Justine Schroder, mother, farmer, and creator of Mt Fyffe Distillery, loves a challenge.
When Schroder came to New Zealand two decades ago, she became a midwife. However, after the Kaikoura earthquakes, she realised she couldn’t go back to midwifery and decided to look closer to home for other options.
“To find something that I was passionate about and that inspired me was my goal,” said Schroder.
“I confided in a friend saying that I can do better than ‘Gordans’ and want to make botanical gin, expecting her to laugh and pass it off as another hair-brained idea.”
Not only did her friend not laugh, she encouraged Schroder to follow that dream and attended a beginners gin making course with her for moral support.
"I returned home, bought a still, and started experimenting with different botanicals that I found around the farm."
That was two years ago, and since then, Schroder has been very proactive, learning about the spirits industry, developing gin, creating a brand, and finally launching her products.
Gin is all about the story, said Schroder, the botanicals she sustainably forages and what those botanicals mean for the blend she wanted to create.
“Farming and family was one direction I wanted to take my gin,” and it was these two factors that inspired Woolshed Gin.
“I wanted to take the gin lover on a journey through the farm. The result is a boldly botanical classic London dry gin.”
The other direction was something completely different.
"Using the flight path of the Hutton shearwater bird, endemic to the Kaikoura coastline, I used botanicals from the mountains and sea."
Schroder created an oceanically fresh, contemporary gin that showcases Kaikoura to the spirit industry using this unique inspiration and ingredient sourcing.
Schroder is involved in every aspect of her business. As the sole owner and operator, Schroder is part of the process from the very beginning to the very end.
"I am a one-woman band," she said.
"From foraging for botanicals, drying them, distilling, bottling and labelling. Making the boxes by hand that they are packaged in to sustainably wrapping them, following through with feedback. Creating and developing the website, marketing, and hearing from buyers."
Sustainability is a very integral part of Schroder's processes. Apart from the bespoke bottles she imports from Europe, everything else has been sourced and utilised as locally as possible.
“Supporting locals is fundamental to my business.
"I have reduced plastic everywhere I can. The packaging is hessian, and wood and the box is packed in paper and string for postage. The water I use is from the spring water on the farm, and the spent botanicals go into my garden to produce rich, wormy soil for veggies to grow."
At the NZ Spirit Awards, Schroder won the Emerging Product Trophy. A week later, she launched Mt Fyffe Distillery, and a week after that was hosting a stall at the winter Gindulgence in Christchurch.
“Having a stall at a massive gin festival like Gindulgence a week after launching seemed like a bonkers idea, but I thought what a fantastic thing to do so soon after a launch,” explained Schroder.
"I could connect with the public, find out what they like about my gin, get some valuable feedback early on in the piece, and network with some incredible distilleries in the industry."
Schroder believes the key to a great spirit is the foundation. The neutral spirit is critical for creating a smooth, well-balanced and rounded spirit.
“I also think having that passion and determination to produce the very best spirit you can goes a long way. The drive and inspiration I have for my gins have certainly helped me stay on track and put 100 percent into the business I’ve created.”
Following on from this, Schroder suggests bartenders let the gin shine when creating their drinks menu.
"The tonics and garnishes need to be there to allow the gin to shine. Light organic tonics give you that hit of quinine with the gin, but it doesn't overpower or change the botanicals that you want to taste."
Looking towards the future, Schroder hopes to put Kaikoura on the Gin map of New Zealand. “That is what the future holds as I continue to make and create great gins.”
"To stay true to my beliefs and values that this business has been formed with a desire to do something unique within the farm and for the local area" are also things Schroder will keep in mind during her journey.