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At Dunedin Craft Distillers, founders Jenny McDonald and Sue Stockwell are tackling Aotearoa, New Zealand’s 46,194 Tonnes of bakery sugar and confectionery waste per annum (Reynolds, Mirosa, and Clothier, 2016); one gin at a time. Gin is traditionally made by distillation of alcohol from a fermented malt wash that is then infused with botanical aromatics, including juniper. Stockwell and McDonald developed a process where varying waste bakery products, from donuts to sourdough, replace up to 90% of the malt. Demand for their premium, award-winning gin is growing, and 5.9 Tonnes of waste bakery products have been upcycled since their start in 2020. Sustainability lies at the heart of their business approach primarily through responsible consumption and production (SDG.12), enabled through partnerships with social enterprises and the wider community (SDG.17).
“To be successful, any old bakery product from a raspberry bun to sourdough had to be used; we’re not going to be picky; that’s pointless… that’s not going to deal with the food waste,” states Stockwell. Replacing distillers malt with waste bakery products as the food for their alcoholic fermentation process, Dunedin Craft Distillers’ innovation achieves SDG.12 (responsible consumption and production) by diverting food waste from landfill. It was key that the wide variety of bakery ingredients yield a consistent alcohol wash for distillation, so McDonald and Stockwell enlisted local craft brewer Richard Emerson for support (sustainable partnership, SDG.17) and set about experimenting with bread, buns, and naan.
The stale bakery products are mixed with water and a small amount of distillers malt, then slowly heated to allow enzymes naturally occurring in the malt to convert starch into a sugary wort for alcoholic fermentation. Traditionally, the sugary wort is filtered through its component malt husk to remove solids. However, there just was not enough and the leftover bakery solids were too soft and without structure to be removed easily. McDonald and Stockwell found that adding waste oat husks to the mash helped to bulk out the pliable bakery products, facilitating a more even heating of the porridge-like mash. This phase of the innovation development took a great deal of trial and error, “we had mash on the ceiling from the press right there; it’s been covered [in mash]”. Eventually, a hydrostatic cider press provided the solution; an internal balloon is inflated with water, gently squeezing the waste bakery solids against a mesh to extract the liquid sugary wort ready for alcoholic fermentation and distillation.
Converted mash being transferred from the mash tun (at rear) into the hydrostatic cider press (at front)
“We didn’t start with the question how might we make gin; it was how might we use up the bakery waste in New Zealand...” McDonald relates, “I was sure that sugar could be used to make alcohol, and eventually we settled on gin”. The mashing and filtering method caters to all bakery products, except for those containing meat, to allow the spent bakery solids to be fed to animals and composted without complications. Repurposing and reusing were recurring themes in our conversation: their fermenters are repurposed barrels from a closed-down chocolate factory; their mash tun is on loan from Richard Emerson; and a pallet truck appeared by the garage doors one night donated by the scrap metal merchant who previously leased their space. To conserve water, a local refrigeration engineer built a water circulation system that allows the reuse of water used for cooling their still and mash.
McDonald speaks movingly of the shock her mother and “certainly her grandmothers" would feel at the level of overconsumption in modern society. She added that career change becomes much more difficult for women in New Zealand over 50 and yet, it is McDonald and Stockwells’ experience that fuels the sustainable vision for their business. “I couldn’t have known what I now know… I just kind of wish that you could wash the mist from so many eyes [so they could see the] finite resources [available]”. This passion for responsible consumption is shared by Stockwell, who joined our interview after foraging for botanicals needed for that day’s batch distillation.
By adapting the traditional gin fermentation and distillation processes to use bakery waste as a substitute for malt, Dunedin Craft Distillers have created a thriving enterprise using sustainable innovation. The use of waste bakery products is the business’s unique selling point; carried out by only a small number of producers internationally, McDonald and Stockwell know of one other in San Diego, USA that uses a similarly broad range of bakery products. Their social media presence and branding draw heavily on sustainable business themes and their website has a live counter prominently featuring the total weight of upcycled bakery waste. This business proposition has supported rapid growth for the start-up, and the business now provides sufficient revenue to support two part-time, casual employees and a small income for McDonald and Stockwell.
From their beginnings in a shared kitchen space, they now have their own dedicated warehouse space in a former industrial area made vibrant by artisanal food producers (their neighbors include a craft peanut butter manufacturer and craft chocolatier). Having upcycled 5.9 Tonnes of bakery waste since their incorporation in 2020, they could not keep up with demand. As a result, they have recently scaled up, purchasing and commissioning a 500 Liter still and hiring a new employee to help. Dunedin Craft Distillers is now able to upcycle 132 kg of bakery waste products each week, equating to 18 Tonnes of bread diverted from landfill annually. Waste bakery products also reduce ingredient costs.
The use of unsold bakery products reduces ingredient costs and also helps draw attention to their premium craft gin when compared to other premium spirits on the shelf. Their unique selling point, producing gin from old bakery products, appeals to customers; and as a result, the pair quickly scaled up from producing in a shared kitchen space to a large, dedicated warehouse. They’ve generated enough demand to necessitate the purchase of a 500 Liter still to keep up with orders and enough revenue to acquire it.
Talking with McDonald and Stockwell, it is apparent that a small community of supporters has formed around them—people who believe in their sustainable goals and, in the case of Richard Emerson, their use of traditional methods. This sustainable purpose seems to have led to an abundance of discretionary support, with donations of equipment as just one example. Their sustainable story has also driven awareness through press coverage in local and national newspapers, their websites, and in a primetime news bulletin on one of three free-to-air television channels in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
The 5.9 Tonnes of unsold bakery waste already upcycled into premium craft gin and the projected 18 Tonnes per year with the new 500 Liter still, provide an obvious environmental benefit. Unsold bakery products, when sent to a landfill, emit methane as they are broken down by bacteria; 18 Tonnes of bakery products would evolve 10.8 Tonnes of the potent global warming gas at the nearby Green Island landfill. The sugar imported into New Zealand to produce bakery products that are then not consumed seems so incredibly wasteful to McDonald, even before accounting for the fossil fuel consumed in the shipments. Upcycling the unsold bakery products to produce a premium gin is driving economic growth and McDonald and Stockwell have a strong local focus, ensuring that the benefits are felt within the community.
Dunedin Craft Distillers also has a social impact through their symbiotic partnership with the food rescue organization KiwiHarvest. KiwiHarvest provides a service to supermarkets and manufacturers by collecting excess food waste, which they redistribute to those in need to fight food insecurity and reduce emissions from landfills. By sourcing excess bakery products through KiwiHarvest, Dunedin Craft Distillers has easy access to bakery surplus and avoids taking food from those who need it. At present, there is more food waste than both organizations can divert. Thus, through partnership, Dunedin Craft Distillers indirectly supports KiwiHarvest’s goals in helping to improve food security and reduce food waste in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Social benefits are also seen within the business itself; McDonald relates that “the older you get, you tend to feel that you’re shuffling towards the end, whatever that is. One really positive way to ease the end game is to feel useful and very often trying to get a job after 50 is difficult. So many women who visit our tasting room tell similar stories”. McDonald and Stockwell’s success demonstrates the value of diversity in entrepreneurship (SDG. 5; SDG. 10) and is an inspiration to me as a mature female student. McDonald’s and Stockwells’ wealth of experience and partnership skills make for successful, sustainable entrepreneurship. They are helping to make the world a better place, one gin at a time.
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Jenny McDonald, Founder
Sue Stockwell, Founder
Dunedin Craft Distillers makes craft gin from unsold bakery products, from donuts and raspberry buns to Sourdough. Their premium spirits have earned a top-shelf spot alongside other spirits in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Based in the small Southern city of Dunedin, Ōtepoti, this sustainability-focused startup was incorporated as a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in 2020. The founders have grown their operations from a shared kitchen space to a restored scrap metal dealer’s shed, where their newly purchased 500 Liter still apparatus sits resplendent with polished copper. Central to their innovation is the modification of traditional mash makeup and the use of a hydrostatic cider press. Founders Jenny McDonald and Sue Stockwell divert approximately four loaves of bread from waste for each liter of gin produced and have upcycled 5.9 Tonnes of old bakery waste so far, with an expected 18 Tonnes per annum to follow with the new, larger still. They’ve hired two part-time workers and were awarded Gold (for their Bay Gin) and Silver (for their Dunedin Dry Gin and Naked Spirit) medals at the 2023 London Spirits Competition.