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“I have been moved by the generosity and the excitement.” BEN LEGG ETT

Marlborough’s community spirit

Making gin is the easy part at Elemental, a home-grown distillery in the heart of Marlborough’s wine country. Apart from the wild Macedonian juniper he adores, Ben Leggett uses New Zealand-grown, seasonally sourced, hand-harvested and home-dehydrated ingredients for his Roots Dry Gin. “While this is a romantic dream, the truth is it’s also a ridiculously complicated way to set up a gin brand,” he says happily, from a new distillery and tasting room at the Vines Village. “Every single one of our ingredients, including our juniper, is seasonally dependent. We have to get it once a year and have to get our whole year’s supply.” Elemental won the trophy for the best NZ botanical and other spirits category with its Grapefruit & Hops Bitters, at last months inaugural New Zealand Spirit Awards. All the botanicals are traceable, from the ethanol made from North Island whey, a dairy by-product, to wild kawakawa berries harvested by a couple in Kaikoura. There’s coriander seed from Hawke’s Bay, wild gorse flower from Onamalutu (west of Blenheim), organic hops from Motueka, and Gisborne grapefruit.

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Above: Clockwise - Roots Negroni, a twist on Italy’s most iconic cocktail; the peel-a-thon; Roots Dry Gin

Ben has peeled plenty of grapefruit over three years of trials, drying the zest in a dehydrator in his home garage. But the distillery build meant stepping up the order to 2000 last October, motivating the ‘Great Annual Grapefruit A’Peel’, with 35 peelers, music and food, along with the odd G&T. More than twice as many people volunteered than he needed, and a gin-loving engineer at Marlborough business Cuddon – experts in freeze-drying – then dried the zest in a day, ensuring it was preserved while pungent. “There is no end of people who have done us favours like that,” says Ben, who spent 14 years in the British spirits industry, where competition trumped community every time. “I have been moved by the generosity and the excitement.” The people who couldn’t make it to the grapefruit appeal came to the gorse-pick, he says. “We had beautiful weather, homemade sandwiches and scones, and gin-and-tonic aplenty.” Ben grew up at Rarangi and went to Marlborough Boys’ College, before heading overseas to work as a bartender, then a brand ambassador in the spirits industry. He studied the UK’s ‘ridiculous beast’ of a gin industry, realised the power of brand New Zealand, and became inspired to ‘connect those two worlds’. When he returned to Marlborough with his English wife four years ago, Ben became a brand manager in the wine industry by day, while moonlighting as a distiller. He trialled concepts and recipes before launching Elemental Bitters with business partner Simon Kelly in November 2017. He also employed a small still named Alice to develop a London dry-style gin, 100% honest in its ingredients and ethos. In February this year, after three years of picking, drying and distilling botanicals, forging friendships with growers, co-operatives and foragers, and refining his recipe, Ben took on Elemental full-time, overseeing the build of the new distillery. Its gleaming 200-litre copper still, nicknamed Fanni Chanel, is small but feisty, and will allow Elemental to increase its domestic market and export ambitions, says Ben. The tougher task will be getting his hands on the berries and blooms that make Roots what it is. “The majority of our work is sourcing and processing our ingredients before we get anywhere near Fanni Chanel.”

Profile for WildTomato

WildTomato June 2019  

Local Distilleries | New Hospice | Hanmer Springs | Marlborough Book Festival | Mountain Bike Club | Arts Festival Trust | Fashion Finery |...

WildTomato June 2019  

Local Distilleries | New Hospice | Hanmer Springs | Marlborough Book Festival | Mountain Bike Club | Arts Festival Trust | Fashion Finery |...