Let’s clear up any misconceptions about Prenzel, Tauranga’s newest combined tasting room and gift store. For a start, they don’t sell pretzels, the pastry snack, of any sort.
People enter the store in Willow Street and ask ‘do you have hard or soft pretzels?’ says owner Annette McLachlan with tolerant good humour. ‘No we don’t actually sell pretzels,’ she corrects them, ‘its Prenzel.’ She admits that when Prenzel was first launched, its logo was in the shape of a pretzel. And she agrees that some of the confusion could be subliminal, with the words so similar.
Another slightly more forgivable misconception, given the Prenzel history as a fruit brandy distillery, is that the brand is mainly about alcoholic beverages - liqueurs, brandies, and gin. These days, Prenzel stocks an equally large range of culinary products, ranging from rice bran oils in different flavours, to vinegars, salts and dukkah, and dessert toppings. And you can taste just as many of the oils in store, as you can the drinks.
The Prenzel brand has been around for nearly 20 years, dating back to 1989 when a distiller from Alsace in France, a region famed for its fruit brandies, visited a couple on their cherry orchard on the outskirts of Blenheim.
The partnership that emerged following initial trials, based on a traditional still shipped out from France, eventually led to the first commercial fruit brandy distillery in the Southern Hemisphere, established in 1992.
Tauranga folk with long memories and a taste for good liqueurs, will recall Prenzel outlets over the years in Bethlehem, Te Puna and Mount Maunganui.
In more recent times, there have been successful home tastings – a service the store still provides. But early last year, Annette McLachlan, who’d been part of the team providing home tastings, and also worked in one of the outlets, bought a Prenzel franchise. It took her eight months to find a really good location, the former juice bar in Willow Street. The store was launched before Christmas and Annette is pleased with ‘return visits’ from people who bought gifts at that time, ‘coming back in for their own stocks.’
Others wander in off the street. Customers have been impressed with the layout of the store and its decor, she says. But there’s no doubt the no pressure, taste- before- buy approach (a long held Prenzel tradition) has helped win over customers over as well.
‘ The fact is that it’s a tasting room...they don’t have to walk out with anything at all,’ says Annette, ‘because if they say ‘no’ today, it doesn’t mean they are saying no forever.’ ‘If they are trying it and they like it, they are going to come back.’
Annette McLachlan is keen to see people ‘maximise’ their use of Prenzel products, pointing to their multi-purpose nature. ‘If they don’t know to use it, they are going to put it in the back of the cupboard, and not touch it. So we are going to encourage people to know how to really maximise the use of all their products by having tasting evenings, recipes....’ They are after all, she notes, fun products.
Drinks such as schnapps and butterscotch and cappuccino creams are versatile: you can drink them on their own, with mixers or use them in cooking and baking. ‘You can do so much with them.’ It’s a predictable comment from someone who enjoys cooking and is not afraid to try different things, loves different flavours and is happy to ‘mix them around.’
Prenzel products fit well into the modern food scene, where buyers are suspicious of chemical additives and search for more natural foods. Annette points to seven different flavours of rice bran oil, ‘so healthy for you, no additives, and no preservatives. We’ve got divine mustards, vinegars. We are the only company that ages our vinegars in oak barrels for six years – no additives,’ she says.
The culinary oils, including the infused rice bran oils, have been so successful for Prenzel, the company has created identical salt flavours – lemon, garlic and chilli, in ‘infused flaky sea salt.’ Vinegar products range from the popular citrus vinaigrette with rice bran oil, to the white and red, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon vinegars used by food identity Peta Mathias.
While Prenzel mainly stocks the firm’s 100% natural Blenheim-manufactured products, it also sells the fruit liqueurs made by the local award-winning, family-owned distillery Deinlein at the top of the Minden near Te Puna. One of Deinlein’s real novelties on the Prenzel shelves, perhaps an acquired taste, is the kiwiberry liqueur containing 23-carat gold leaf. Another liquor, Southern Star Vodka is a classic grain-based vodka, winner of an international tasting award. Annette offers an assurance of cost-competitiveness. “None of our schnapps and liqueurs are over-priced, they are very affordable,” she says.
A good souvenir for tourists is Ti-toki liqueur, a drink distilled from titoki berries and sold in a Maori motif bottle. There are sangria and mulled wine mixers, and butterscotch cream is a “firm favourite,” brandy rather than whisky-based, with a “distinct smoothness.” The culinary range includes Heavensent gourmet chutneys and relishes, sourced from the family-run, Hamilton based company. Desserts aren’t neglected either with chocolate mocha, hokey pokey and other toppings.
One way to sample a range of Prenzel products without much if any outlay is to organise your own home tasting. The Tauranga store has already staged a couple in January, says Annette, where you simply invite your friends around to a free tasting.
There’s no catch – the expectation is that people are going to buy and they do, says Annette. People invite their friends and ‘end up getting a whole pile of goodies cheaper, or at no cost...perfect.’ A pretty appealing thought in such hard economic times...