One of New Zealand’s best small-batch distilleries is making big moves.
Scapegrace is known for its high-end spirit range, which includes a gin that won best London dry gin at the 2018 International Wine & Spirit Competition, and a black gin that sold three months’ worth of supply in one day when it launched in 2019.
The company recently announced its plans to build the largest distillery in the country – and it’s due to open to the public for drinking, dining and guided tours in November 2023.
The 36-hectare site is located 45 minutes’ drive from Queenstown and 30 minutes from Wānaka, with a typically rugged and breathtaking South Island view that overlooks both Mount Pisa and Lake Dunstan.
On it, a head office, bottling hall, warehouse and barrel room have already been completed, and the new distillery is due to be finished in October next year – costing a total of $25 million. Nat Cheshire, Ascinda Stark and Emily Doll of the prolific Cheshire Architects have spearheaded the design.
Scapegrace was founded in 2014 by Wānaka-based brothers-in-law Daniel Mclaughlin and Mark Neal, along with Richard Bourke. The team had been looking for a site like this since 2015, Daniel Mclaughlin tells Broadsheet, to be “the spiritual home for Scapegrace that allowed people to engage with the brand and sample our products”.
When they finally settled on this site in 2019, they’d looked at “dozens and dozens” of locations. “I got sent details of this one on a Friday, and by Sunday I was standing on it with the agent and knew instantly it was the one for us,” he says. “It just felt right.”
The team plans on gathering input from a variety of consultants with hospitality experience for the on-site bar and restaurant. In-house spirit development and advocacy manager Mikey Ball (ex-London’s Dandelyan bar) will be designing the bar area alongside the Cheshire team.
Mclaughlin doesn’t want to give away too much about the food offering, but the current concept is to work with a local executive chef who can design a selection of sharing plates using locally sourced, seasonal produce that will be paired with drinks that show off the company’s portfolio of spirits.
In addition to its gin, vodka and boutique pre-mixed drinks, Scapegrace will be launching its first limited-edition single malt whisky next month.
“The 45th degree parallel [circle of latitude] runs right through our land, which makes it the perfect climate for aging whisky,” says Mclaughlin. “Extremes in high and low temperatures [create] more talk with the cask, giving a better-profile whisky in a shorter time period.”
There’s a robust sustainability strategy in place for the entire project and Scapegrace is aiming to become a carbon-zero company over time.
Scapegrace already exports to several countries including Australia, the USA, Canada, China and several in Europe, but the team is keen to expand its international exporting potential even further. It’s a lot to take on.
“If I’m honest, I probably didn’t fully appreciate how challenging a project of this scale would be [while] still focusing on running the actual business,” says Mclaughlin. “It’s pretty complicated building New Zealand’s largest ever distillery, in a fairly remote location with pretty much zero infrastructure on-site.” There have been many learnings along the way, he says. “But there’s no victory in easy!”
Scapegrace’s Central Otago distillery, bar and restaurant is slated to open to the public in November 2023.