Many will tell you it's hard to deny the pull of Taranaki Maunga and harder still when your third generation roots call you back home to the land on which you were born and raised.
In the low-land coastal forest at the foothills of the Kaitake ranges, in a converted utility shed on her parents land, you'll find Janet Charteris, home after a 19 year stint working as a corporate marketer. 'I used to be a corporate marketer in the FMCG sector – fast-moving consumer goods. I worked in the food world and I got to a position where I couldn't do my job back here as that role doesn't exist in Taranaki. Even in Auckland it is rare.'
'I wanted to come home, so I invented my own job'.
Inventing her job started well before her return to Aotearoa and was rooted in the knowledge and experienced gained working in the food world. 'As a marketer you think creatively but you also analyse data and where the trends are going. Gin is peaking overseas and so I had to look ahead of that trend. That led me to begin a rum revolution. From a commercial perspective it made more sense'. With her course set, she enrolled to study Foundations in Distilling with the International Brewers and Distillers Association. Sourcing equipment then followed. 'I went to China and sourced the still and all the equipment that I needed to start the distillery. When I arrived they kept asking me where my boss was. This line of questioning soon stopped when I began asking the technical questions!'.
With the distillery up and running Janet's focus shifted to working on the product. Her process is unique. Where others might purchase their alcohol in its raw form, she ferments her own using molasses which she ships in from Bundaberg in Queensland, a by-product of the sugar production process. '95% of rum is too sweet so I was driven to make something different, to try and reinvent how people view rum. Which for the most part is as a pirate drink!'. Not only did this process of reinvention encompass the rum itself, its flavour, and mouthfeel, it also wrapped around the way the product looked, right down to the paper stock chosen to label the bottles. Additionally, Janet chose to texture the bottom of her bottles to emulate old-school decanters, giving the product a premium feel not typically seen in other rum brands. Her market research determined the size of the bottle, which she made smaller to better suit women bartenders who she learned find pouring standard spirit bottles with one hand difficult.
A strong proponent of the impact of the environment in which a spirit is distilled on its flavour and mouthfeel, Janet embraces fully what it means for her product to be made in the Kaitake Ranges. The flavour and mouthfeel of her product she attributes to the rainwater she collects outside the distillery. Similarly, she believes her barrel-aged rum will be totally unique to its environment. 'From my point of view, the characteristics that the rum takes on from the barrel-ageing process come from the environment. If I put the same rum in three different barrels and left one to age here, and sent the other two to Scotland and the Caribbean, each one will end up tasting differently'. Janet too feels that sourcing local produce to flavour her rums anchors them more firmly as a uniquely New Zealand product. 'I grow my own rhubarb and lemons as well as some of the feijoas used in my feijoa rum. The rest come from a friend. I source honey directly from Naki Honey and the citrus I use in my spiced rum comes from Sentry Hill Citrus. We live in a place where you can grow almost anything so why wouldn't you source as locally as possible'.
Janet's offering is unique and her drive to bring this once maligned “pirate drink” into the spotlight is strong. Being the sole owner and operator of her business she is often on the road, sharing her story and her products. Her current line-up features a white rum, a spiced rum, rhubarb rum, feijoa rum and a limoncello. A batch of aged (or gold) rum currently sits aging in wine barrels and at 18 months old, is 6 months short of the 2 year mark where it can then be legally classed as 'aged'. She hosts events at the distillery including tasting evenings and blend-your-own classes where visitors take home a bottle of rum they have blended themselves under Janet's expert guidance.
Whilst Janet's rum revolution is only in it's infancy, her business is growing in leaps and bounds. At its heart are both the died-hard rum fans and those who have been, and continue to be won over by her product. A product which reflects the unique place in which it has been distilled and the expertise and experience of the woman who breathed it into life.
1 large stalk rhubarb
4 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
4 strips orange zest, to serve
ice cubes, to serve
LWF Distillery Rhubarb Rum
1. Cut the rhubarb into 3cm pieces then slice these pieces lengthways into thin strips.
2. Place into a bowl along with the sugar, and using the end of a wooden spoon bash them together to release the flavour and colour from the rhubarb. You can use a mortar and pestle to this if you have one.
3. Place into a container with a lid along with the vanilla bean paste and 6 tablespoons of water.
4. Place into the fridge and leave overnight or even better, for 2 nights to let the flavours develop.
5. When ready to serve strain the rhubarb syrup and discard the rhubarb pieces.
6. Take 4 glasses and to each add ice and a strip of orange zest.
7. Pour 2 tablespoons/30ml rum into each glass as well as the same measure of the rhubarb syrup.
8. Top with soda water and serve.