"I love gin because it feels like a reward, like I’m having something special. That long glass full of ice with a good amount of gin topped with tonic and wedge of lime – what more could you ask for!" - Rachel Hall
Rachel is all things Lighthouse Gin. From gathering botanicals, twice distilling, tasting every batch for consistency, labelling and bottling, Rachel is the custodian of the Lighthouse tradition – the Lighthouse Keeper if you will. The first female Head Distiller in New Zealand, Rachel has been crafting Lighthouse by hand since 2014. She first joined the Lighthouse team back in 2010 and learnt her craft from Neil Catherall, Lighthouse Gin founder and Master distiller.
Tell us about your journey to being head distiller at Lighthouse Gin? How did you learn your craft?
I starting working at Lighthouse Gin helping out with the sales and office stuff more than 10 years ago. Lighthouse Gin actually started in the back of an old apple packing shed, which was being used to make apple juice, and the gin was tucked away in the back. I had grown up at the Greytown Hotel – The Top Pub (her parents’ pub), and never really thought much about where gin came from or how it might be made so I was interested to find out more. The distiller at the time, Neil, was very happy to teach. Over time I starting doing more and more, like the bottling and going to the food shows and trying different samples of gin. Then in 2014, the shareholders decided to sell Lighthouse Gin and that’s when I was asked to be the next distiller. Neil was more than happy to train me on the job over the next year. He and I have very similar palates when it comes to the gin, which is very important as a lot of things are done by taste. Neil still comes to visit from time to time and we will sit down and try some of the gins I’ve made and sample a couple of competitor gins. It’s really nice to still be able to do that.
What is the process you go through when tasting?
First I smell it, then I let the gin wash over my tongue and see how it feels going down my throat. Lighthouse is always really smooth with a soft lingering finish. We’re a London Dry style gin so the juniper must be at the forefront with lovely mix of spice lingering in the mid palate and overall citrusy highlights. I taste every batch at every step for our hallmark Lighthouse style - clarity and smoothness. I taste when I’m cutting off the heads and tails (these are the first runnings and last runnings from the still) Once we’ve taken the best part of the batch (the heart) I taste the over-proof gin to make sure its balanced. Then I taste again as the over-proof is blended with our pure Remutaka water.
The ingredient list for Lighthouse original is quite exotic: juniper berries, coriander seeds, Yen Ben lemons and Naval orange zest, cinnamon quills, almonds, cassia bark, orris and liquorice root, where do you source all of those?
It’s a very unique blend of botanicals that we use. We’ve learnt where to source the best ingredients from around the world. I source as much as I can from New Zealand, like coriander seeds, Navel oranges and Yen Ben lemons. We use Yen Ben lemons as they are a true lemon as they have never been crossed with a grape fruit or mandarin – they’re a real lemony lemon! Ingredients like Ceylon cinnamon and Juniper berries have to be sourced from countries that specialise in producing them like Sri Lanka and Italy.
Why do you think we love gin so much? Why do you love it?
I think because it’s interesting. No two gins are the same and there is so much to choose from. You don’t have to be a gin aficionado to appreciate a good gin. Also the mixers have improved too and if you don’t like tonic you can easily find a lovely alternative. I love gin because it feels like a reward, like I’m having something special. That long glass full of ice with a good amount of gin topped with tonic and wedge of lime – what more could you ask for!
What’s your go-to cocktail?
Gosh, well that really depends on the day and the mood. I love a negroni or martini but tend to drink them more in the winter. In summer I love a French 75. Recently I made ‘ginjito’ i.e. I swapped out the white rum in a mojito for gin and added fresh pineapple along with the mint – absolutely delicious. But my absolute favourite anytime, anywhere is a good old Gin and Tonic. I just love a good G&T – they are so rewarding.
What do you love most about what you do?
I love everything. It’s so exciting to part of something like Lighthouse Gin. To see something start off so small and to watch it grow is a real thrill and so rewarding. A lot of time and hard work goes into Lighthouse Gin and now all that hard work is paying off, we are able to build a brand new distillery. We are currently in the midst of a new development at the Te Kairanga winery that will have a restaurant, dedicated tasting room for both Te Kairanga and Martinborough Vineyard wines and Lighthouse Gin. You will also be able to look through to the distillery where you will see my custom built German still. You might even see me working away on the gin!
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