What do a contemporary art museum, a award-winning sheetmetal firm and a moonshine still have in common? More than you might expect, says Steve Scott, managing director of Rivet, a New Plymouth based sheetmetal fabrication workshop.
Steve and his team have just completed work on a project that is a little bit different to their usual work on kitchen benchtops, handrails and other architectural sheetmetal installations. On Thursday evening the team at Rivet unveiled the moonshine still they have created in collaboration with the Gore based Hokonui Trust and New Plymouth based gin distillery Begin Distilling.
Rivet was commissioned to build the still after its work on Lila, the 400-litre still designed by Dave James of Begin Distilling, attracted the attention of South island based Steve Nally, known as "the beer geek".
Steve had been tasked by the Hokonui Heritage Centre Trust to be part of their Hokonui Moonshine Museum project which required, amongst other things, a functional moonshine still.
He says the logic behind having a working still in the museum was simple.
"When I got involved in the project, one thing I thought about was what if prohibition was still in place in New Zealand today. I asked myself, where would you hide a still if that was the case, and the answer was in a museum. Make it an exhibit itself, the perfect place to hide it."
When looking into still manufacture, he says he came across overseas suppliers, but wanted a local one.
"So I asked around, and looked online to see who had built pot belly stills before in New Zealand. That led me to Begin Distilling, of Juno Gin fame and I saw they had used Rivet to build their still."
Dave and Jo James of Begin Distilling had themselves come across Rivet through the work the fabrication firm did on the famous Len Lye Centre, constructing the 14-metre-high stainless steel exterior panels that have become an eye-catching Instagram favourite for visitors and locals alike.
Steve Scott says he never imagined their work on an art gallery would lead them to the world of stills and distilling, but he has enjoyed the journey throughout.
"It's been a great collaboration and we have learned a lot. Some of it I am still learning, like the difference between the rough and the smooth when it comes to the alcohol produced!"
While many engineering projects start with a drawing, Steve and the team at Rivet were working from a slightly different brief - a papier-mâché model of the proposed still, created by Steve Nally during lockdown.
Despite the fact Steve Scott says he isn't even sure exactly what scale the model was built to, given Steve Nally just said he had blown up a balloon until it looked to be the right size when it came to building the pot-bellied still, the end result is remarkably similar to the model. When one is stood next to the other, the only clear difference is in the quality, says Steve Scott.
"Ours doesn't look as rough around the edges."
On Thursday night, guests at the unveiling were able to watch the still in action, as well as enjoy samples of some of the moonshine it will produce once installed in the Gore based museum. The Hokonui branded Moonshine is a unique blend of a grain spirit, distilled from a peat and manuka smoked barley mash prepared by Steve Nally, who says he is looking forward to seeing the new still making it in the museum itself.
"It will be a working exhibit and give visitors to the museum a true taste, quite literally, of the history of prohibition and moonshine."
He says the still was made possible thanks to the Provincial Growth Fund as well as Community Trust South, Gore District Council, the Mataura Licensing Trust, the Southland Regional Heritage Museum and the work of the Hokonui Heritage Centre Trust.
"Then there is the support and expertise provided by a number of people, from Dave and Jo James of Juno Gin through to the fantastic team at Rivet who really took this project to the next level."
The project is more than just a still he says, describing it as an art project.
"Once it is in place in Gore it will have a glass component which is made by glass artist Phil Newbury. We didn't bring that up here as we don't want the glass to break during transportation, but that will give another level again to the finished project as Phil's work is incredible to see."
The still is already an impressive mix of a range of materials and expertise, something Steve Dixon, operations manager at Rivet Engineering, describes as "a showcase" of the work the team at Rivet can do.
He says the still features a range of metals including brushed copper, polished stainless, aged brass and blued steel. Parts of the still are made out of 3D printed nylon while the two spheres which make up the body of the still were hydro-formed, a process which few fabricators in New Zealand offer.
"It's a great way to show what we can do here, and it has also been an awesome project to be part of, for the whole team."
The still will now stay at Rivet until the Hokonui Moonshine Museum is ready to re-open after the completion of the major renovation work which is currently underway at the site. Once the work on the museum is finished, the still will travel to its permanent home, hopefully in time for oyster season, says Steve Scott.
"We have loved being part of this project and look forward to seeing it in its final home later this year."