Patsy Bass, managing director of Reefton Distilling Co, talks about wanting to start a business in small South Island town Reefton.

What does your business do?

We are a premium spirits distillery and we produce three different gins, four fruit liqueurs and eventually whisky. We established in April 2017 and we are just about to open the doors to our retail site in the next couple of weeks.

We've got the distillery, the actual production area, we've also got a tasting bar, we do tours and we've also got a small retail store.


What was the motivation for starting it?

I'm from Reefton originally but have lived in Christchurch most of life. It was one of those post-earthquake sort of [thoughts], revisiting what we wanted to do. My husband and I decided we were in a stage of our life where we could do something a bit different and wanted to create jobs, a tourist attraction, to provide more of an opportunity for people to come to the town as a destination rather than somewhere they drive through.

How big is your team?

There are three full-time and two part-time staff and a few contractors.

How much potential is there in New Zealand's spirits market?

If you like at where wine was in the 70s and where craft beer was, the spirits industry and distilling is at the start of that wave. When we started planning a couple of years ago there were about 35 distilleries in New Zealand and most of those were ma and pa ventures on a tiny scale, now, we're at about 70 or more.

We could have hundreds, like Scotland. On the back of Scapegrace's recent win in London as the best dry gin in the world, the timing is perfect and the world is looking to New Zealand for gins and spirits. Thirty years ago New Zealand tried to start a New Zealand whisky but it was too ahead of its time, it didn't fly, but we're at a position now where we are being taken seriously and there's real opportunity.

Patsy Bass, managing director of Reefton Distilling Co. Photo / Supplied
Patsy Bass, managing director of Reefton Distilling Co. Photo / Supplied

When will you put your whisky to market?


Once we get into our new building next year we'll start putting down our whisky and do both the bourbon and single-malt style. We've got some 20 litre casks which we'll put our first whisky down in so it matures quicker. We're doing 20, 50, 100 and 200 litre casks and the first release in that 20 litre could be ready as early as six months but certainly within two years we expect it to be on the market.

Are you formerly trained in this area?

No not at all. I don't drink. Learning the ropes certainly hasn't easy like the technical and the commissioning of skills and the boilers, and even just trying to develop a taste for the spirits to compare them with others in the market. It's been a learning curve but I feel like I've broken the back of it now and I'm really glad I've done it. It's given me a whole other perspective on the business as initially I was only going to do front of house and merchandising and now I'm across the lot.

What advice do you give to others thinking about starting their own business?

Get very good people around you, and on your advisory team - they are absolutely invaluable, and keep perspective on your targets.