Get to know the young Golden Bay-based distillery Dancing Sands, which has just won a silver medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2017. With words by Jai Breitnauer
As featured in the current issue of Toast magazine, Dancing Sands is one of New Zealand’s fresh crop of new independent spirits distilleries.
Located in the stunning Golden Bay area of Takaka, Dancing Sands was founded in late 2016 by young couple Ben and Sarah Bonoma (pictured below), and draws its water from the third most pure water source in the world – Te Waikoropupū Springs.
Ben and Sarah had been living in Wellington for two years, working corporate jobs, when they saw the distillery and equipment for sale. “I’d always wanted to be my own boss, build my own company,” says Ben, who admits he and Sarah have no previous experience in the drinks industry. But they felt compelled to give it a shot.
Distilling their own range of vodkas, gins and rums, it’s undeniably the quality of the water that gives Dancing Sands’ spirits their distinctive flavour profile - which was recognised recently at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2017, which awarded the brand’s vodka a silver medal – a huge achievement for such a new distillery. Dancing Sands adds this accolade to three other awards – a gold medal at the London Rum Master Competition 2017 for their white rum; a silver medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2016; and the Rum Master award at the London Rum Master Competition 2016 for their barrel-aged rum.
Anchored to the Water
With a visibility of up to 63 metres, the water, known locally as “Pupū springs” (pictured below) is the second clearest natural spring in the world. Te Waikoropupū translates to “the place of the dancing sands”, a description of how the smaller spring plays with the sand as the water gushes up from the earth, and the couple decided to honour that with their own Dancing Sands name.
Small but perfectly formed
For the creation of their artisan crafted spirits, Dancing Sands uses a copper still to make small batches. "We say that we fail every day, but we fail small and those failures help us to find the flavour profile that we are after,” says Ben.
Spirits To Sample
Dancing Sands currently have five spirits on offer, which can be found at selected Liquorland stores nationwide...
Dancing Sands Vodka (pictured above, far left) – this San Francisco World Spirits Competition silver-medal-winning vodka is crisp and clear upfront with a buttery aftertaste that Ben says is “all down to the water”.
Sacred Spring Dry Gin (pictured above, second from left), is "double distilled and vapour-infused with eight different botanicals, including manuka leaves,” says Ben. “We wanted to focus on Indian spices; cardamom, coriander and peppercorns, with liquorice root for that refreshing aftertaste, and almonds for a wonderfully silky, almost oily mouth-feel.”
Sacred Springs Barrel Aged Gin (pictured above, centre), is New Zealand’s first barrel-aged gin, which uses both French oak barrels and dry rum casks. “After three months it had developed a real personality,” says Ben. “We blended the two together to make a gin with a lovely champagne colour. Amazingly, the spices have taken on a cinnamon-like flavour, accentuated by the warm sweetness at the end from the rum cask. It makes a great negroni.”
Murderer’s Bay Aged Rum (pictured above, second from right) – a product Dancing Sands acquired from a closed distillery further up the coast, and which is barrel aged. “It’s New Zealand’s only barrel-aged rum and has spent 14 years in cognac barrels,” says Ben. “Globally, most barrel-aged rums are sweet but this one is quite dry and very complex.”
Murderer’s Bay White Rum (pictured above, far right), is distilled on site from pure molasses, and Ben describes as “Golden Bay in a glass”.