Raise a glass to the best of New Zealand spirits

It seems there’s a spirits’ revolution underway in New Zealand with an explosion in the number of distilleries in operation (up from 20 to close to 100 over the past 10 years) and the announcement of the first-time New Zealand Spirits Awards. 

The best of the best in New Zealand’s spirits have been announced in the very first New Zealand Spirits Awards. 

It seems there’s a spirits’ revolution underway in New Zealand with an explosion in the number of distilleries in operation (up from 20 to close to 100 over the past 10 years) and the announcement of the first-time New Zealand Spirits Awards. 

The inaugural Awards, hosted by industry bodies, Spirits New Zealand and Distilled Spirits Aotearoa, took place at Wellington’s Te Papa tonight (10.5.19), and received 254 entries from both local and international distilleries.

The Awards saw seven of 13 trophies won by New Zealand distilleries, with 41% of overall Awards entries from New Zealand producers. 221 bronze, silver, gold and double gold medals were won, and 90 of those were awarded to New Zealand distilleries. 

Of special note were double trophy winners, Wellington gin makers Mark Halton and Eamon O’Rourke of Denzien Urban Distillery whose Te Aro Dry took out Best New Zealand in Category for Gin, and Trophy for Best Overall in Category for Gin - all that within six months of opening their distillery door. 

Denzien, from its light-filled frontage on Lombard Lane in inner city Wellington, is the stand out local example of the new wave of distillery craft.  It is New Zealand’s first urban destination distillery, crafting innovative small batch gins in a gorgeous copper still and right in front of the customers. Popular for tutored tastings and distillery tours, it’s become the place to learn about the distiller’s art while indulging in a cocktail or a tasting flight. 

Other noteworthy trophy winners were Thomson Whisky from Riverhead (Auckland) for its Thomson Whisky Two Tone and The White Sheep Co. from Tauranga with its Sheep Milk Vodka. 

Robert Brewer, Chief Executive of Spirits New Zealand, said the New Zealand Spirits Awards exceeded expectations in its first year. “We would have been very happy to get 100 entries into the Awards, but 254 entries is truly amazing in its inaugural year,” said Robert.

Distilled Spirits Aotearoa Chair, Sue James, says the number of entries is a solid indication of the growing strength of the New Zealand spirits industry, since almost half of these entries were New Zealand distilleries and products. 

“Less than 10 years ago, there would have been less than 20 distilleries in New Zealand. And now there would be close to 100,” said Sue. “This is a wonderful place for the NZ Spirits Awards to be in its first year, and we hope it just continues to grow alongside other new industry events, like Highball.” 

Highball is Wellington's new cocktail and spirits festival, taking place the same weekend as the Awards. 

The full list of medal winners has been announced on the Spirits NZ website.

About Denzien Urban Distillery, Wellington

  • Denzien Urban Distillery opened in Lombard Lane, Wellington, in December 2018 
  • Featured in the hallowed pages of The World Atlas of Gin 2019 (one of only three NZ distilleries included) 
  • Denzien won two of the 13 trophies at the first NZ Spirit Awards (2019), including a gold medal for the flagship Te Aro Dry gin
  • Denzien also creates limited or seasonal release gins 
  • The urban distillery is the shopfront with founders Eamon O'Rourke and Mark Halton usually on hand to pour a sample selection.

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