Distilling your own spirits: A drop of the easier stuff

By Kim Austin

Carl Skelton says brewing is simple and saves megabucks. KELLIE BLIZARD
Carl Skelton says brewing is simple and saves megabucks. KELLIE BLIZARD

Thousands of boutique home distillers pursue their quest for the perfect tipple in homes across Auckland. Kim Austin reports on the boom.

Mt Eden moonshine, Herne Bay hooch, Sandringham swish. Call it what you will, home distilling is en vogue across Auckland and there's nothing Boss Hogg can do to stop it.

Because of a law change in 1996, New Zealand is the only Western country where it's legal to make your own spirits.  You can't get away with this sort of carry-on in Australia,  the United States or  Europe.

What was once  a furtive activity  by bearded men with kerosene tins and rubber tubing has matured into a respectable hobby, even for those not wearing dungarees.

Peter Morgan, of Brewcraft in Mt Eden, is a keen distiller and says all sorts of people make their own spirits, and he hasn't met a toothless hillbilly yet.

"There's a real myth about home distillers but the reality is that 95 per cent of them are actually quite wealthy," he says. "They could go to a bottle shop and buy their own spirits, but a lot of them enjoy it as a genuine hobby and can actually make spirits that are better than you can get in the shop."

Peter reckons there's a real boom going on in the world of home-made liquor and that it will  continue as more people discover how satisfying it is.

"Home brewing in general is in its golden years. Yes, it boomed with the recession, but now people have discovered it they are making really good stuff - spirits, wine, beer and even cheese.

"I think there's also a big culture in New Zealand of people knowing what's in their drinks. They're calling it 'homecrafting' now."

And some Kiwis have been doing it very well. Boutique liquor brands have popped up all over the show in the past few years and are one of New Zealand's modern economic success stories. Peter says this is thanks to our liberal laws, which allow you to master the art in your own kitchen with very little layout.

"These guys that come out with these new drinks, 42 below and this new rum that's out. All they're really doing is home distilling, trying to create and perfect a product."

And it's easy to see how they got enthused with the wealth of options available.

One guy keen to take up the challenge is budding still master Carl Skelton, a fit-looking 36-year-old who spends his days as an industrial abseiler.

Disappointingly, he does not have a beard. Nor is he wearing flannel. Maybe Peter was right.

Carl has, however, completed his first distillation and is now hooked. "It is real easy. You can pick and choose your flavours. I did white rum, black sambuca, bourbon and a limoncello."

So chuffed is Carl with the results that he is already eyeing up round two and thinking about entering an amateur spirit-making competition.

"I'm contemplating whether to give it a shot.

"I'd better get my bum into gear I suppose.

"I'm thinking a spiced rum or a schnapps of some kind".

Carl says his new hobby saves him "megabucks" and appeals to his sense of No8 wireness.

"I think I'm a bit of a DIY person but at the same time you can't be too rough with it.

"You've got to be hygienic and careful with what you do, but it's pretty simple really - if you can wash your hands you can do it."


Distilling your own spirits is legal in New Zealand for personal consumption only.

Bootlegging at the market will end in trouble. Whisky and vodka are the most popular spirits made, but you could try cocktails or maybe a nice schnapps.

To keep up to date with what's happening in the world of home distilling,

the monthly newsletter, Tall Spirits, is available through www.spiritsandbrewing.co.nz


- The Aucklander

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