Fellas of Finn - Max Norton

Max Norton Portrait Photo

Our collective has a few big names, but mostly everyday legends. We sit down for a beer, find out what makes them tick and surface adventure inspiration from their neck of the woods. Engaging, insightful, easily absorbable and entertaining.

Our first feature is on Max Norton. The face of Queenstown, Finn’s first customer, 'Hot Dogger', and a serious contender for NZ’s flyest dad of 2020. He had an unexpected journey after a night on cherry vodka in Poland, and is sometimes mistaken for a mythological creature - but don’t let that fool you. Find out more below.

Drawing the curtain on Max

Hi Max, hows things? What beer are you drinking there?

‘Hey mate, not bad, could be worse. I’m tucking into a Moa Pelorus X.P.A., which is one of my regulars. 

Oh yes, tried it. Packs a bit more punch than the Dry Hopped Pilsner, which I can’t get enough of.

Well, let’s get started.

Nicknames are a good place to break the ice. What are yours?

Norty, Yeti, Chubb Nek.

There are a couple of obvious nicknames there, but ‘Yeti’ really stands out. How did you get that?

From the way I walk. Apparently I’ve got massive, long waving ‘yeti’ like arms. 

Well, I can only imagine the leverage and reach you have with those big guys. Assets if you ask me. 

What do you do for a living?

I’m a Front End Developer, for a company called Plann. Plann is a software company that helps brands create, manage and schedule their creative content on Instagram.

We will have to check that out. I wish I clued up on the code stuff at school. There are so many great jobs out there for people with your skills. Do you get into your own projects?

Yeah, I’ve always got projects on the go. Some half baked ideas, and some that end up going further. Usually, I like to get into things that are a bit removed from the engineering stuff.

One interesting project I’ve started, but haven’t tapped out of just yet is Black Dove Vodka. We started making cherry vodka in Australia. 

That is super interesting. How did you get into that?

Funnily enough, I was on a lads trip to Poland and had a massive night on this delicious cherry vodka. I thought it would be a great idea to start that up in New Zealand, using NZ cherries. In Central Otago, our cherries are the goods.

Max Norton shown with vodka production line

 Nothing like a bit of stimulus to get the ideas flowing. That is awesome, so where is Black Dove Vodka at now?

We got started in Sydney, Australia, and were lucky enough to have some good contacts to help build a pretty cool brand. Everything was done on the side hustle, and we got to a point where we’ve sold out our second batch. We realised for us to take it to the next level, we need to go ‘all in’ with time and money to really get the results we are looking for. A couple of life events for the founders have meant things are slightly on the back burner.

That’s a good thing to be honest. We actually didn’t find a way to use NZ cherries yet, and have found the viability and feasibility of the business is something we need to look further into. I’ve always wanted to use NZ cherries, and to be more vertically integrated with the business, rather than having to import the juice.

This is super cool man! Nothing wrong with experimenting and taking the time needed. There will always be thirsty badgers out there. So how are your distilling skills?

Since moving back to NZ, I’ve actually taken it up as a hobby. I’m more doing it out of pure enjoyment. I like to make it, and like to drink it! That said, it is all great learning for if and when we decide to crack back into Black Dove Vodka. 

Cool. What are you currently distilling? And, I’m sure a lot of the readers would love a run down of the process?

I’ve made a few vodkas, and schnapps. Also, Limoncello and Hazelnut Liqueurs. The process is pretty simple.

  1. Mix water, sugar and yeast in a bucket.
  2. Wait for a week or so while the yeast eats the sugar and turns it into alcohol.
  3. Boil that mixture and collect the vapour using a still. Different alcohols boil off at different temperatures, so you avoid the head and the tail, and just collect the good stuff in the middle of the range.
  4. Enjoy with the lads!

The sugar can be normal white sugar, from malted grains or from mashed up fruit (schnapps). But the process is the same.

Well mate, your curiosity has led you into an interesting array of things there. Sounds like you’ve got some fire in the belly beyond the engineering stuff. I bet you learnt a few valuable lessons. Are there any good takeaways for our readers who are thinking about diving into similar projects?

Yeah, I’m usually careful about advice. But, my takeaways would be you need to have determination and persistence, and to be doing something that you are interested in. Making it your passion makes it a fun learning experience.

I can totally relate, but it took me a few projects to really realise those things fully. Thanks for sharing.

Beyond all that great graft you’ve got into, what would be your claim to fame?

Haha, well, I became the face of Queenstown, and probably one of the most underpaid ambassadors of the century. I got paid a $100 buffet voucher to get my face plastered on the Skyline Gondola billboard for a decade. 

What a big show! Mate, I reckon that buffet would have delivered. Don’t beat yourself up on that. Is the billboard still up there? 

It actually got taken down the other month.

That’s a shame, we’ll have to find a picture of that.

Male and female model on promotional billboard

What scares you the most? 

Probably the thought of that billboard being put back up.

Haha, nicely played.

Now, you’re living in a pretty awesome location. What is your favourite active pursuit? 

Skiing for sure. Although, the bike has given that a good run for its money lately.

Awesome. Before we talk about where, what category of skier do you fit into?

Definitely the ‘Hot Dogger’. Don't mind a couple of Daffys, a couple of Shakas, a couple of Spread-Eagles.

Haha, the Hot Dogger. That sounds like a good day out!

Max Norton skiing with dad on sunny day

Queenstown through Max’s Lens

So, you’re from Queenstown, how would you sell the place to a punter?

Mountains, lifestyle, good energy. Good adventurous community with nature on your doorstep. Everyone gets out and about, and is closely connected.

What would be the best cheap eat and pub?

I won’t say Fergburger, because it gets smashed. 

Pub of the Wharf is quite good. It’s got a nice pub steak, done well. 

Hawker & Roll in the mall is good too. A bit of Asian fusion, and Garage Project on ice. 

Oh, and Atlas. Especially after a good bike ride. Good steak there too. Emerson’s on tap. Can’t go wrong.

That’s a good list you gave me there. You’re right, I’ve definitely smashed a few Fergburgers. I also rate Atlas. Impeccable value right next to the lake.

Just so our readers don’t run the risk of a catastrophe, what is the go to barber in Queenstown?

I’m struggling with a go to at the moment to be honest. 

Mate, you’ve been living there your whole life… Your lid is looking good right now, where did you go for that one?

The Frankton Barber. No bookings. Just walk in, sit on the couch, shut up and wait your turn.

Sounds honest and trustworthy. I’m sure everyone will jot that down.

What’s one of the less touristy getaways close to Queenstown? Something you do on the regular. 

There are so many. Wye Creek for a quick day hike is great. It takes about 1.5 hours, and you get good elevation on the side of Remarkables. It’s about 10 mins south of Jack’s Point.  

A quick lap up Skyline on the bike is also hard to beat. Top that off with beer at Atlas.

Great to know. I will put Wye Creek on the list! I can also advocate for Skyline. I’ve had some amazing summers running laps up there.

Max's bike shown in front of lake with mountains behind

Max's relationship with Finn

Finn’s first customer! Congrats and thank you. What attracted you to buy?

I know good kit when I see it. Plus, the eco-friendly stuff makes it an easy sell.

What did you buy? Why?

I got The Cool Lid and the Always Ready Short.

I like exercising with a lid on, and it’s hard to find a decent one that’s light and breathable. I don’t really buy much kit, but a good, long lasting, versatile short that I can wear to death is invaluable. The test shorts you sent me have been incredible.

Well, it’s amazing to have your support and thanks for the feedback. We hope to get some more soon. 

That’s about enough interrogation for the day and it looks like you need new beer. Thanks for sharing everything with us! Look forward to catching up and hearing more about Black Dove Vodka or some other awesome project you have on.