Feel free to browse our online shop where you can buy locally produced replica bottles of genuine Hokonui Moonshine.



Illicit alcohol has been made in Southland since the early 1800’s, indeed cooper and carpenter Owen McShane gained considerable notoriety for his cabbage-tree distillate ‘McShane’s Chained Lightning’. It has been credited with the demise of at least one ship in southern waters.

Drunkenness was rife within the early whaling and sealing communities. This inspired European settlers to instigate a determined campaign to rid the south of the ‘demon drink’.

From the mid 1800’s until the turn of the 20th century, active temperance groups brought about a dramatic change to the drinking culture of Southland, so much so Prohibition was passed in the Mataura Electorate in 1902. This resulted in the closing of 15 licensed hotels and a subsequent 51 year ‘drought’.

Into the thick of this debate came the McRae clan. Widow Mary McRae, who had trained as a domestic distiller in her homeland, arrived from the Scottish Highlands in 1872 with her seven children, the eldest of which Murdoch, was to become the senior distiller of the clan.

The McRaes are credited with giving Hokonui moonshine its legendary status. For 80 years the clan, and its wide network of relations and descendants, ran foul of the law and the purveyors of temperance.


At the time of the McRae clan’s arrival all whiskey was imported, mainly from Scotland and Australia. It was watered to such an extent a dram was often offered a chair - as it didn’t have the strength to stand up!

In a letter to a cousin, Mary McRae gave the real Hokonui recipe as 8 bushels of grain in 20 gallons fermented to a gravity of 36 when the wash would be quite milky. This yielded 3 gallons of OP (over 50%) spirit. Instructions were also given to use sugar or liquid malt whenever it was available.


The design of the famous ‘Old Hokonui’ label used today has been attributed to many, including a schoolboy whose father was a local milkman delivering more than just milk, and a local newspaper editor with a particular liking for a drop. While original McRae Hokonui was never labelled, the term ‘passed all test except the police’ is family legend, and the resulting composite label utilises this phrase. The skull and crossbones, and term ‘Ergo Bibamus’, can be traced to twice convicted Timpany’s distiller Gerald ‘The Major’ Enwright.


The many tales of how ‘kiwi’ ingenuity foiled (and often failed to foil) the Customs men can be found in Gore’s unique Hokonui Moonshine Museum.

The museum breathes life into some of these tales through recreations, audio-visuals and original artefacts.

The fine displays of historic stills, letters and lifelike recreations of early still sites make the museum a must see for all travellers, whiskey drinkers or not.

Admission charges apply