Meet our Friday Muse, Lighthouse Gin head distiller Rachel Hall

17 August 2023
By Fashion Quarterly

Giving a new meaning to remote work, New Zealand's first female head distiller still has a pinch-me moment when reflecting on breaking into her indisputably cool career.

Not only is Rachel Hall New Zealand’s first female head distiller at the country’s oldest craft gin distillery, but she also single handedly runs the entire operation. From sewing infusion bags and zesting the all the citrus by hand, to labelling and travelling over 100km to collect spring water from the Remutaka Ranges, Rachel is a pioneer in the gin space and creating some of the most premium spirit around.

Joining Lighthouse Gin in 2010, Rachel has done a lot of learning on the job. Below, she speaks to FQ on her autonomous career and what it takes to produce a smooth, distinct gin. Oh, and which cocktail recipe is her must-try! 

You’re the first female head distiller in New Zealand. Can you tell us what that’s like and which of your qualities empowered you to get to where you are today?

To start with it was really nerve wracking as I knew there were a lot of people surprised I was asked to be the head distiller and I never wanted to give them the opportunity to say I knew you weren’t right for the job. It has taken a lot of hard work and determination to get where I am today. I also think having a strong work ethic, not willing to comprise on quality for quantity and staying true to what Lighthouse started out to be has been really important, we aren’t about getting caught up in trendy gimmicks. 


Can you tell us more about the history of Lighthouse Gin and the distillery?

Lighthouse Gin started out with a group of friends wanting to make fruit brandy then realised that wasn’t the right path and soon changed to making gin. They set up in an old apple orchard pack house and they would pedal the gin around to every show and market they could. They managed to get it listed with Moore Wilsons which was a huge breakthrough for them. I started not long later to help with sales, marketing, office work and eventually everything that needed a helping hand. In 2014, Neil [Catherall] who was the original distiller and the others decided it was time to retire. Foley Wines bought the company and moved the distillery to Martinborough, and the new CEO Mark Turnbull asked me if I would like to be the next Head Distiller for Lighthouse Gin. I still want to pinch myself when I think about it. Now, after nine years being located at Martinborough Vineyard we are moving to our purpose built distillery at The Runholder with a custom built still by CARL, Germany.


What did you seek to do differently with Lighthouse Gin?

It’s not what I wanted to do differently it’s what I wanted make sure Lighthouse kept. I wanted to make sure that Lighthouse continued to be a great gin made well without taking short cuts or getting caught up making gimmicky gins. Of course there will be slight differences as I am now tasting the ‘cut’.


What does a day-in-the-life look like for you?

Every day I come in early and get the still going , then once the still is running my day can go in all directions, from bottling to gin tasting, no two days are the same and they are always very busy. I have to tend the still throughout the day and before I go home I set the still for the next day’s run.


What is it you love most about working/living in your region? 

I enjoy a pretty carefree lifestyle living in the country, no traffic jams on the way to work and I’m never too far from great things to do. Also I have a strong network of amazing family and lifelong friends that are always backing me 100%.

What is the most common feedback you receive about your product? 

Everyone has always said they love how smooth the gin is and how it has a beautiful lingering citrus taste. That comes down to the way we distil the gin and how we take cuts after each distillation. Each batch is distilled twice making it a very drinkable gin, it’s not overly heavy in big botanicals.


Which products in your range are you most proud of and why? 

I’m really proud of the barrel aged gin as this took five years to perfect which I think was definitely worth the time spent on getting it right.


Can you tell us a little bit more about your brand’s ethos and how it differs or aligns with your personal values? 

Lighthouse Gin has always focused on being a true London Dry style of gin using really good ingredients from around the world. It can be time consuming making sure we are always getting the best quality and not getting caught up in trends, but I am very much like that I have always preferred the classics. I also like to do things properly not half-arsed which flows through to the gin making process and the style of cocktails we use to promote Lighthouse Gin.


In your opinion, what elements contribute to a beautiful gin? 

Double distilling, tasting the cut every time and hand zesting the navel oranges and yen ben lemons for every batch makes the difference. You get the true citrus flavours coming through especially the lemony lemon from the yen ben lemons which are a true lemon that haven’t been crossed with another citrus like grapefruit or mandarin.

Quick-fire Q&A

  1. My favourite place to dine… The Runholder, Martinborough 
  2. My go-to gin recipe right now… A Lighthouse Navy Strength dirty martini.
  3. The item at the top of my wish list… A new Saben handbag from the General Store in Martinborough or a new pair of heels for summer!
  4. Best spot for a drink near me… The White Swan Greytown. 
  5. This season I’m splurging on… A trip to Greece!
  6. The most cherished item in my home is… Coupe champagne glasses that my parents received for a wedding gift in the ’70s.
  7. Somewhere everyone should go at least once in their lifetime… The Cape Palliser Lighthouse.

Imagery supplied.


Sign up & Join
FQ Insider

Unlock exclusive content, behind-the-scenes insights, and special offers by becoming an FQ Insider.

Fashion Quarterly Winter 2023 Cover
Fashion Quarterly Winter 2023 Cover

Sign up & Join
FQ Insider

Unlock exclusive content, behind-the-scenes insights, and special offers by becoming an FQ Insider.

Sign up to the Fashion Quarterly newsletter.

*Ts&Cs apply.
Find out more at