New Zealand's most intriguing cocktails
New Zealand wines have long claimed awards, charming visitors with the flavour of their landscapes: rocky central Otago, rolling Marlborough, and the varied terroir of Hawke's Bay. At the same time, local artisan beers celebrate regionally-grown ingredients and water with brew bars, tasting sheds and festivals. But in the past decade, Kiwi distillers have been creating interesting flavours in spirits that reflect local character. Here's how to enjoy some of the best at their source.
Auckland | Lucky Lucky's Stolen Rum Smoked Maitai
This Asian-fusion dumpling restaurant in a former strip club on Auckland's K-Road sums up the changes in this neighbourhood from redlight-district-grit to hipster haven. Great music, a limited menu of mostly bun-based small plates and cocktails from the one of the city's masters, Alex Hobson, makes this a playful speakeasy experience (it transitions from pop-up dinner spot to night club after 10pm). Alex uses Kiwi success story, Stolen Rum, to make a local twist on a classic maitai. His Smoked Maitai pairs the strong smoky, chocolate and coffee notes of the dark rum with orgeat almond syrup, fresh citrus juice (it changes with the seasonal availability) and garnish of berries and mint, served up, of course, in a classic martini coupé. He'll customise the mix for each punter, and swears this is a rum drink for the ladies.
Greytown | Salute's Lighthouse Gin Elderflower G & T
The Wairarapa is known for its wines, but the region's Lighthouse Gin has also garnered international awards (including the Outstanding Silver Award Winner in this year's International Wine & Spirit Competition) for its complex peppery notes of native botanicals, mountain spring water, and hand-zested citrus. Try it at Salute — a garden restaurant and bar in Greytown, just a few kilometres from the distillery — where mixologist Kirstin Addis creates the signature elderflower twist on the classic Gin and Tonic. She makes the cordial from elderflower trees on the Salute property, with organic limes from a customer's garden and Bootleggers tonic that comes from over the hills in Wellington. If you're liking the local tastes, Kirstin will pop olives from one of the many local plantations into your martini, or mix you the Mela mocktail of spiced apple juice from the nearby orchards.
Wanaka | The Cardrona Distillery Vesper
New Zealand's first purpose-built distillery has concocted a cocktail worthy of James Bond himself. The Cardrona Distillery's in-house barman Theo Arndt has managed to create a drink which includes all three of their signature spirits — The Reid Single Malt Vodka, The Source Gin and a Rose Rabbit Glass Rinse. Dubbed the Vesper, a nod to Ian Fleming's 1953 Bond novel Casino Royale, where the Vesper first appeared, this powerful blend of flavours is served in Mr Bond's favoured martini glass. Taking the chilled glass, Theo adds a drop of Rose Rabbit Orange Liqueur to begin. The Reid Single Malt Vodka and The Source Cardrona Gin are combined before the mixture is strained into a cocktail glass. Hidden in the Cardrona Valley just outside of Wanaka, the distillery offers tastings, tours and even a cocktail master class where visitors can learn the intricacies of creating classic and contemporary cocktails like The Vesper.
Christchurch | The Poplar Social Club's Rogue Gin Clover Club
Dux Central has reenergised Christchurch's inner city with a cluster of themed restaurants and bars. The newest baby on the block, Poplar Social Club, is a modern twist on the old speakeasy, dedicated to the craft of the cocktail. Sit in a leather booth and sup on Charles Gillet's Rogue Gin White Lady cocktail. The winning barman likes to combine Rogue's intriguing botanicals with lemon juice, Grenadine, and egg whites before garnishing the cocktail with local raspberries. Watch out for his favourite edible flowers foraged from his favourite gardens.
Queenstown | The Lodge Bar's Blue Duck vodka Vod & Gunner
Fiordland, deep in the southwest of New Zealand, is probably as far from the world capitals of taste as you can get. But it is home to some of the world's purest water, key to the handcrafted, batch-distilled Blue Duck premium vodka. Named after a rare endangered bird of the region, the vodka has been listed as one of the world's top ten. You won't find a bar in Fiordland, so head to neighbouring Queenstown, where men's outfitters Rodd & Gun have opened The Lodge Bar. Celebrating the best of back country style, the signature Vod and Gunner cocktail pairs Blue Duck vodka with East Imperial ginger ale, ginger beer, and topped with Angostura bitters and fresh citrus.
Wellington | CoCo at the Roxy's Oamaruvian Whisky Old Fashioned
A cinema with a bar that boasts one of New Zealand's best bartenders, CoCo is one of the most intriguing drinking holes in Wellington. Bartender Ray Letoa specialises in everything crazy (starting with his own outfits) and loves to talk cocktails with the punters and not just serve them. He's found the country's best whisky, matured by Oamaru whisky evangelists from Dunedin-distilled single grain whisky. The Oamaruvian, with rich toffee, floral nose and creaming soda mouth-feel with a hint of Oamaru sea spray to finish needs only a stir of castor sugar, angostura and orange bitters to open up the palate.