia and nutmeg – aloft. Whey brings a touch of cream to the nose too, while angelica and liquorice round out the edges with an earthy sweetness. Juniper – as one would expect from a gin that sets out to be progressive in nature – is shy to the nose, though there is a medicinal undercurrent throughout the aroma.
There’s an initially green sip to the gin when tasted neat, followed by a gingery heat. The pepper qualities don’t burn, rather they warm the tongue, while liquorice softens the sip and a cooling, mentholic fennel cools at the back. The spice anchoring down the taste is in many ways, what makes the gin, not becasue it is “spiced” per se, but because it holds the more unusual verdent eucalypt type notes (so frequent in modern Oceanic gins) at bay, balencing it out into being an intreguing proposition.
With tonic, it is the fennel that rises to the nose first, while the slightly medicinal, floral sweetness of manuka coats the tongue, joined by the herbal qualities of the fennel and – presumably – kawakawa. It makes for a very sweet, verdent and incredibly smooth G&T – easy to sip, though lacking slightly in the juniper department for our liking.
We’d serve this with a skinny wedge of orange and some juniper beries in a G&T. For his part, Stew serves this up with no garnish, instead opting to let the botanicals speak for themselves.
The very first batch was bottled in April 2016 and by November Reid+Reid were on their seventh batch. Both brothers are still fully ensconced in their full time jobs, but if this grows – and it really has the potential to grow – they’re likely to follow it. Just over 1200 bottles sold between April and November would seem a small number to many, but the brothers are quick to label themselves as “distillers, not marketers.” They’re learning the gin trade on their toes, but picking up lessons quickly – especially in terms of branding.
The gin is bottled in clear glass with a bold, embossed, dark grey, gold and white label on the front and neck. The label – designed and printed by Wellington based firm Label & Litho – features subtle depictions of some of the botanicals used and is shaped in such a way as to make the gin stand out; it doesn’t look like anything else, but then the shelves in the Gin Foundry office are buckling under the weight of gin and we’d be hard pushed to find two that look alike. Gin doesn’t need to look like gin anymore; it needs to look like a desirable brand and in this light, Reid + Reid have got a product that looks the part.
Once the Reid+Reid brand is well established, the brothers will begin playing around with variants. They’re starting to grow a gin garden which will house some of their more commonly used botanicals, and from here can start to grow different botanicals that can be used for one-off or seasonal batches.
We’re particularly interested in what they could do with the wine they have to hand. Many winemakers in recent months have started to work with gin, either using grapes to make their base alcohol, or blending their gin with wine before bottling. There’s even the opportunity to transform their wine into a Vermouth, so they could make – from scratch – a divine and perfectly tailored Martini…
Provenance and unique botanicals aside, what sets Reid+Reid Gin apart is their willingness to experiment whilst still straying true to the heart of gin. As Stew himself explains: “In using New Zealand botanicals we want to challenge the consumers perception of what gin should be, whilst at the same time not conceding on quality or accessibility.”
The next milestone for the Reid+Reid Gin is expansion into the UK and Australia. Stew is currently based in Melbourne, which should help open some doors there, while in the UK with its seemingly unquenchable thirst for gin – especially those that are a little unusual – there will be many who would welcome their arrival.
For more information about Reid+Reid Gin, visit their website: www.reidbrothersdistilling.com
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