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Parts of an illicit still plowed at Mākirikiri by William Caines, comprising the receiving unit, round bowl and pipe. This still would have been originally used at Gabriel’s Gully near Lawrence, Otago. Wanganui Regional Museum Collection Ref: 1927.52

Many Kiwis like to have a drink once in a while. Whether it’s attending sports games, parties or backyard barbecues, we’re often seen with a drink in hand.

This friendly reputation began soon after Europeans arrived in Aotearoa.

Many immigrants came from countries where beer was safer to drink than water and where spirits were medicinal. Drinking was particularly appealing to early immigrants because the work was hard, housing was difficult, and the lack of other entertainment made the pub the best place to congregate, listen to the news, and negotiate business.

Alcohol may have become too attractive – this country quickly acquired a reputation for drunkenness and nastiness. In the 1870s, the UK had seven drunken convictions per 1,000 people, while New Zealand had 18.

A study of beer sales and imports shows similar rates of per capita consumption. The increase in drunkenness is explained by the excessive drinking nature of the early settlers, who worked in the bush for blocks of time and then wasted their earnings at the pub when they came to town.

But the study focused only on beer and failed to acknowledge Kiwis’ penchant for fortified spirits and wines. Moreover, it did not take into account illicit brewing operations.

Many immigrants brought with them their traditional brewing methods and set up their own stills. To try to curb the trend, stills were banned in 1841, but were made legal again in 1868. Six years later, an increase in the tax on spirits drove many stills underground to avoid charges. additional.

A bottle from a more legitimate whiskey maker, Black Horse Whiskey.  This brand of whiskey was made in England and exported to Australia and New Zealand.  This bottle was found in a pit near the site of the Imperial Hotel on Victoria Avenue.  Wanganui Regional Museum Collection Ref: 2002.48.69
A bottle from a more legitimate whiskey maker, Black Horse Whiskey. This brand of whiskey was made in England and exported to Australia and New Zealand. This bottle was found in a pit near the site of the Imperial Hotel on Victoria Avenue. Wanganui Regional Museum Collection Ref: 2002.48.69

Different provinces were able to pass their own liquor laws until the License Act of 1881, which encompassed the entire country. The laws were influenced by the prohibition and temperance movements and controlled liquor licenses, drinking age and pub hours.

But that hasn’t stopped people from trying to brew in their own backyards without a permit.

Bruce McClintock immigrated from Ireland with his father and brothers in 1923. They lived on the streets for a time before settling, and Bruce recalled one of his father’s hobbies:

“Father was a tough case. He used to poteen [poitín] whiskey in Ireland. So he decided to make a worm and a condenser and started making whiskey in Wanganui, just 120 meters from the police station. He met an Irish bootmaker and an Irish policeman and they left. When they condensed the whiskey, the three of them sipped it as it came out of the condenser. By the time they were done they would be quite drunk, drinking 100% pure whiskey, so I had to keep condensing into the wee hours of the morning. I had to stoke the fire with charcoal and old boot leather salvaged from boot repair shops. Old boot leather etc burning with coal killed the smell of poteen whiskey which could be smelled quite a distance. Once the condensation was over and all the bottles were corked, I buried them in the garden. During gorse flower season, I had to go out with a bag of sugar and pick the flower which was boiled and bottled. This Father used to color whiskey.”

It’s just as well that Mr. McClintock had a policeman friend, otherwise he would have been heavily fined if his still had been discovered. In 1928, a Southland man was charged with possession and use of an illegal still and fined £500, or nearly $58,000 today.

Sláinte!

• Sandi Black is an archivist at the Whanganui Regional Museum.