Getting to know... Andi Ross of Island Gin
Getting to know... A series that aims to shine a light on New Zealand’s outstanding makers, producers, winegrowers and artisans.
We are delighted to introduce Andi Ross, founder and distiller of award-winning gin - Island Gin. Situated on Great Barrier Island, Island gin is run completely off grid with an eco-friendly ethos at the heart of everything they do. Andi uses a solar powered bottling machine, a Kina inspired bottle that took two years to make and strives for a zero waste operation. She looks to reuse and repurpose everything in their supply chain, from fruit used in the distillation process, to the pallets the bottles arrive in. Her attention to detail and ability to overcome obstacles to produce on such a remote island is incredibly inspiring. We hope you enjoy getting to know Andi.
My local is…
Apart from the beach - it would be The Currach, which is the local Irish Pub in Tryphena. Its very much like a little pub you’d find in Ireland, with a warm convivial atmosphere. During summer it has live music and they regularly bring comedians over from the Mainland too. It has a roaring fire in winter and it is run by Orla who is actually Irish, and one of the best publicans I have come across.
My defining moment in the world of gin was…
There have been a lot of moments where I have been amazed at the infinite variations and innovation around gin. A defining moment would be discovering the Danish brand Empirical Spirits. They call themselves a flavour company. Lars Williams and his team created the company in 2017 and create stunning flavour profiles. He history as a chef running the Nordic Food Lab ( founded by the Rene Redzepi of Noma ) now informs everything he does at Empirical. I recently paid a hefty amount on one bottle of ES x Kaneshichi which they produced in collaboration with a Japanese craftsman using bonito. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced. They break all the rules in search of flavour and they are very sustainable along the way. Empirical is definitely my benchmark.
My go-to knock off drink is…
My go to knock off drink is a very dirty Martini. Island Gin Navy, teamed with a classic vermouth and then about a bar spoon of Olive Brine - I really like the Jack Ruddy one, but more recently I am using the olives my husband Jason has gathered on Great Barrier Island from local trees, and has brined for a few months with island grown lemons, chilli, salt. Very delicious.
Favourite story about making Island gin?
There have been lots of crazy serendipity in setting up Island Gin. Early on in 2018 - I was trying to work out how to source juniper and get it across to the island. There was a friend down the road, Olga, who had a guest staying with her. I thought the girls might enjoy a few G&T’s as they sat on the beach. After sharing a drink, we got talking, and I was lamenting the fact that I couldn’t find Juniper. Paula turned to me and said their company imported it! I couldn't believe it. That was the last piece of the puzzle. There have been many moments like this. I feel like distilling on this island is definitley what I was meant to do.
In the mornings you’ll find me…
Going for an early morning walk or swim before I head down to the distillery.
Are there any major hurdles you’ve overcome with producing gin on such a remote island?
Setting up my distillery has taken 2 years before even producing a spirit. Finding the right location, gaining approvals, securing licences and one of the most challenging of all - designing and producing the Island Gin bottle which is made right here in Auckland. I wanted a bottle made in NZ. I hassled Visy glass ( formerly OI Glass for almost 2 years before we got a prototype). Bayard Sinnema who was at OI at the time - believed in my vision and supported me. The bottle simply would not exist without him. Its almost 50% reclaimed NZ glass which I am very proud of.
The bottles come across to the island by barge. Being at the mercy of the weather which sometimes doesn’t cooperate, means that I have to wait for them. You have to think ahead and make sure you have enough of everything you need - in case the boat just doesn’t sail.
My gin also leaves the island by plane.( the planes go back half empty - so its nice to support this local business which is a lifeline to the island ) Recently with the low cloud cover meant the bottles weren’t able to fly off.
New Zealand's best kept secret is…
Great Barrier Island of course!
There is no better value than…
There is no better value than a Shawarma from my friend Yael's restaurant IMA, in Fort St Auckland. Like a warm hug from a friend - incredibly delicious. Every Friday - keeping Aucklanders happy during these crazy times.
Sustainability is a big part of your ethos at Island gin, what role does it play in the day to day operation of the business?
Sustainability is so important to Island Gin. Being on an island means what arrives on island generally stays on island. For example - the Juniper used in our Gin is kept after distilling, and taken to the local refuse centre and added to a compost garden.
The pallets that my bottles come across on, have recently been repurposed by my husband into kitchen garden beds. Full of salad, tomatoes and herbs. Even the large plastic sheet covering the bottles was used as a liner for the garden bed.
One exciting sustainable initiative, is collecting the gin soaked plums from our Damson Plum Black Label limited edition, and collaborating with local chocolatier Honest Chocolat, to create a delicious chocolate bon bon, filled with these precious plums. Launching in a few days, we are happy to be able to use as many of our ingredients as possible. Our aim is no wastage.
What's in the pipeline for Island gin?
We are constantly experimenting. There are always interesting things flowering and fruiting on the island. My current obsession is Lemonwood, found in only a few places on Barrier for only a few weeks each year. I hope to use it in my new seasonal Black Label.
Future projects include fully converting the distillery to solar power. Currently our bottling machine is already solar power, so to fully realise this - is my main challenge next year.