Friends Stu and Hamish are both qualified builders, who also really like gin. In the workshop, the two tossed around the idea of making their own, and after a year or so of development, Rifters Gin was launched in August 2020.
“It first started after Stu took a trip to the UK in 2018 with his family and started learning more about the process,” said Hamish Bourke, brand and marketing manager.
Stu spoke to a friend at NZ Whiskey and in 2019 the friends got their first 2.5L still to start experimenting with.
“As qualified builders, we have used this background and knowledge to help us learn and problem solve in the world of gin,” explained Bourke.
“We have also had a lot of awesome people that have really helped us learn about distilling, and we now have a 100L copper pot still.”
The Central Otago region and the pair’s love for the outdoors has played a big role in creating some unique gins. Botanicals such as Central Otago thyme, manuka, mint, Douglas fir and elderberries, which they forage locally, allow Rifters to create very distinct flavour profiles.
This love for the outdoors is also reflected in their business ethos that focuses largely on the environment and landscape of the surrounding region. Even the name is inspired by the old mining town near Queenstown.
A Rifter is much like that of a forager or a fossicker from the early gold mining era; they explored the rifts around the hills of Arrowtown, searching for that elusive nugget. At the end of a long day, a refreshing gin was always welcomed.
The mountains, lakes and rivers that surround the distillery have captured the pair’s imagination for years. They provide the purest ingredients used to make Rifters gin. They also provide a place for those working at the distillery, locals, and visitors to explore, discover and play.
“Gin is a spirit that is very connected with the land,” expressed Bourke.
Their backgrounds in building high-end, award-winning houses has helped shape that philosophy.
“We always want to be authentic in the decisions we make and continue to work with great people.”
This authenticity is applied to sustainability within the business as well.
“Sustainability is a big one for us,” said Bourke, “Currently our 700ml products are plastic-free and we also use recycled glass in the manufacturing process of our bottles.”
Even the packaging embodies this philosophy, with its simple design and earthy colour scheme that ties into the surroundings, nature, and history of the region.
To create their unique spirit, Bourke and Stu use a two-phase crafting process.
“Some of our botanicals are soaked, and some are vapour infused. We are also very hands-on – all our products are currently hand-bottled and labelled.”
Despite being fairly new to the market, Rifters Gin has had some big achievements. It won a gold medal for its Quartz Gin, and a silver for its Original Gin, at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
Bourke believes a great spirit is something the best bartenders in the world can appreciate but is also something that can be enjoyed at home.
“A great spirit should be sippable, work with a mixer, and work in cocktails,” concluded Bourke.
“We have always wanted to craft some of the best gin in the world, so we focus on moving at a sustainable pace to ensure we aren’t pushing subpar products into the market.”