Meet the Creators of Aotearoa’s Only Blue Agave Spirit

Kiwi Spirit Distillery is a New Zealand, family-owned and operated distillery that specialises in unique, handcrafted spirits. 

Owner and distiller Terry Knight began teaching himself how to make spirits 25 years ago. With decades of distilling knowledge, the Knight family are fiercely dedicated to quality over quantity. 

"Quality and uniqueness are critical to us," said Isabella Knight, Terry's daughter and Kiwi Spirit's marketing manager. 

"You don't want to make a spirit that is not high quality. We also didn't want to copy anyone. We wanted to take something in a different direction. We incorporate that New Zealand aspect - creating New Zealand made spirits with local ingredients and botanicals, and the way we make our spirits." 

Just like every business, Kiwi Spirit has felt the pinch with the COVID pandemic in addition to its usually quiet season. 

"It's been quite hard. Every business has gone from operating to just, not," said Knight. 

"We are a seasonal business as well. We've got the cellar door, but we're a beach town, so winter is quiet already, and the lockdown has just made it worse. 

"The upside is people want to drink and try making cocktails, so that has kept us busy." 

Whilst importing is suffering delays, those who source within New Zealand are not as severely affected. Luckily for Kiwi Spirit, their sourcing hasn't been affected much. 

"We focus on buying from New Zealand first anyway. We look in Golden Bay, and if we can't find it here, we'll go to the Tasman, then the South Island, and then the North Island. 

"There are a couple of things not available in New Zealand, like juniper berries. Our bottles come from overseas as well, but we are hoping to switch to a New Zealand supplier."

During Levels 3 and 4, the distillery shut down. 

"We're lucky at the distillery because we live on site. It's 25 acres, so there were lots of jobs we needed to do," laughed Knight. 

Kiwi Spirit is the only distillery in New Zealand that makes TeKiwi 100% Blue Agave Spirit, made from the famous Agave Tequilana Weber Blue. The Weber Blue Agave Tequilana plants are grown at the farm and take eight years to mature. 

"We just planted a few thousand of these, so that kept us busy as well," Knight added. 

Throughout the levels, Kiwi Spirit Distillery was sustained by online orders through its website. 

"We put a lot of time and energy into our website as it's the best place to order from us. There's lots of additional content like cocktail recipes as well."

When New Zealand, excluding Auckland, shifted to Level 2, Kiwi Spirit was able to open its cellar door and welcome back its staff. 

"We're a small team but growing," said Knight. Being a small team makes it easier, she said, as everyone is kept busy with the cellar door and hand-bottling and labelling summer's line-up.”

Hand-bottling and labelling is just one part of Kiwi Spirit's dedication to sustainability, as well as shopping local and planting. 

"Sustainability is ingrained in what we do, even before it was the buzzword," said Knight. Golden Bay is a hippie town. It's just part of what we do naturally. Shopping locally is part of that." 

Kiwi Spirit is planting its own fruit trees to grow the fruit it uses for liqueurs and botanicals for gin. Juniper berries are imported, and tangelos are not as readily available as they used to be, so the Knight family are trying their hand at growing these fruits. 

"Our Delightful Gin is made with lavender and lemon. The lavender is grown here, and the lemons are from Golden Bay, plus a few of our baby lemons." 

Village distilleries in Europe inspired the idea, said Knight. There is a lot of excess fruit, so the distilleries pop up to make something out of it. 

"People sometimes turn up with crates of lemons, so we'll create something. Sometimes we make small batches that don't leave the cellar door; others are specialist batches."

Knight believes being innovative is not running after the trend but going beyond it. 

"There are lots of really good spirits, but for a spirit to be great, it needs to be unique, standalone, and meet a niche that wasn't there before or does better than anyone else, and of course, quality. You have to sip it and say, wow, this is special, this is different."

Kiwi Spirit's TeKiwi is one such example. 

"It's New Zealand's only 100% Webber Blue Agave Tequilana Spirit, and it's absolutely standalone. Watching people's faces, even if they don't like whiskey or gin or whatever, and their eyes widen, and they look at you like 'what!?' That's what we do this for."

The most rewarding aspect of their job is making something special, said Knight. 

"You put the plant in the ground or the liquid in the barrel, and when you come back in eight years, it's perfect. You take raw fruit/ingredients, and you have this product on the shelf that people love, and you know it came from fruit."

Kiwi Spirit has hosted an annual festival for the past few years and hopes to cement that into the local calendars. 

"We want to get that running smoothly and create our big event,” Knight concluded.

"We're also looking at redoing our cellar door; it's a bit small, and we want to take it to the next level. Growing our own fruit and botanicals is already in progress, so we'll keep working on that too."