When we first met Ben Leggett of Elemental Distillers in 2018, he was working out of his garage crafting aromatic cocktail bitters, an award-winning product coveted by bartenders though little-known outside the cocktail world. Even then, while building a name among the Kiwi cocktail cognoscenti, the plan had already taken root to make a premium handcrafted gin with a uniquely New Zealand profile.

Well, a lot has happened since then. Only four years after Ben and business partner Simon Kelly launched Roots Marlborough Dry Gin – a crisp and robust ‘London Dry’- style gin with just six botanicals – it was hailed as the ‘World’s Best London Dry Gin’ at the 2023 World Gin Awards in London. “Not bad for a tiny two-man operation in three shipping containers in the vines,” says Ben.

With two other New Zealand gins recognised at the awards (Broken Heart Original Gin from Queenstown received a silver ranking and Awildian Coromandel Spiced Gin was scored as a bronze), what is it that makes Aotearoa such a great place to distil top-quality gin? “Kiwis,” says Ben. “It’s that classic, ‘Sweet as, let’s give it a go’. Coming from zero, they go through all the stages to get it right, whereas others might just hire a consultant. Also New Zealand is a source of amazing botanicals and foraging and traceability are huge.” That’s reflected in the Roots gins which feature, among other locally sourced ingredients, wild-foraged gorse flowers from Marlborough, kawakawa berries from the Kāpiti Coast and juniper foraged in the wild in North Macedonia.

Building on “the ridiculously complicated detail that’s gone into those six botanicals”, the London Dry gin was joined by Roots Norwester, a navy-strength bottling of Roots Marlborough Dry Gin with the addition of organic Akaroa giant kelp and Hawke’s Bay hemp seed, which was gunpowder proofed in a howitzer shell at a banging launch party in 2021.

Limited-edition runs also appear as a result of the distillery’s Show Us Your Roots bartenders’ contest, the three regional winners of which spend three days in a distillery takeover, designing and distilling a gin with ingredients inspired by their winning cocktails – the Roots “22” Old Tom Gin was built over the core four Roots botanicals with the addition of pink peppercorn, ginger root and mānuka- smoked golden syrup. The 2023 contest is about to kick off and we can’t wait to taste what’s coming up – and where better to try it than the new ‘hidden’ gin garden coming in September 2023 at the Blenheim distillery? TRACY WHITMEY