Meet the Distiller: Elemental Distillers

Ben Leggett, Elemental Distillers' director and head distiller, was born and raised in Marlborough but spent over a decade working with spirits in the UK. 

"I went to Europe to work in tourism but gravitated to the UK and worked in a cocktail bar with no prior experience. 

"By chance, I started with the right people and got some good exposure, and 14 years later, I came back to New Zealand, bringing my international experience with me."

Leggett had worked his way up to be a brand ambassador for many well-known spirit brands, as well as being self-employed for a few years before doing a full circle and returning here. 

Originally, Elemental Distillers was the classic garage project for the first four years, but Leggett fully committed three years ago. 

Now, the brand has developed into a business that is passionate and transparent about the botanicals that go into the gin. 

"Our philosophy is transparency and traceability. Showing what botanicals go into our products, who grows them, how they're grown, and what we do with them."

These pillars of operation translated into sustainability and the distillery itself. 

"We are believers in delivering a premium product and operating sustainably, which includes our distillery. We used upcycled containers for the distillery, plus solar power, bore-water, water recirculation, worm farms and recirculation compost."

The pandemic has honed in on the importance of shopping and supporting local, but Elemental Distillers already understood those concepts. 

"We produce seasonal gin, and there are about six core botanicals that go into the Roots gin, four of which are foraged. 

"It's a sustainable source, but it's difficult to get out and collect the ingredients in the lockdown.” 

Corks, bottles and juniper are the only components imported, said Leggett.

"Juniper is the only botanical we can't get here. We have a source in Macedonia that we import about twice a year, but the price has gone up more than 40 percent in the last 18 months.

"Last year, we ran out of bottles and couldn't get any more. They don't make the type of bottles we use in New Zealand, so that was difficult."

While some might see the glass as half empty, Leggett saw the glass as half full. 

"The first lockdown positively influenced us in a way. We were one of only two sanitiser producers before the lockdown, and we'd had an article in the local paper just three days before. 

"Our article gave us good exposure, and we got inundated so much we couldn't supply the tens of thousands of litres needed."

Gin sales also increased when people realised alcohol was available online. 

This time around, though, people haven't bounced back as much as they did.

"We haven't seen the same form of engagement with online sales, and normally our gin sales would peak with the summer Christmas season, but stores just aren't doing promotions at the moment."

Despite the rough year, Elemental Distillers have some exciting innovations under their belt. 

"In June, we launched our Navy strength gin. We did a product launch with cannons, black powder, muskets, regency regalia and had a massive public event which was awesome. 

"We also joined the ecoTOTE initiative. The ecoTOTE is a 4.5L sustainably-made decanter with a special nozzle used to distribute bulk spirits, created by ecoSPIRITS.

"So instead of getting a trade account and purchasing cases of gin, clients get a reusable, refillable decanter. This means they can buy more gin for less.”

Each tote sold also plants a tree. 

"Each account gets access to an eco-forestry platform where you can click a link, and it'll show you many trees they've planted. 

"It's so detailed it has a topographical map that shows you the exact forest, the exact sapling, and the exact person who planted it."

Elemental Distillers is small right now, but Leggett has big plans for expansion. 

"We're working on export. We've got to get off-shore to drive volumes, so we're launching in Australia next year, which will open up the Asia Pacific region."

Leggett is passionate about creating good quality spirits and believes everything that leads up to the moment of taking the first sip is what makes a great spirit. 

"The drinking of the spirit is the end of the story, and a good spirit has everything building that up.

"Being part of an experience is important in a brand. You can go to a distillery, meet the people. A friend recommended it and told you about it - you're already sold before you even taste it. 

"It's about buying the moment you open it. You pay thousands of dollars for the occasion, the people, the experience and what it represents, not the liquid. We've all got that bottle of very special stuff we keep hidden in the back of the cupboard just for special people."