'Rifters': Arrowtown builders pick up international awards for gin made in 'man cave' shed

A pair of builders who began making gin out of their Arrowtown shed have won two international awards within months of producing their first batch.

Stuart Clark and Hamish Bourke of Rifters Gin won a gold medal at the International Spirits Competition in San Francisco last month for their Quartz gin, which features botanicals foraged locally.

"We tried to tie it in with Central Otago, so it's got wild thyme, elderberry, Douglas fir, mint and manuka," Clark says.

They also took home a silver medal for their original dry gin.

"For us to be a tiny company in Arrowtown with a team of four people winning awards on the world stage like that, it's insane," Bourke says.

Rifters have also won three awards locally, at the New Zealand Gin Awards and the NZ Spirits Awards, after only making their first batch for market in August last year.

'Rifters': Arrowtown builders pick up international awards for gin made in 'man cave' shed
Photo credit: Supplied.

Clark started thinking about making gin after he visited distilleries in the UK.

He'd met Bourke when he employed him as a foreman in 2013, and in 2018 floated the idea of starting a distillery and tasting room when they were building his shed.

"We got yarning, I think it was literally standing on a ladder outside the door there and Stu was yelling to me from the workshop," Bourke recalls.

"I said, 'yeah might be able to help you out'."

That shed, which was originally "a bit of a man cave" according to Clark, is now the distillery.

Clark has won awards in the past for his construction business The Lakes Building Company, and says he's transferred his drive to build the perfect home to making the perfect gin.

But he admits it's been a steep learning curve.

"I was amazed at how quick the process is but how incredibly complex it is to balance the botanicals. I was over there (the UK) tasting gins and thinking about all the amazing botanicals I had growing at home," Clark says.

The pair started trialling recipes in 2019.

"It was a process. There were some fails but plenty of success and over time we refined our recipe and shared it with others who loved it.

"That gave us the confidence to launch Rifters," Bourke says.

The name of the company is drawn from Arrowtown's local heritage.

"A rifter is a fossicker and forager in search of the elusive nugget in the rifts of Arrowtown," Clark explains.

Their team is the pair of them, plus Clark's wife Kate and distiller Kit Clinton-Baker.

They forage for most of the botanicals a stone's throw from the shed, while the lavender, camomile and lemon verbena in their latest limited release Blossomed Gin comes from over the hill in Wanaka.