1919 Distilling is one of Auckland's newest distilleries. The company creates craft gins from its East Tamaki headquarters, under the supervision of founder and director Soren Crabb. Restaurant & Cafe sat down for a chat with the gin genius to talk botanicals, prohibition, and New Zealand-grown produce.

What is your company background, how did you start the business?

It all started in 2015 while I was travelling the world driving cruise ships. I fell in love with a girl named Sam. At the time my favourite tipple was rum (as one would expect from a sailor), however thanks to Sam’s charm and charisma she managed to convince me to try gin, none other than a cocktail called a Cucumber Lime Smash. That was it! I was hooked, and the seed for 1919 Distilling was planted.

While working abroad I focused on learning as much as possible about distilling, visiting distilleries whenever possible and slowly chipping away at building a distillery in New Zealand. However, it wasn't until I ordered my first pallet of bottles while sitting at a bar in Alaska that I knew it was time to come home and make 1919 a reality. Fast forward 2 years, 20+ questionable recipes, and lots of taste testing, and 1919’s signature classic gin was born. It was love at first sip.

What's the story behind your name? 

New Zealand has always been partial to a tipple or two, and in December 1919 the prohibition vote reached a tantalizing 49.7%. No one knew it at the time, but this would be the closest New Zealand would ever get to introducing prohibition. When I found this out, that was it! 1919 Distilling was born in honour of the 50.3% of kiwis that stood up for their right to a tipple. We are proud to say will distil all of our gin in a custom-made modular still built right here in New Zealand.

What are the current product range and variants and how do these products stand out in the market?

Currently, 1919 has two gins on the market: our 1919 Classic and our 1919 Summer Pink Gin. In order to stand out, we celebrate being New Zealand-made, while focusing on using classic New Zealand-grown botanicals that are all too often overlooked. We have ventured into the Bay of Islands to source our Manuka Honey from individual beehives. We source handpicked lemons and oranges before painstakingly peeling them. We source cherries from Otago, and our commitment to using locally grown produce means all of the strawberries used in our 1919 Summer Pink Gin are grown in New Zealand.

Has there been any recent company news?

Recently we have joined forces with Blush Gin to push the boundaries of botanical bliss into a place anything New Zealand has seen before! Earlier this year I meet Chris Thomas and Elliot McClymont of Blush Gin at Gindulgence, New Zealand’s first Gin Festival. A friendship formed, and we were pretty excited and impressed about what each other's work.

For small craft spirit producers, our main issue is that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. You have to be incredibly passionate to build a brand from the ground up. By combining forces we now have a team of three highly creative, motivated, and passionate individuals working in synergy. We don’t want to give too much away but we have been shaping some pretty amazing products over the last few months. Expect to hear more from this exciting new partnership over the coming months.

What are the plans for the business moving forward, is there any expansion on the horizon?

Currently, we are focusing on growing our business in New Zealand - we started with a 100L still that was quickly outgrown by demand. With our new NZ made 600L still in operation we are able to push the boundaries and have been working on some pretty amazing things, including a New Zealand Single Malt. But most importantly, we are excited to be able to take our gin out on the road and get it out there for all Kiwis to enjoy.

As part of this, we have now expanded distribution in Auckland / West Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and Dunedin, and are excited to move further into the south island. Looking ahead we have plans for a tasting room and regular tours. We can't wait to see what drinks bartenders come up with using our gin.

Where are your products currently available to buy, and are you looking at or wanting to expand your availability? If so, where would you like to see the product situated?

Behind the scenes, we've been working to expand the availability of our gins without sacrificing quality, and we couldn't have done it without the amazing support of Liquorland, The Trusts West Auckland, and Regional Wines Wellington. Ultimately we would like to bring 1919 gin to as many Kiwis possible and establish a national presence in the on-licence trade. 1919 gin can be found from the Bay of Islands to Christchurch, but if we haven't made it to your town yet 1919 gins are available nationwide through our website.