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Waikino Hotel manager and Kaimi Brewing distiller Wayne Chowles has been recognised on the national and international spirit stage. PHOTO: KELLEY TANTAU

Smooth sip earns self-taught distiller two silvers

A distillery that takes inspiration from the land around it has received national and international recognition not only for its spirits, but for its mindset.
Kaimai Brewing and Distilling has its home inside the historic Waikino Hotel, a bar and restaurant opposite the Victoria Battery in the Karangahake Gorge.
Manager and distiller Wayne Chowles is a former miner himself, and the two gins that recently won silver on the international stage pay homage to the industry.
Kaimai Brewing’s Eliza’s Claim Gold Gin and Eliza’s Claim Dry Gin were aptly named after a woman called Eliza Earl, who was born in Greerton, Tauranga in 1868.
After giving birth to her first child in Te Aroha, Eliza’s husband vanished, and she had to move back home to the family farm near Katikati, where she caught the fancy of a young miner by the name of William Tilsley.
In 1896, William discovered a gold-bearing vein and registered a claim over an area that he named ‘The Eliza’. In January, 1900, Eliza and her newborn daughter Violet passed away and were buried in an unmarked grave in the Totara Cemetery in Thames.
Wayne’s recent success at the 2023 London Spirits Competition, in which his Eliza’s Claim Gold Gin and Eliza’s Claim Dry Gin both won silver medals, comes after the distiller won a gold medal for his gold gin at the 2021 NZ Spirits awards.
Those awards acted as Wayne’s “graduation certificate,” he said.
“The [gold gin] was the first gin I ever made commercially and, imposter syndrome, I had it in a big way. I’m self-taught, and I thought: ‘Do I really belong in this circle?’.
“The NZ Spirits Awards were a good judge as to how we were doing in New Zealand and how we compared locally, but it didn’t benchmark us against the rest of the world.”
The London awards scored the gins 81 and 78 points, respectively, against roughly 2500 spirits which were entered into the competition.
Not only that, but Kaimai Brewing has also been named ‘Best Hand-Crafted Single Batch Gin Distillery 2023 – North Island’ in Lux Life Magazine’s brewery and distillery awards.
Wayne said that competition had “nothing to do with the spirits themselves” and was more about the company’s involvement in the community and its ethos.
“I’m probably more proud of that than any of the other [awards],” he said. “I’ve got the recognition internationally and locally to say, yes, the gin that we make is, at the very least, above average, but it’s quite cool to be recognised for the person I am and the company I’ve built.”
The magazine’s write-up included praise for Kaimai Brewing using locally-sourced ingredients, its use of a Soxhlet Extractor to distil and isolate flavours from complex botanicals; and sourcing water from a 50,000 year old artesian aquifer.
Wayne, who continues to dabble in new spirits and flavours, is now looking ahead to a festival he’s running which is dedicated to all things craft brews. It will be held on February 17 at the Waikino Hotel and will feature craft drinks from Wilderkin Spirits in Waihi Beach, Manaia Craft Brewers, and Bootleg Brewery, among others.
The distillery also offers informal or formal gin tastings for groups. To get in touch, visit