Schnappdragon Village Distillery

July 2007
There is more than a passing connection between honey mead and lovers. Mead is one of the worlds oldest fermented beverages, and in some cultures it was the responsibility of the brides father to supply newlyweds with enough mead to last them through one full cycle of the moon hence the honeymoon.

It wasnt a silly idea. Apart from mood-altering alcohol, the large honey component in mead meant that it contained fruit sugars, vitamins, minerals and other valuable nutrients the medieval equivalent of an Alcopop combined with an energy drink.

Mead was probably a by-product of a much more practical activity making candles. Imagine honey-coated waxy residue from beehives being put in a pot of water by the fire or stove. As the liquid warms the wax floats to the top and coats the surface, with the honey and water mixture fermenting below.

Fast forward now to the start of the 21st Century and picture Kevin Smith, a native of Golden Bay, being given a bottle of sweet mead for his birthday. An enthusiastic home brewer and keeper of a few hives, he is inspired to try making some.

I started off by mixing up a 30 litre batch using a home brewers magazine as a guide. It wasnt too bad but I changed the recipe and made a second lot, says Kevin.

By accident I bottled it too early and it turned out sparkling a mead with bubbles.

Even less-than-perfect home brew must be shared with friends, so Kevins cousin Terry Knight was roped in. The first bottle of the strange bubbly was a surprisingly dry rather than sweet. The second bottle seemed very promising, and by the end of the third bottle the happy pair realised they were onto a winner.

Would you could make it commercially? asked entrepreneur Terry.

If you back me, replied brewer Kevin.

And thats more or less how Nectar Wine NZ began production of their sparkling honey mead. 18 months later they had developed Nymphs Kiss, a honey mead liqueur. Both products use pure water from the Pupu Springs aquifer and organic bush honey. Bottles are imported from Italy and riddling (getting rid of the sediment and recorking) is done by a Nelson winery.

Recently the team has expanded its range to include bush whisky based on honey, and manuka honey schnapps.

The bush whisky is a honey spirit that has all the connotations of whisky single malt, it's like drinking a single malt whisky through a straw dipped in honey," says Terry.

"It has no sulphate preservatives of any sort and it is made out of honey alcohol rather than a grain alcohol, which is a lot better on the body than a lot of the other drinks that are on the market you wake up in the morning with a clear head. The schnapps is a fully certified manuka honey product."

"We have created a village distillery along the lines of the old European style ones. Bring in your fruit and we will make it into wine and some of that wine we will turn into schnapps. So if you were a restaurateur and had plum trees we could make you a schnapps or a liqueur or wine that you can legally sell in your restaurant with your own label on it from your own fruit. The products are made in a licensed area and the excise tax is paid on before it leaves."

The shop is called "Schnappdragon Village Distillery" and it also sells local Golden Bay produce. Terry is has just finishing building it and is starting to stock it with salamis, coffee, salmon, other local wines, and honey from five different apiarists. He sees it as a good concept for a small town and maybe a model for others.

One of the main reasons we created this place was so we could do more ourselves in terms of bottling etc, which will reduce costs of sending stuff to Nelson and elsewhere for processing, he says.

It is also set up as a handy place where we can create 150 litres of jam at a time in steam jacketed commercial cookers. It has a commercial kitchen for hire, so if you want to make cookies to sell you can come here and hire the gear and try out your idea, so that allows small-scale trialling of products like that.