Distillery imbued with family spirit

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A burning passion and a focus on family led to the creation of a unique distillery in the Cardrona Valley.
Desiree Whitaker was the driving force behind setting up the operation.

As a 20-year-old Mrs Whitaker left New Zealand to explore the world, and while managing a bar in London, she nursed a growing love of spirits over more than 15 years.

A visit to a distillery in Scotland further excited her imagination.

After returning to New Zealand she owned and ran a dairy farm, but in the back of her mind an ambitious plan was brewing.

Mrs Whitaker took a trip to America to learn more about the distillery process, and on her return decided to sell her dairy farm, and convinced her parents Alvin and Judy Reid, and husband Ash, to join her on a bold journey to set up a distillery.

It opened in December 2015, and the following year their gin “The Source” won gold at the New York World Wine and Spirits competition.

Mrs Whitaker’s parents, her husband and sister Raewyn Reid also work there.

One of their products is a boutique cherry liqueur made in a limited seasonal run.

“In my two and a-half years of learning before I decided to build the distillery I had seen fruit liqueurs being made like this in the States .. in a sixth-generation distillery, a place called Starlight,” Mrs Whitaker said.

A suggestion by Jenny and Chas Roberts, owners of Pongs Creek Cherry Orchard in Queensberry, led to the creation of the liqueur.

“We have a philosophy here of making everything from scratch, so knowing the ingredients and making things from basics, so it’s a cherry that tastes like cherry,” Mrs Whitaker said.

“Central Otago is known for its beautiful stone fruit, so it’s wonderful to have that supply from people in the valley.”

“We get the cherries as a whole fruit, we press those to get the juice, then we take all the pulp and we put those into muslin bags.”

The juice and the pulp were then mingled with the single malt spirit “which gives a richer, denser character to the liqueur”, Mrs Whitaker said.

“We like our spirits and our liqueurs to be quite high, so this is 44.2%, which is high for a liqueur.

“We like to let the drinker know to take it slowly and enjoy it,” Mrs Whitaker said.

The liqueur was made as a seasonal release, and fewer than 1000 bottles were produced.

“It’s a small press, so we are hand-pressing everything, so that’s quite a lot of work,”

“We do it for the love of it, really,” Mrs Whitaker said.