A plan hatched in the thick of the action at the Auckland Food Show has reached a very successful fruition, thanks to an enterprising student and a little support from Callaghan Innovation.

While working on their respective stands at the 2018 Food Show – part of a Taranaki presence coordinated by Venture Taranaki – Jo and Dave James of Juno Gin, and Joseph Emans of Three Sisters Brewery got to thinking. What if there was a way mix the popular gin with the equally popular beer?

Jo and Dave are already active collaborators with other local producers. Spent juniper berries used in the brewing process make their way to Gavin Giles, who incorporates them into his chocolate truffles. The motivation, Dave says, is to minimise the impact their business has on the planet.

“It’s really important to us that we have the smallest footprint we can: we’re actively recycling any by-product, composting any waste, planning to send our botanicals off to a soap manufacturer, and really looking at the lifecycle of each ingredient beyond our immediate needs,” Dave says.

“When the idea of a collaboration with Joseph was hatched, we started to look more closely at the liquid by-product (or Still Water) from the distilling process, further reducing our waste while potentially utilising the sugars produced in the distilling process to create beer.”

The Food Show behind them, Joseph, Jo and Dave settled down to figure out how it could work. For some help, they turned to Venture Taranaki, who connected them with the Student Experience Grant programme, a Callaghan Innovation initiative to help businesses progress R&D projects while giving students an opportunity to gain commercial skills in their chosen field of study. 

The programme enabled Juno to bring in a skilled and enthusiastic tertiary student to test the idea and drive it forward.

“We’d already been talking with Massey University, again through Venture Taranaki, and through this process we met Tash,” Jo says.

Tash, a second-year chemical engineering student at Massey University with a self-declared ‘strong interest’ in craft beer, made the move to Taranaki for a summer job with a difference.

“Tash joined us in November, and once she was familiar with the processes, we basically left her to play with the mix,” says Jo.

Tash found the project really rewarding, both as a practical application of her studies and through the connection to two rapidly growing businesses.

“It was great to be involved in such an interesting project with such a good outcome,” Tash says.
“I learnt much more than just brewing, and the business side of things makes me want to kick start my own business.”

Tash initially worked with Joseph to develop a small pilot brew at Three Sisters Brewery. This was then tweaked and once it was right, scaled up to commercial production, resulting in an initial batch of 400 bottles of “Lila” - a Juniper Witbier which takes its name from the Juno still.

Joseph settled on a traditional Belgian Witbier for his pioneering brew, an older-style beer rediscovered by the brewing community 50 years ago.

“Witbier offers some nice parallels to gin, flavours of coriander seed and orange zest, and subtle botanicals.”
The choice, and Tash’s involvement in the project thanks to the Student R&D Experience Grant, seem to have hit the proverbial nail on the head.

“I’ve never been so happy with a first brew,” Joseph says, and judging by the enthusiastic response to the drink’s launch at New Plymouth’s Hourglass on a warm summer evening, the market is equally enthusiastic.

“This will be the first of many batches,” assures Joseph.