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How to Drink Cardrona Spirits with Sarah Elsom

How to Drink Cardrona Spirits with Sarah Elsom

Our guest today fell into distilling after years of being a self-proclaimed Pinot chaser. What is it exactly that drew her over to the spirit world? 

Sarah Elsom, Master Distiller of the Cardrona Distillery on the South Island of New Zealand, knew she wanted to work in wine from the age of 16.  That passion took her all over the world and back again.

When she returned home, she was lucky enough to walk into the fledgling Cardrona Distillery, and she has never left. Cardrona has grown over the years to produce not only award-winning whisky but also vodka, gin, and liqueurs. 

Thanks to the miracles of modern science, I was able to chat with Sarah, who guides us through Cardrona’s approach to spirit making while she was in New Zealand and I was home in London!

Cocktail of the Week: The Cardrona Raspberry Cooler

Cardrona Raspberry Cooler
A tasty raspberry wonder straight from New Zealand's Cardrona Distillery. Using their singular gin, The Source, this cocktail is perfect for summer!
Check out this recipe
Cardrona’s Raspberry Cooler

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Sarah. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!

This transcript is sponsored by:

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Susan: I’m really excited to have you here and to talk about all your brands because you don’t do only whisky, but you do a lot of other things. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, how you got into distilling, how you found yourself at Cardrona.

Sarah: Yeah, sure thing. Well, thank you very much for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here. My name is Sarah Elsom. I work for Cardrona distillery. I have been there since the place was a building site. So it is well and truly a part of my every day, of my past and my future. I love that place. It’s home. And I landed there.

I was home in between harvests. So my direction or my vocation was actually winemaking. I chose winemaking at a really young age. I was, I think, 16 and at high school. Around that age, where teachers start putting that kind of idea in front of you of, you need to start thinking about what you want to do for the rest of your life.

I, at that time, was very engrossed in sports, still am, so had the, I guess, the privilege of playing with older high school students that were making those decisions, even though I wasn’t quite there yet, and one of them was looking at viticulture and oenology at a university that was about six hours away from home.

I wasn’t drinking wine at the age of 16, but I think I just loved this idea of studying something that would take me to all these beautiful places around the world. So I was really motivated by travel and then complemented by the fact that it was a science degree, but it wasn’t medicine or it was something that’s still allowed room for creativity.

It wasn’t really a linear direction. It could go any way and nothing else really captivated me more. So I’m at the age of 16. I think that that kind of came into my peripheral and it never left. So I chose what university I’m just going to go to and what course I wanted to study quite, quite early.

I think I was just lucky that when I got there, I really loved it. It wasn’t just this idea. It was something that came to fruition and I met some incredible people and I was at a university that was quite practical. So you dive in quite quickly. I loved that and I did kind of think maybe I’d get more into selling one as opposed to making it.

So it took my first job after university for me to realize that I’d much rather get my hands dirty and do the practical work, and then let those products speak to them.

Susan: Do you remember the first time you had wine?

Sarah: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. But I mean, I’m a Kiwi girl through and through. So we basically cut our teeth on Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, so probably explains why I love acidity and freshness and brightness in anything that I drank. My first harvest experience was the polar opposite of that. I went and worked in the Barossa Valley and made kind of the inkiest deepest, darkest reds that you can imagine.

I’ve experienced it all. I’ve tended to gravitate towards Pinot Noir and I love that it’s on the cusp of a climate that can even grow grapes. I love that it has grown in the vineyard and if it’s not growing well, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t turn into a beautiful wine and it’s tricky, it’s challenging that it can go in so many directions.

So I’ve definitely been a bit of a Pinot chaser, and that’s taken me to California and to Canada and to Burgundy and France, and then back to Central Otago, which is now home.

Susan: Well, thank goodness that when you made this decision, you did like wine and that you didn’t think, oh, maybe I made the wrong choice.

Sarah: Yeah, I mean, I made it young enough that I could have been completely off the track. No, I loved it and it did exactly what I wanted it to do. It’s taken me all over the world, I’m very grateful for it.

Susan: And so, wine making and distilling, how were they similar and how were you drawn into then distilling?

Sarah: I think the lifestyle of winemaking created the opportunity to fall into distilling. And at that point in my career, it was very seasonal. I was chasing that harvest rush between Southern and Northern hemispheres. It was in coming home. I was in between jobs.

So you slow down and you look around and you fill those gaps. And those gaps to me were always with jobs in hospitality and talking about wine and serving wine. and of course, when you do that, you need to know a little bit about spirits. So I looked to the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.

I started doing a couple of papers and there was a distillery that was being built down the road. I had never even been to a distillery, at this point, because it never really appealed. I was always chasing wine experiences and, that slowing down in between harvest and taking that time to look around and broaden my horizons, I was able to go and visit a distillery that was at a construction phase.

Yeah, it was open to the public, had the conversation with the right people. I met with the manager and I was looking for maybe a part-time job just to  fill more gaps. and I walked away from that coffee, that conversation with the job and that was in 2015.

Susan: Had you been a drinker of any spirits? Like did you like G&T or were you always, any time you could drink, it was wine?

Sarah: I definitely loved a G&T. I loved the idea of a cocktail but I never really gave spirits the same time that I gave wine. I didn’t sit and sip them neat and consider how they were made. It was more than that, They were always with something else, be it a cocktail or with tonic or soda. So I think it took learning how to make spirits for me to appreciate the work that goes into how spirits are made.

Susan: So when you started that first job, about how long did that take you? Was it immediate when you were like, oh my God?  Was it like an eureka moment?

Sarah: Yeah, I mean I think because it was a brand-new build every day was exciting because we were unwrapping furniture and we were turning on stills. We’re just being commissioned. We were learning how to do it together every step of the way. so every day was absolutely a school day and we were playing with this shiny equipment and this brand-new plant.

We were discovering what things could taste and smell like that hadn’t ever been made before. So, it was exciting from day dot and that hasn’t changed. That kind of eureka moment, I don’t know if it was just one, I think it was just really fun from day dot and yeah, that hasn’t changed.

Susan: A series of eureka moments, right?

Sarah: Yeah, definitely. I think I remember my eureka moment with whisky. And that was, I think with whisky, a lot of, and I hear this all the time, people, they believe that it’s not the spirit for them, that they’ve maybe been introduced to one that is really strong be it in flavor, be it in alcohol. Maybe it’s heavily peated and aggressive for their first taste. But I think when you find that one that is just delicious and it goes on forever.

For you that’s when you can really start to get into whisky and appreciate how it’s made and where it comes from and the people that made it. And for me, that was at the top of a ski field. We hiked to the summit and someone got out of hip flask. and II think it was the best thing I’ve brought to my lips.

Susan: You know, it’s funny. I was just at a lunch yesterday and one of the girls at lunch was saying, oh no, no, I don’t drink whisky. I hate it. And I was like, have you ever had Bourbon and she said, no, I said, okay, come back to me when you’ve tried that and then tell me!

I also read a book on whisky and they said, there’s always one for you. So, I’m totally with you there. There is that one whisky moment. Now, the distillery that you started in, what were they planning or what did they make? Was it starting with gin and then going onto whisky?

Sarah: So that was Cardrona. Cardrona been the sole total of my career in distillation and, for Desiree, her vision was to celebrate malted barley. So make spirits all from the same base alcohol, she was always going to make a vodka and whisky. Absolutely.

The liqueur kind of came as she was researching and traveling the world and that was going to be an orange liqueur, which is our signature. It was gin that came a little later, that came a year into us being in full production mode. So that was the last to the table but has very much cemented itself as part of our portfolio, is what we do. So Cardrona is really all I know. I think it’s great that we make a range of spirits. I think the fact that it’s all from the same base spirit is not a limiting factor. If anything, it’s more exciting.

Susan: All right. Okay. We have to unpack that a lot. So I didn’t realize your first foray into distilling is where you are now. How exciting. So then go back to maybe a little history, maybe when you went for the job interview, what were they telling you? What was the thinking before they even had a distillery? What was their mindset? What was Desiree’s mindset? And the other folks who created it.

Sarah: So the conversation for me personally was, was I going to go in and be a guide. So the fact that I had experiences as a wine maker that I’ll be able to pick up the content quickly and adopt those principles and be able to communicate them clearly to visitors. I just found myself drawn to production as I do and happened to fall more into a production role within the first month or two. but the initial conversations were that I would be more of a communicator and a guide.

Thinking back there was only 12 of us when we started, so everyone actually did everything. There was no, you’re a guide and you’re a distiller and you’re making coffee and you’re whipping up food for visitors. It was drop tools and go on and make sure everyone that walks through the door has just the best time.

Susan: How long was it from unwrapping all the furniture to actually taking guided tours around?

Sarah: I mean, that team came on in the last couple of  months of the construction period. It was a full year’s work. I mean, a lot of work goes into the planning, the resource consent, the breaking ground, and Desiree can take full credit for it for so much of that. The actual construction of the distillery took a full year, largely made by her father and her husband, Ash Whitaker. We came on around September, October, and we opened the doors to the public, early December.

Susan: All right. Well, tell us the thinking behind, even starting the distillery, why did it even come about?

Sarah: That’s Desiree’s story And it’s one that we tell every day, because it is a remarkable one. Des left university. She went off to be a lawyer and it was not for her. She made quite a brave decision to walk away from something that she was very good at. She’s an incredible student, she’s an academic to the core.

She dropped out of uni and she went over to the UK, instead of pouring pints. It seems to be a rite of passage for a lot of Kiwis. We like to get on planes and go and find ourselves, And she should fell in love with spirits over there. I know she was pouring these beautiful single malt whiskies for her patrons in a cool little bar in London.

I think that was possibly where a seed was planted. It definitely was for her for love of spirits and, but it was many years later before the distillery was born, she came back to New Zealand. Followed her father into dairy. So she has a strong background in and running a dairy farm and taking something small and making it big and successful.

But again, it was not for her. So she sold that farm and it was the capital from that sale that allowed her to sit down and do some soul searching and think about what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. And so she started writing lists about things that really excited her, scrapping them, starting again, researching them, thinking about how she could create an artisan type product in New Zealand and put her own  spin on it. Things like New Zealand’s version of Buffalo mozzarella or salmon farming. and she looked very closely at perfume and we actually are, Cardrona Distillery is surrounded by over 2,500 perfumery roses.

We are growing with the thought that perhaps one day we will make a perfume. So that dream is definitely not forgotten, but it was in researching alcohol for perfume. So neutral alcohol that dream evolved and became spirit alcohol for consumption. So from perfume went whisky and from whisky went let’s celebrate our raw ingredients and make more than whisky.

So vodka made from malted barley not trying to strip away flavor and really celebrate the byproducts of fermentation beyond ethanol and celebrate all those great esters and capture them in the glass and have a vodka that has weight, that has aroma, and then use it as this incredible base for gin that celebrates local botanicals, for liqueurs that just go on forever and she has done something pretty cool.

Susan: Now, was it always going to be malted barley in her head that she was going to make the spirit out of?

Sarah: Yes.

Susan: Why was that?

Sarah: I think the idea of creating a premium New Zealand single malt whisky was the driving force. And then the diversion of other spirits happened naturally. But that thing is making single malt whisky. Our country is small and very proud. I think when we go for something we want to compete on the world stage. So she went for the king of grains.

Susan: And the vodka, how long did it take before she had a vodka that she thought, okay, I’m going to bottle this.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, well, the vodka and the whisky become two very different things, depending on the still we used to distill them. They’re the same in the tun room and creating the base alcohol. Then the vodka is captured with column stills versus copper pot stills for the whisky. I mean, we can make vodka in eight days, from milling to getting in a bottle, I think it definitely took time to commission those stills and to discover what that  ester profile needed to look like.

Because if you’re a vodka drinker and you’re searching for neutrality or that purity in the form of it tasting like absolutely nothing, then the Reid is not for you. The Reid is almost the gateways to whisky because it has weight in it. There’s so much going on in the glass.

Yeah, and I think, I mean, we can’t underestimate the planning and the little choices that you make along the way in building a distillery that create your signature style, you can’t undo the shape and size of your stills and their construction. I would imagine that she spent a lot of time thinking about these details absolutely.

Susan: Yeah, I must’ve been so exciting to be there the whole time. When the first batch, right from the still and tasted it, it must’ve been really exciting.

Sarah: It still feels like that. Just the whisky is aging and every time we taste an older spirit, it’s the first time we’ve ever tried it at that age. So there’s still definitely the excitement.

Susan: Absolutely. So you first had, the vodka, the Reid.

Sarah: Yes.

Susan: Tell me about the naming of it. Number one, the distillery is named after the place where you are. Right. So how about the name of the vodka? How did that come about?

Sarah: So Reid is Desiree’s maiden name. the vodka was the very first thing that she made and she wanted her family and family name on the bottle. The name is hugely sentimental and is important to her. It’s also the name of her baby girl. So she named her daughter well.

Susan: Was she always going to call her whisky the name of the place?

Sarah: I’m not too sure, but I think it resonated, I mean, the place I think drew her quite early in the game. So the Cardrona Valley is very special to her. And the name, it’s the name of the valley itself is strong and it’s a place in Scotland, like so many places in New Zealand to have a connection to Scotland.

I think that felt right, that she wanted to make a whisky that would stand shoulder to shoulder with the best that Scotland could make. So I think the name of the place and being Scottish was really fitting for her ambition.

Susan: So the whisky itself, can you tell me a little bit about the process of the whisky making?

Sarah: Yeah, sure thing. We receive the malted barley on site. We mill it to our specifications, we then mash it and create a base alcohol. We apply minimal raking in the mash tun. So it’s really more about just collecting the maximum amount of natural sugar source from a grain that is highly selected.

We work with varieties that are approved for distillation through the Institute of Brewing and Distillation and we don’t want to extract too much of the husk and that grit tannin. It’s quite what we’re looking for, something that in the glass will be strong, but fruit forward and layered and not overly kind of woody or aggressive, so minimal raking in the mash tun.

Our fermentation program is a minimum of 72 hours in tank. You need at least 48 to 50 to capture the ethanol potential of a fermentation and, hours beyond that, you’re really starting to make stylistic decisions. So the push to 72, that extra time in tank allows these quite interesting byproducts.

The yeast become stressed and they create aldehydes and acids that become esters. A really predominant one is isoamyl acetate, which just smells like banana and pear. The tun room itself just smells like banana bread on day two of the fermentation. It’s really delicious. And then beyond that, you get secondary fermentation characters.

You get a bit of lactobacillus bacteria and we probably getting a bit more of that now, and we will in the future when we’re producing more. We’re growing into ourselves right now and we’ll leave things in tank for 72 and then it’ll be off to the Stillhouse. Whereas right now at 72 hours, we take a little bit out of the tank and we distill it.

Then the next day, we’re back again. We actually end up with wash in the tank for up to 105 hours. So lots of time to create a lot of character and people don’t often realize when they visit distilleries that the character of a whisky or any spirit is really created in fermentation and what you create and your base alcohol, the stills are designed to capture that.

We do place a lot of emphasis on our fermentations and fermentation program and what we can achieve in that room and from there on they’re off to the stillhouse. The still that they are sent to determines what they’ll end up being – be it whisky and be it vodka and beyond.

Susan: Now the barrels that they go into, what have you decided to use?

Sarah: We, I mean, we definitely started off down the more traditional route of, of capitalizing on beautiful Kentucky ex-bourbon barrels. They come over from America and we’ve had one load from Breckenridge, Colorado as well, just to spice things up. Then we’re very fortunate to get hold of a few ex-Oloroso Gonzalez Byass sherry botas, so fantastic to work with.

We’ve continued to  hold onto that sherry element in our maturation portfolio because it does serve our new make spirit so well. Then, of course, being in Central Otago. We had to  capitalize on this location and we have a great relationship with an incredible Pinot Noir producer, Felton Road in Bannockburn, 40 minutes over the hill through the mountain pass. And at Cardrona, we grab about  60 to a hundred of those a year.

Susan: Now, of course, the American in me wants to know – the different ex-bourbon barrels from Kentucky and Colorado. Are you finding that they produce much different flavor?

Sarah: I think so. Yes, absolutely. I think we did a single class release at the Breckinridge. I think it was probably our most sweet and effervescent type. It was just a lot more alive in the glass and I think we’ve got a large proportion of Heaven Hill. There’s a little bit of Four Roses dotted in there and Woodford Reserve.

When we launched the Solera, our on the shelf whisky all the time versus single cask. That is a marriage of both sherry and bourbon brought together. So we are kind of looking to iron out those  differences. But I think in tasting individual tasks, absolutely. It’s its own little microclimate.

Susan: Yeah, it must’ve been so interesting to have that because you think of the, hey, a barrel that has had bourbon in it, at least for the layman, would pretty much give you the same taste, but one from Colorado, which has such a cold, cold weather, and one that has such hot weather in Kentucky, that they would of course give out a different flavor.

Sarah: Yeah, I think it’s really also really important because we’re not practicing shaving and re-charring and recreating something on site just yet, maybe down the road. But for right now, we’re really just celebrating where we source the barrels from. So Desiree and Ash did a lot of work and, you know, hard work, traveling the world and finding bourbons that they loved and trying to grab those barrels because ultimately it is a huge part of the result.

Susan: I would love to have been on that trip.

Sarah: Yeah. She even wants back and revisit them,

Susan: You’re the master distiller you can say, oh, you know, we need to go back and redo that!

Sarah: Well, now that we can travel again, maybe I’ll bring it up.

Susan: Right. Exactly. Exactly. now what is the youngest and the oldest whisky that you have already bottled?

Sarah: We did launch a three-year and that was never really part of the game plan from the start where Desiree really wanted to wait until 2025 and launch a 10-year and not do anything earlier. Celebrate the white spirits, let them do the talking and let them keep us afloat and then release just phenomenal whisky.

But people were hungry. They wanted to know what was going on in that barrel. There was so much excitement about the potential of Cardrona and I think just tasting through casks and getting the opinions of people that have tried a lot of young whiskies and seeing where they’re at and where they can go and recognizing potential early.

We were very fortunate to be visited by the likes of Dave Broom and Charles MacLean and some big names in whisky. And they were like, what are you doing? And so it was requested and it was really important to do that, The whisky was launched with that very open and honest recognition that we know that that it’s young. So the three-year was put on a shelf with a label that said Just Hatched

Then our five-year, which we’re now celebrating is called Growing Wings. We have somewhat adopted the New Zealand Falcon as a bit of a mascot. It is a bird that visits us and is special to this country and to our distillery and it’s become our way of symbolizing the fact that this is this young whisky that is really just a snapshot in time. How exciting is it that it tastes like this now! Because just think of the adult whiskey to come.

Susan: Yes, of course. Do you know what it’s going to be called? The 10-Year ?Are you allowed to tell us?

Sarah: I know, so next year when we will be releasing a seven year, and that will be called Full Flight. So I can definitely tell that. I think when we get to 10 and beyond, we’ll celebrate age statements for what they are.  We might look at single casks. Absolutely. But fun expressions where we play with age statements, time will tell. I think we’re figuring this out as we go.

Susan: Now while that’s all in the barrels waiting, you also have produced these wonderful, liqueurs. Was that always part of the game plan?

Sarah: The orange came on very early. That was conversations at trade shows, bumping shoulders with teachers. Desiree formulated that recipe really quite early for the orange liqueur and then because the recipe is simple. What we do is we infuse flavor with that single malt spirit. So celebrate everything.

The Reid, prior to dilution, offers all those beautiful esters that wait and then compliment that with an infusion of fruit or flower or flavor and never anything artificial and then use sugar and water to balance the elements to create mouthfeel and to soften and lengthen and keep the alcohol higher.

Now all of our liqueurs are over 40% ABV and they are designed to be sipped neat or crafted into a beautiful cocktail, but one where they’re the hero. They’re in there and they’re not just that five mil splash of the color or to balance things out. They’re the standout players, So orange is, but the other ones that have followed, no, I guess we’ve got three this year that we’ve never done before, which is quite exciting. So there’s these room to play with the liqueurs absolutely.

Susan: Now why was orange, the first choice out of everything?

Sarah: I think it’s definitely a flavor that marries well with whisky, perhaps. You think of it in an Old-Fashioned or cocktails come to mind where orange is definitely something that is worked in. I think for Des it was really just her love of Cosmopolitans.

Susan: I love it. And I was going to say Margarita.

Sarah: Makes a delicious Margarita absolutely.

Susan: Yeah, fantastic. So what were the other flavors that followed?

Sarah: The ones that followed where an elderflower, so a bit of lemon in that as well. That’s really, very beautiful, bright, and suited to effervescence. Put a little bit of soda water, or with a little bit of champagne and you’re off. Then one that Desiree  set on and came up with at home, detached from anything else, was our butterscotch liqueur and that’s something that she’s chosen to not communicate in the tours with the process. She wants to keep that as a family recipe that she passes down to her daughter. So her daughter can pass it down to her daughter.

Susan: Now butterscotch doesn’t surprise me because as a lover of whisky, obviously butterscotch is always one of those flavors that I find in whisky, at least in bourbon caramel, that always comes to mind. Have you played with it with your whisky?

Sarah: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, we always do. We’ve got an incredible, little cocktail bar on site and I say little because it wasn’t part of Plan A. It’s been somewhat of a pop-up bar, but the team are so creative and making cocktails was an incredible way for us to engage with our customers, with local bartenders.

We currently have an international competition on the go where the best bartenders of United Kingdom and New Zealand are going to come together at a grand final here in New Zealand in September of this year, so regional finals are happening right now. This is a really exciting way for us to see how spirits can be played with above and beyond what we would have ever imagined they could be. So, yeah, we definitely had a play.

Susan: Well, I’ve jumped the gun with the cocktails. Back to your last but not least, your The Source, your gin. You said that was the last thing that you created. It’s funny when people have a distillery, they always saying, okay, vodka, gin, then the whisky, but you said it was the reverse.

Sarah: Yes. So that came on the insistence of a Desiree’s husband, Ash. He was a huge part of the build. He was basically the sales force at the start and really drove the product. He sold his business and invested in the distillery and basically just threw himself at it for the first couple of years.

And it was on his insistence that there’d be a gin. And so the gin came into the fold that little bit, later and I think it was an incredible foresight on his behalf because that gin wave that has taken over the United Kingdom has very much found its way to New Zealand and the gin in the first couple of years, especially was it was a huge part of what we did.

Susan: Apart from obviously the juniper, how did you choose which botanicals you wanted to add to it?

Sarah: It was routine. It was led by one particular team member, her name is Linda Jones. Prior to coming to Cardrona she had a previous life, and still really today, as an herbalist. So she had this really cool 10-liter copper still at home. We just played with these little micro-trials of things that would complement our base spirit, but not overpower the idea.

What The Source was to create something and celebrate the kind of esters that are in The Reid and the length that is in The Reid. Yeah, and absolutely be a gin, but not one where the botanicals were the king. I think we’ve done that with The Source. We have just six botanicals, juniper absolutely, coriander seed, angelica root. We peel the lemons fresh on the day, so fresh lemon peel, fresh orange peel.

Then local rosehip we go out and pick it everywhere it grows wild in the valley. Then we dry out so that we have it on hand throughout all of winter and spring, which is when we like to make the bulk of our white spirits.

Susan: Now I know that you have, as you said, roses for perfume, have you ever thought to use any edible roses in any of your products?

Sarah: I mean, we definitely, I mean the rosehip is something we do celebrate a lot with the gin and we’ve played with putting the rose petals in the gin still with just water to create a rose water for perhaps cocktails. It was incredibly potent, really beautiful. but I wouldn’t want it to touch the gin. It is too strong a smell on the stills, so haven’t gone back there and would need a lot more equipment or to do that down the road.

No, I haven’t played with edible roses. We do have an edible rose type garden and it services the kitchen and we have a beautiful restaurant onsite. And so the food is regularly decorated with beautiful, flat edible flowers. But the spirits not yet. At least, you never know.

Susan: There could be a liqueur on the horizon right now we were talking about cocktails. When were you creating these spirits? And this is probably a silly question, but did you have in mind how you wanted people to enjoy them, or be introduced to them first? Or were you like, okay, it doesn’t matter. However, they want to drink them that’s it?

Sarah: The answer might be different depending on which distiller you speak to. And absolutely, if you had a conversation with Des, but for me personally, no, I think you should always aim to create something that is delicious, neat. Then you create after that, if you go at something, if you try and create something that needs something else to lift it or to marry with, or to balance it, then you haven’t made a complete product. Does that make sense?

Susan: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. How does it feel to have this competition? You know that they’re taking this wonderful, neat spirit and playing with it?

Sarah: I love it because it just, they do so much more than I had ever imagined possible. I mean, there’s one contestant that took the food waste from the creation of his cocktail and made a coaster out of it. And that’s what his cocktail sat on.

Susan: Oh, no way.

Sarah: That is so great. Just little things like that. I just thought that was fantastic.

They all have a story to tell and they are competing and they’re so patient and bursting out of lockdown. So their creativity is just, I really love that. I’m really looking forward to, I mean the regional finals are happening right now, so we’re getting all that, the imagery and the footage, but the local one for this area hasn’t happened yet. So I’m really, really excited to just even attend one. Then can’t wait for the final end here at Wanaka. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Susan: Now you probably can’t reveal too much about it but were there any other surprises of combinations that you were like, oh my God, I can’t even believe that someone thought of that.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, I’m trying to, I think it’s hard to just remember just one, because the recipes that are coming through and the care that goes into individual elements. They prepare for days – this is sous vide and this is a foam that they’ve created and it’s just, it’s so far beyond simply I’ve got my shaker at home and some bits and pieces but this is artistry and this is a science. This is something that is really cool.

We’ve made sure that we’re not missing a thing. We created our own Instagram tag, hashtag. Everything’s been captured on social media, and it’s just been a real riot watching, the footage come in.

Susan: And are they using all of the different spirits?

Sarah: They just need to use one. so that’s, up them.

Susan: And when is the final?

Sarah: The final is this September and it is September the 19th and we’ve kept it quite open, just hoping that everyone will be able to travel. It’s looking like it’s going to happen. You know, we’re not going to have to cancel, which is awesome and the, yeah, the regional finals are just happening right now. So it’s coming together.

Susan: It’s going to be so exciting. I can’t wait to see what they create, And yes. So speaking of that, I always ask. Now, I know you’re a distiller, not a bartender, but I’m sure you have an opinion on this. Your top tips for the home bartender. If you have any, using your spirits, not using your spirits, whatever, whatever you think.

Sarah: Yeah. I mean, I definitely would never claim to be a skilled bartender. There are people that do that much better than me. I think it’s just really important to remove that  overwhelming fear that cocktails need to be really tricky. I think a great cocktail and is a simple one. It’s just executed well.

I think the best thing to do is just to start having a play and you’ll be surprised at what you can learn really quickly. Some of them, my favorites, just take next to no effort. Yeah. I’m not too sure if I have any real tips, Just maybe break down that barrier. If they think that you can’t do it because it is definitely something that everyone can have a crack at. I think you’d be surprised at how easily your friends will be impressed.

Susan: Exactly. Just whip about the bottle. And then they’re like, Ooh, that’s great. You have that. And also last but not least, if you could be anywhere drinking anything in the world, where would that be? And what would you drink?

Sarah: Oh, my goodness. I guess it’s quite easy. My partner and I actually flying to Scotland tomorrow, and we haven’t seen his family in about three years. So we are very much looking forward to being over there. And I think right now, I just want to be on the other side of the plane, on this big journey ahead of us and be having a whisky with his family.

I think that’d be pretty special. We’re going to have a night in Edinburgh and I love that city! So sitting in a wee bar with his family in Edinburgh sounds pretty great right now. And what would we be drinking? Most likely a whisky. And so the cocktail fans, I actually really love a whisky sour as well, as simple as they are.

I think that love of whisky and that love of acidity. What would the whisky be if I wanted a little bit of peat? maybe a Bowmore 15, that’s something that I loved when I visited Islay that that really spoke to me and otherwise, what would it be? Maybe just like an Ardmore or an A’bunadh, just a delicious, sherry dram. I think that would be my pick.

Susan: Oh, it sounds great. Gosh, I adore Scotland. It’s amazing that you could even pick two listen. Every time you go you pick new ones.

Sarah: I think that’s the joy of whisky, there is so much to discover.

Susan: I know it’s all a story. Well, thank you so much for being here. It was really, really exciting to learn about everything that you’re doing all the way over there and, safe travels. And we’ll see you on this side very soon.

Sarah: Thank you. Yeah. just to be able to do it again. I am so excited.

Susan: I know traveling. Yay. Thanks.

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