Some time not too long past, somewhere in the South Island, an aviator saw a future in a kerosene tin and lots of tubing. When fed regularly with cider from Nelson the machine not only helped the flying club's bar account but started a craze for nut gin. Quality was simply tested on the basis of - will it burn?
The kerosene tin system finally progressed into the universally used pressure cooker. Dozens of these mighty machines would operate weekly throughout the country.
Malcolm (pictured left), who had become a designer, was well into his Mark 8 model and the whisky was good enough to fool Dunedinites, whether their Scots ancestry was in turmoil over 'free whisky' and taste we will never know. All this time owning a still and moonshining were highly illegal activities but things changed dramatically in 1989 with the repeal of the Custom Distillation Act. In the same year a chance meeting (over a few drinks) say Malcolm and Peter exchanging ideas. Malcolm already having the designs and Peter from being a chemist with DSIR had the ingredients to match.
Spirits Unlimited was born based on this original idea and from the new legislation it appeared as though distilling was no longer illegal though there a lot of grey areas. The inventors were convinced that the government was opening up the way for home distilling.
A trial production run of 20 five litre pot stills using 304 stainless steel followed which were given to friends to test. These guinea pigs provided vital feedback on the stills and distilling system and more prototypes and test models followed. Six months and seven version later the "ultimate still" rolled off the production line and it was marketed on 20 December 1991.
Moonshining has long been treated with suspicion and there was considerable resistance in the New Zealand market. However, the product was good enough to overcome these prejudices and with help of some timely publicity from a newspaper article published by the Timaru Herald, sales accelerated at an alarming rate.
Spirits Unlimited had arrived on the market and not far behind was a visit from the Customs Department. While manufacturing and selling stills was legal, distilling alcohol without a licence remained outside the law and Malcolm was concerned that Spirits Unlimited would be torpedoed by government bureaucracy before it could get into full swing. Surprisingly, and to the credit of the Customs Department, the meeting was an amicable one and Spirits Unlimited was permitted to keep operating even though its product was specifically designed for carrying out an illegal activity. We have nothing but praise for the attitude of Customs.
In addition to the fact that home distilled alcohol evades the government's wide spread tax net, Customs has always been concerned that moonshine represents a potential health risk. Reports of moonshiners becoming seriously ill have hit the headlines occasionally and officials say this justifies legislation banning home made alcohol.
This stance may have beeen valid in years past, but technology has moved and the purifying systems invented by the partnership resulted in the DSIR tests which showed Spirits Unlimited stills produce alcohol which is marginally superior to many commercial brands.
Contrary to Customs' concerns that home stills are a potential health risk Spirits Unlimited cleaned up a "bad situation". Instead of moonshiners distilling alcohol in the traditional kerosene tins with copper piping held together with lead laden solder they are using a scientifically tested system. Certainly purifying carbon sales always far exceeded the number of stills sold showing that 'back yarders' were learning to purify their spirit.
One of Spirits Unlimited's earliest customers, a retired Wanganui dentist, is typical of the hard core moonshiners who have converted to the system. He wrote saying he had been distilling for years and needed a lifetime supply of gin because now that he was using our system he found his circle of friends had grown. He was 85 years old so we did a few calculations and sent him what we thought was a fairly generous amount. Six months later we got another letter from him saying his circle of friends was still growing and could we please send another lifetime supply!
Over the years the hardware range has grown and further developed, the introduction of correct wattage electric elements completed the technology circle making home distilling safe and simple to use. Flavour ranges grew enormously covering all of the favourites with liqueurs and ports.
Measuring and testing equipment plus access to commercial ingredients has finally given the home distiller the means of producing fine spirit and crafting the product to their exact taste.
Our contact details are:
60 Stafford Street
03 688 0801