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Rotorua first-time gin distillers make it to New Zealand Spirit Awards

The weeks of anticipation for a trio of Rotorua gin makers is finally over. While their Pink and White (London Dry) gins won medals last month at the New Zealand Spirit Awards 2021, they were pipped at the post for the title of New Zealand’s Best Gin on Friday.
 
The guys, who started their venture only a year and a half ago, might be out this time around but they’re definitely not down.

“We were mainly happy to be a part of that experience. We rubbed shoulders with a few more experienced heads. They've been here before and experienced similar acceleration. We’ll recover and pivot,” said Mitch Collins, one of the founders of Pink & White Geothermal Gin.

Mitch and mates Kurt Matthews and Brad Christie were stoked when their maiden products earned double gold for their White gin, and silver for their Pink. Those results put their white gin in the top three out of 145 gins entered nationwide, and in the running to earn the prestigious best gin award. Exciting times for these first-time distillers.
 

Harnessing the heat in Rotorua

When they first started distilling, Mitch said it was more of an excuse for the boys to get together and dream a bit. Both Mitch, who comes from a geothermal background, and Kurt, a master of all trades, were independently wondering how they could build a geothermally powered still, using the heat from the earth in Rotorua to make a boutique product. Brad heard a common theme among his mates and put the two together.
 
While working on sourcing a geothermal bore, they were keen to get into it, so they began distilling gin in late 2018 in Brad’s garage after Mitch talked them out of making their favourite: rum.
 
Word got around that the guys were onto something good, and when they decided to go commercial, they shifted over a small section at Rotorua craft-beer masters Croucher Brewing. After a year and half, they sold their first bottle post-lockdown in late 2020. Small-town side note: Kurt and Brad were students in Paul Croucher’s science class when he taught at Western Heights High School.
 
The Crouchers have been their biggest supporters to date, Mitch said, augmenting their license to accommodate a distillery, helping with bottle sales through their Brew Bar on Eat Streat and as mentors.
 

Making hay while the sun shines

When the Spirit Awards came around this year, they had entered “kind of on a whim,” Mitch said.
 
Ironically, the results came just as the team was actually considering scaling back in order for the hobbyists to maintain a more sustainable workload as all three are family men with fulltime jobs.
 
When they got the news, Mitch said his first thought was ‘Help!’
 
“We had basically taken a two-month break and decided to just do as little as possible and then with [the awards results], it was like, ‘Now we’ve got a lot of attention, now we’ve got a lot of demand. How do we quickly ramp up production?’
 
“The result has made us pivot somewhat and encouraged us to go from hobby distillery to one dedicated part-time worker, making as much hay as possible while the sun is shining.”
 
How important have the awards and recognition been for Pink & White?
 
“It definitely validates us. Now we have the confirmation that Kurt’s recipe IS good in the eyes of some esteemed judges, so we can now be a bit more confident in how we push our brand to bars, restaurants and bottle stores.
 
“And we’ve got those two gold stickers on the side of the bottle that people will instantly recognise now and that’s amazing because we were just a few punters before, trying to push up against all these businesses that had their costs so well covered. Our costs of making each bottle are just so much more and as we’re not in a volume market, we’re trying to make quality at the moment.”
 
Mitch said the goal is to stay in the boutique gin lane and focus on that quality. There are plans to take advantage of other local, native botanicals to create additional flavours, too, said Mitch, to further the brand.
 
“And the guys are just hanging out to make a rum, too, so we expect that on the cards sometime soon.”
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