Take a shot of Imperial Gin, add a few crushed raspberries and some mint, top up with sparkling wine and watch it shimmer. Look again, it’s not just the bubbles that are glittering, there are flakes of 23-carat Italian gold dancing in the gin – doesn’t that ramp up the glamour of your cocktail!

“Gin is such a pretty product,” says Jesse Ball, founder of the Waiheke company that creates Imperial Gin, one of the products highlighted in the Cuisine Artisan Awards 2018. “I wanted something to make it snazzy. The gold really adds to the look and gives it some decadence. We get our gold from the same source as Versace!”

After purchasing a Waiheke Island water business in 2015, he discovered that the water, dated at between 165–204 years old, was very soft with the ability to draw in more flavours, and deeper flavours, and to enhance the character of fine spirits.

So Jesse started to make gin, combining that pure, fresh water with grain and yeast to make a base spirit. Distilling between 10-12 times, and discarding the heads and tails (the impurities, methanol and unwanted flavours), results in a spirit that extends the flavour profiles and is softer on the palate. “We don’t want a big smack in the face or a massive hit of alcohol in the throat,” Jesse says.

But it’s what happens when that base spirit starts to get acquainted with the all-important botanicals – that’s when the alchemy gets interesting. Jesse selected locally harvested kawakawa, mānuka honey and his ‘secret ingredient’, a native New Zealand flower with a quinine-like flavour, that only blooms in Northland between February and March. The seasonality of the ingredients adds a hint of uniqueness to every small batch, as it’s near impossible to get exactly the same result every time.

Jesse is also developing a bee tonic: made with bee venom, mānuka honey, propolis, pollen and just a little bit of chilli it’s a deep, velvety honey liqueur. / waihekeimperial.com

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