Nothing is left to chance at BeGin Distillery in Taranaki, so it is noteworthy indeed when two reasons to celebrate coincide as they did this month at the New Plymouth boutique distillery.
On August 1 this year, Jo and Dave opened the distillery to the public for the day, to celebrate Lila's 100th run, which fell at the same time as Juno Gin's 3rd birthday. It was a coincidence worth celebrating, says Jo James, who with her husband Dave, owns and operates the business.
"We wanted to mark the occasion, and thought inviting people to enjoy a tour of the distillery and share a little of our story with them was a great way to celebrate two important milestones," says Jo.
The opportunity to see inside the distillery and hear from Jo and Dave themselves was popular, with ticket sales to the event going well, and attracting people from all over Taranaki as well as further afield.
Maheeka Weerawarna and Esther Onguta, PhD students at Massey University, had come up from Palmerston North for the day. They had come on the recommendation of Joanne Hort, their boss at Massey, who was one of the judges for the 2020 New Zealand Spirits Awards, in which Juno Gin came away with a Gold medal for the soon-to-be-released Spring 2020 as well as four Silver (Emily, Autumn, Extra Fine and Summer) and four Bronze (Jean, Monica, Navy Strength and Winter).
Within minutes of the tour starting, it is clear the careful selection of specially curated botanicals, the hidden creatures in the logo, the name of the boutique gin that is distilled at BeGin, everything you see, hear, smell or taste at the distillery has a well thought out reason or logic to it.
Even the name of the copper gin still, Lila, has a meaning.
"She is named after Futurama's spaceship captain Leela," says Dave.
The name came about because the still, designed by New Plymouth engineering company Rivet, resembles the ponytailed animated character from the animated series Futurama, he says. An avid graphic novel fan himself, Dave says the name is just one of the many personal touches he and Jo have put on the business.
Juno is named for the Roman goddess of marriage and domestic harmony, something Jo says is vital when running a business with your husband.
Their domestic harmony is based on a mutual respect for each other's ideas and skills, as well as a shared vision for how the business should run. That vision includes a clear focus on supporting other Taranaki businesses and initiatives, with what Jo and Dave call "the Juno effect" resulting on them working with over 60 local businesses in a range of areas, from the electronic programming for Lila, the design of Lila herself, to bottling, label production, printing, boxes and more.
When it comes to respecting each other's skills, that is easy. Jo has a Massey University science degree, and is generally known as being the chief taster when it comes to each Juno gin blend they create, while Dave has a food technology degree, also from Massey, and years of experience working in factories both here and in Australia.
Dave says the partnership works well.
"I love factories and Jo loves gin!"
Loving gin is something many of us can claim, but Jo's love of gin is just one part of the skillset she brings. She has a clear understanding of flavours, of how botanicals work and is constantly playing with new ingredients.
"We are really lucky, we actually have people turn up at the distillery with various fruits or seeds asking if we can use them in our gin."
They look to support New Zealand growers wherever they can, says Jo.
One key botanical in many gins, including Juno's, is the orris root, which helps create the floral scent many gins have, as well as bringing a slightly woody flavour on tasting.
"We were importing orris root from overseas at a cost of $250 a kilo," says Jo.
"We did a study with Massey university and identified a Hawkes Bay source we could use, which we now do."
Finding a New Zealand supplier wasn't about saving cost, but about focusing on New Zealand ingredients, so they still pay the same rate, says Jo.
"It is the ethical thing to do."
Another ethical thing to do, in Jo and Dave's books, is to support local and national causes and initiatives. In Taranaki the Juno name turns up on a wide range of events as a sponsor, from toy libraries to drag cabaret, New Plymouth Operatic's Wicked to helicopter rescue services, the list keeps on growing. It's not just local events they support either, with the opening of Te Papa's Alice in Wonderland Exhibition another event Juno was involved in as a sponsor. And then there's the frog.
One of the many hidden features in the Juno Gin logo, designed and hand drawn by Craig Jones, creative director of Strategy Collective, is a very special creature.
Look closely at the logo and you will see, nestling in the bottom right of the letter O, an Archey's frog, (Leiopelma archeyi). This critically endangered species measures just 37mm in real life, making it the smallest of New Zealand's four endemic frogs. Google it and you will find out many interesting facts about this tiny, endangered amphibian. It's presence on the label is because Juno Gin is an enthusiastic supporter of the Archey's frog conservation programme at Auckland Zoo.
The frog isn't the only thing hiding in the logo, there's plenty more to find, including Jo and Dave's initials, framed in a heart and carved into the trunk of a juniper tree.
When Juno's first gin was bottled three years ago, there were under 15 gin distilleries in New Zealand. Three years later, there are over 50. In that time, Dave, Jo and their trusty copper still Lila, have produced 14 seasonal gins in addition to their standard extra fine gin, one barrel aged gin and three special gins to celebrate International Women's Day. They also contract manufacture a variety of different gins for two other distilleries. In other words, they have come a long way in three years, something Jo said they had hoped for but hadn't expected it to be this soon.
"Did we expect to be building an industry? We hoped that would be the case, but are absolutely thrilled that the NZ spirits industry is going from strength to strength."
Editor Ilona Hanne was a guest of BeGin Distillery for the tour.