Industry chat

Going rogue

Toast speaks to Rogue Society co-founder Dan Mclaughlin to get the inside story on one of our country’s most successfully disruptive liquor brands.

Gin is on a high, particularly the most premium examples of the spirit. With more people than ever deciding to give this oft-misunderstood spirit a whirl in the liquor cabinet and specialist gin bars sprouting in big cities, the list of boutique gins continues to lengthen. Not all can survive. But in the face of stiff competition, local gin masters Rogue Society have risen to the top of their game and are thriving in pole position.

Dan Mclaughlin, his brother-in-law Mark Neal and family friend Richard Bourke had long shared a love of good gin and family gatherings would find the trio tasting the many and varied examples of gin they liked to collect. “The premium gin category had really taken off overseas,” recalls Dan, “especially with the younger set, 28-38ish – driven by cocktail culture.

“But there was a lot that was traditional on the market and nothing that really spoke to who we were.” So the three, with combined backgrounds in the liquor industry and branding, set themselves the task of creating “a super premium gin from the bottom of the world that would turn tradition upside-down”. After three long years of development, they launched their Rogue Society Classic gin in early 2014, followed by the second member of the family, GoldiLocks, launched last year.

Developing the product saw them working in partnership with South Island master distiller John Fitzpatrick and a 19th century copper pot still to get the formula spot-on. The package design was inspired by a classic 300-odd-year-old Geneva bottle Daniel found in a London antique store. “Getting the bottle design exactly right set us back about 12 months for our initial launch,” laughs Dan, but the laugh is cosseted in the confidence of knowing they did the right thing: at the San Francisco Wine & Spirits Competition in March this year Rogue Society won a gold for their packaging. With its dark glass, solid (precious-plated) recessed metal discs, batch-numbered tamper seal and stylish illustrations, the bottle exudes exactly what the brand wanted it to: a “gritty sophistication”. It’s a balance, explains Daniel, between a crafted, artisan aesthetic and one that speaks of cutting-edge urbanity.

And it’s not just a pretty face. Also in San Fran this year, GoldiLocks won gold in tasting, and this year’s wins combined with the rest of the awards since the Classic launched, put Rogue Society – a little business from the bottom of the world – at the top of their game. They’re making inroads in South East Asia and Australia and next up this year will be the UK and Europe. Once established there, they’ll look to the US. They’re experts in picking what’s going to be popular and developing a unique version of it. GoldiLocks was, as with the Classic, born from the trio picking up on a trend overseas and visualising a New Zealand spin on it. “We noticed the popularity of navy strength gins – the term refers to the high ABV of 57 per cent and derives from the days when sailors would buy gin in port; to test its quality they’d throw some gunpowder on it – if it didn’t ignite, it wasn’t strong enough.”

That high ABV gives the gin a boldness and, explains Dan, “allows the flavours of the botanicals to come through”. Because gin, of course, is very much about the botanicals. The Classic gin is a blend of 12, with a style Dan describes as “mostly classical, but with a bit more emphasis on the citrus – lemon and orange peel – that gives it a modern edge and sets it apart from the traditional juniper-led dry gins”. With GoldiLocks, the citrus takes a further step forward with the addition of a 13th botanical, tangerine peel – plus the higher ABV amplifies that. Being made with ultra-pure Southern Alps water and a clean grain base, and in small batches – 500 at a time for the GoldiLocks and 1000 for the Classic – makes for a smooth background flavour upon which the botanicals can shine. The clean, smooth, citrus-forward characters make Rogue Society gins perfect for complex cocktails as well as simpler drinks. In other words, this disruptive gin, crafted to turn 300 years of tradition on its head, is the perfect addition to any liquor library.

By Anna King Shahab.

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