Construction starting soon on Hokonui Moonshine Museum expansion

Published: May 22, 2019 · Updated: Dec 1, 2020

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  • Southland/Murihiku

Designs are nearing completion for the Hokonui Moonshine Museum’s redevelopment, including a new distillery in Gore that will quadruple the production of its historically accurate whiskey brand.

Photo of a Hokonui Moonshine Museum exhibition.

A Hokonui Moonshine Museum exhibition photo of brothers Jack and Alf Kirk with their accomplice Jim Botting at Mataura in March 1942.

In April, the museum was granted $729,000 from the Provincial Growth Fund to build a distillery as part of a $1.6 million investment in the Maruawai Cultural Precinct project led by the Gore District Council.

Gore District Arts and Heritage Curator Jim Geddes says the funding is an exciting new step for the whole area.

“Bottles fly out the doors and the museum’s current production cannot keep up with demand. We’ll go from making three batches of moonshine a year to at least one a month and we’re looking at expanding on our three existing lines. One particularly popular line is flavoured with honey from hives in the Hokonui district,” says Mr Geddes.

Mr Geddes says construction will start soon for the onsite brewery, which will also increase the experience the Museum offers and enable them to host events and functions, enticing more visitors.

“We are excited about the potential for the [Hokonui] precinct as a whole. It’s really a focal point of the town and there will be many positive spin offs. Once you get people into town for more than three hours, they start thinking about eating and drinking, and where to stay for a night.

“One of the real treasures we found when establishing the museum was the recipe for moonshine from descendants of the McRae’s, one of the leading families within the Hokonui Moonshine industry.

The Museum opened almost 20 years ago after a call from the community to explore the area’s legacy of illicit whiskey making and consumption. Due to the sheer amount of oral history from older generations, timing was vital.

“If we had left it another ten years we would have lost crucial information. We spent a lot of time in rest homes and living rooms with people. There was a shift from people not wanting to be associated with the region’s moonshine past, to becoming part of Southland aristocracy.”

Over a period of 80 years, Hokonui Moonshine was traded among those in the know and produced largely in Southland bush country under the cover of darkness.

In 2004, the museum started producing its own distinct spirit in partnership with Timaru company Southern Distilleries. Production moved to Invercargill in 2008 with a new line of spirit based on the McRae’s infamous recipe.

“A lot of people don’t know about this unique history in Southland. This goes back to two world wars and decades of prohibition. This illicit substance was in the middle of that,” says Mr Geddes.

“I was particularly taken with the story of Hokonui and realised many in the community were probably related to the families involved. I became completely engrossed in it all once I saw that artists could play a major part in relating these stories.”

Details of more than 30 prosecutions are now on display being viewed by around 10,000 visitors a year.