Stunning NZ gin: how an award-winning brand is dancing to a different beat

Ben and Sarah, founders of Dancing Sands, never thought they would own a distillery. Now, they are renowned for their hand-crafted gin, vodka and rum.

It takes a shot of courage and a strong measure of self-belief to launch your own business - let alone one that is an industry you know very little about...with a new baby to look after. But that is exactly what Ben and Sarah Bonoma did four years ago.

Their resolve and passion for a fine drop has certainly paid off. After only a very short time, their craft distillery, Dancing Sands, has gained widespread recognition for its innovative, beautiful tasting gins, vodkas and rums. They have won multiple awards, including at the prestigious London Rum Master Competition and San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and look set to continue taking the international drinks scene by storm.

We caught up with Sarah to get her thoughts on exactly what has got everyone so excited about their Golden Bay based brand.

If you had to describe Dancing Sands in one line, what would you say?

Simply stunning. We are located in Golden Bay which is one of the most beautiful places in the world and we are using water from the aquifer that feeds the clearest spring in the world – Dancing Sands Spring. Being surrounded by this natural beauty inspires us to craft products that honour this.

What is the inspiration behind Dancing Sands?

My husband, Ben, and I started Dancing Sands to escape our corporate careers and try something new. We fell in love with Golden Bay the first time we experienced the area and a few years later we were able to establish a business in Takaka.

What were you doing before Dancing Sands?

We both came from working at large companies in I.T. Ben and I met when I was living in London and he was living in New York City. We were in a long-distance relationship before quitting our jobs, traveling a bit, and then moving to New Zealand. We had never been here before, but we thought a place this beautiful could be our home!

Can you remember the first batch that you ever made? Did it turn out how you expected?

Vividly and fondly! This is Ben’s area of expertise - he is self-taught around distilling and then taught me. He first learned how to make rum and the first batch was terrible of course, closer to paint thinner than rum! I loved those days of getting lost for hours in trying to figure out how to make spirits and then how to make them taste good. We were still working full time in our corporate jobs and Ben turned our house into a makeshift distillery with jars and bottles and containers everywhere. Thankfully, I was understanding!

What’s been the most enjoyable surprise while you’ve been in business?

Kiwis will give you a chance. I do not think I’ve ever been hung up on or had a door slammed in my face. People were always willing to listen to my story and why they should care about what I am doing. It’s made me love New Zealand even more.

And the biggest challenge?

We started the business when our daughter was 9 months old, so having the courage to leave the safety net of our corporate jobs and start a business in an industry we knew nothing about caused us quite a few sleepless nights at the beginning.

Can you tell us a little more about how the products are made? Is there anything that sets your recipes and flavour profiles apart from other brands on the shelf?

I always thought it was marketing B.S. when you read about the importance of water in a beer or a spirit. It must be, right? In a bottle of our gin (44% ABV), gin is 44% of the product and water is 56% of it. The majority. The fact that we’re using water sourced from the aquifer that feeds the clearest spring in the world is a major contributing factor to how smooth and delicious our products are.

What has been your favourite story or piece of customer feedback since you launched?

In October 2016, we opened the cellar door for the first day. The very first customer that walked in gasped at the Dry Gin and said “Oh my! It’s so beautiful!” and bought a bottle. I knew that day we would be alright because the real beauty is how it tastes.

What’s your favourite way to use your gin? (or the rum/vodka, if you prefer!)

Ben and I partial to a Sun-Kissed spritz – which mixes the Sun-Kissed gin with Prosecco. It’s a great way to usher in the weekend. If you go to the cocktail section of our website, we’ve put up our favourites there.

Is there a particular gin, vodka or rum that you always have on your shelf at home?

They’re like my children, so they’re always hanging around. For me, it’s the Wasabi gin. I think it is our best made gin, it’s so delicious and unique.

What’s next for Dancing Sands – any exciting plans?

Yes! We are releasing a new product in September/October, but I’m not ready to share just yet. Watch this space.

You can learn more about Dancing Sands here.