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Bluff in a bottle: New distillery captures area’s unique history and spirit

By Megan Bedford

The bottle of the first release, Bluff Distillery Gin, is inspired by classic ocean buoys historically used in the area. Photo / Supplied
The bottle of the first release, Bluff Distillery Gin, is inspired by classic ocean buoys historically used in the area. Photo / Supplied
A new gin, and the distillery it hails from, aim to capture the spirit and character of Aotearoa's southernmost town.

Bluff Distillery Gin is the result of efforts by co-founders Chris Fraser, Dave Nash and Blair Wolfgram to not only create a delicious, premium gin, but contribute to reinvigorating the local area.

The distillery is located within Bluff’s old freezing works that was once a major employer in the region until its closure in 1991, leaving 1500 people unemployed and an economic scar in the region. The building is part of a new development helping breathe new life into the area, with a blend of industrial, aquaculture, seafood and tourism businesses now on site.

The gin itself is classic, clean and bold with nods to the unique personality of the area and the resilience of its people.

Bluff was one of the one of the earliest areas of Aotearoa New Zealand where a European presence became established alongside local Iwi. Whalers, sealers, fishermen, entrepreneurs, prospectors and those looking to escape settled in the exposed and rugged coastal town.

Bluff Distillery Company head distiller Chris Fraser with the still they have named Hannah after famous local settler Hannah Ward Barron. Photo / Supplied

‘Bluffys’, as the locals are now affectionately known, embody a unique blend of humility and strength. “They’re made of tough stuff,” agrees co-founder and distiller Chris Fraser, who has captured that identity and pride in their special Southland home.

“Our spirits are designed to prepare you for whatever the next swell may bring,” he says.

The gin, held in a vibrant blue bottle harking back to a vintage buoy significant to the areas maritime heritage, is only the first of great things to come.

We caught up with co-founder and brand director Dave Nash to learn more:

Where did the inspiration to get into distilling in Bluff come from?

I have two wine businesses and brands in Hawkes Bay and Marlborough; they represent a sense of place, which a common thing in the wine industry. Looking at the local spirits industry unlike Ireland and Scotland for example not many producers leverage a sense of place in their product and story, so when I was approached by Blair and Chris with the idea of building a distillery in Bluff it all clicked for me. Amazing raw location, great stories and untapped local talent. All the ingredients were there to create something really special.

What makes Bluff Distillery Gin stand apart? 

I think it’s more about what we don’t do that makes it stand apart. London Dry Gin was perfected about 900 years ago, why mess with it. Everything in Bluff does what it says on the tin, so that’s what you get. A great classic style, juniper-forward so you get those lovely aromatics and then an incredibly clean feel on the palate.

How do you like to drink it?

I love martinis and this is a great martini gin, my go to would be a classic dirty gin martini, or a vesper, clean with a twist of citrus. It also goes really well with East Imperial Yuzu and their classic old world tonic. Add a slice of cucumber and come cracked pepper, try it!

Best ways to mix it or cocktail ideas?

We recently had a mixologist make up some cocktails for Bluff season, I was terrified by the idea but it was actually delicious. The Bluff Oyster Dirty Martini, where they took some fresh Bluff Oyster ‘juice’, and used that in place of the brine – it was actually delicious, added a creamy aspect that was a great contact in the flavour profile. A few drinks in, this was extended to adding an entire Bluff Oyster to the martini like you would an olive. The first option would be my go to for something fun to start, then back to classic martinis.

Are there any plans for the distillery to expand into other products?

We have a beautiful still called Hannah, named after a local legend Hannah Barron Ward. Hannah’s focus is on keeping up with the demand for our Bluff Gin right now, we have a barell hall on the development plans where we’ll age Bluff Rum, could even branch in to Vodka, Bluff is actually 46 Below the equator, so there could be a fun vodka brand idea in that.


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