If you fancy yourself a fan of the burgeoning boutique gin movement sweeping across Gauteng, you’ll know that South African produced gins have been steaming ahead in leaps and bounds. There are a number of award-winning distillers tapping into our native botanicals and braving innovative distilling experimentation to present something uniquely South African. Benn van der Westhuizen shines a spotlight on some of the growing micro-batch distillers making waves right now in the local gin scene. Stay tuned for a follow-up feature showcasing our list of prime hotspots to enjoy gin in Gauteng.
Distillers Juan Koen and Dys Grundling may only have launched their gin in December 2016, but it quickly won acclaim by picking up gold medals for both their Black Mountain Karoo Dry and Black Mountain Karoo Flora Gin varieties at the 2017 Michelangelo Spirit Awards. Marketing wiz Juan Koen initially approached Dys Grundling for a crossover collaboration of creative and sustainable savvy coupled with vast wine-making experience. Grundling just so happens to be the sixth generation distiller at Grundheim Craft Distillery, somewhat of a holy grail for many local brandy aficionados. And with the creation of Black Mountain Karoo Gin, the pair ushered Grundheim Craft Distillery into a new and contemporary vernacular. After all, the indie, family-owned vineyard serves as the platform where the gin is hand-crafted and bottled while boasting with sweeping views of the scenic Swartberg Mountains, dividing the Klein and Great Karoo.
The flavour profile of the Black Mountain Karoo Dry Gin (43% ABV) veers more towards the traditional London Dry-style vein, but is laced with a slightly unique twist. Using a triple distilled wine base as a neutral spirit medium for its formula (unconventional yet exciting), the gin is infused with a heavy bouquet of botanicals sourced in the region such as a variety of citrus, hand-harvested rose petals and Liquorice root, all underpinned with Cardamom and pronounced Italian imported-Juniper berry. It’s a robust spirit showing great generosity and flavour thanks to the unique triple distilled alcohol spirit. Black Mountain Karoo Dry Gin can be enjoyed simply with a twig of Rosemary, and some Barker & Quin Indian tonic water.
With the game-changing Black Mountain Karoo Flora Gin (43% ABV), Koen and Grundling really aim to promote South Africa’s vast variety of botanical resources. We’ve yet to encounter a local spirit where the Sweet Thorn flowers from our famous Karoo ‘Doringboom’ trees, fragrant Sweet Anise flowers, and Wild Cannabis (a perfectly legal strain of Cannabis) headline other botanicals to create a gin in a class of its own. That crucial mix of ballsy attitude and insight seduce the palate while defining this small batch gin. For a garnishing touch? Go all out with a lavish slice of orange rind, and a lavender twig to play up to the indigenous accents.
The two gins are available at Dry Dock Liquors, Norman Goodfellows branches, Wine & Liquor in Craighall, and a variety of chic spots across Gauteng.
Time Anchor Distillery, founded in 2013 by Shanna-Rae Wilby and Warrick Brown, is somewhat of an early crusader in Jozi gin movement. Wilby and Brown tapped into their deep founded passion for fantasy and innovation to add the Mirari Gin range to their already acclaimed collection. This captivating Mirari Pink and Blue Gin combined botanicals to hone in on that mythical Oasis of Mirari. The fragrant essence of over 1000 Damask roses, Chamomile extract, and Grapefruit rounded out by natural Rose Water results in Mirari Pink’s heady aromatic odyssey and millennial pink tone. Mirari Pink (43% ABV) is delicate on the palate with sugary accents from the Rose Water and Grapefruit, and a peppery twist from Cubeb Berries. Lovers of the crowd-pleasing Cosmo will instantly latch onto this one. Mirari Blue (43% ABV) takes on an entirely different profile. Here Africa meets the Orient for a spicy dash of exoticism. The duo blends the West African Grains of Paradise, Vanilla, Cardamom, with Asian Jasmine and the elusive Blue Pea Flower from Thailand for the magical Mirari Blue. A dash of tonic instantly shifts the organic midnight blue hue of the gin to that of a faint pink tone. Mirari Blue naturally plays well with show-stopping cocktails, but can be enjoyed straight-forward with a tonic as well. Wilby and Brown recommend a slice of Granny Smith apple and a twig of mint. But perhaps a cinnamon bark and citrus rind could further amplify Mirari Blue’s spicy undertones.
And just to stay ahead of the pack, Time Anchor recently updated their Pink and Blue varieties with a secret ingredient (the tears of Peacocks, perhaps? Just joking!) for a limited edition December gin. This South African first truly lives up to the Latin denotation of Mirari, which means ‘to wonder/marvel at.’ The gin shimmers once shaken, which lasts for a few hours before settling to the original state.
Time Anchor also offers special tasting events every Saturday at their Maboneng Precinct venue – booking is essential. You can also catch them at the upcoming Gin & Tonic Festival at the Neighbourgoods Market, Johannesburg Central. The distillery’s retail distribution is thoroughly developed throughout Gauteng, and can be seen at Norman Goodfellows branches, and cocktail haunts such as 011 Dainfern, Tonic in Linden, and Carbon Bistro in Pretoria.
Ginifer Gin (43% ABV) is another well-known micro distillery in Jozi led by owner and distiller, Jacqueline Grobler. Grobler conceptualised the label in 2015, and her diligent, hands-on approach to every aspect of her copper distillation process managed to secure four international craft gin awards for South African gin. Beyond the uber-chic black bottling, Ginifer Gin stands tall with a beautifully clean, beguiling and long spirit, accentuated with carefully distilled native and traditional botanicals. Grobler’s botanical pairing process is both predefined and spontaneous to present this sophisticated spirit. Imported Juniper berries, Angelica Root, Cassia Bark and Orris Root is blended with a selection of local Citrus peel and some secret additions sourced from the Muthi Market. Ginifer Gin plays well with a dry martini, boasting a smooth, deep palate layering of Juniper, citrus notes and a bright, clean finish. For the daredevils seeking a more intense and adventurous approach to craft gin, Ginifer’s Barrel-Aged Chilli Gin (43% ABV) is the perfect option. Locally sourced Cheyenne Chilli takes centre stage for a well-balanced oak matured spirit with some earthy spice and citrus accents. It is pungently aromatic and displays resinous, tasting profile notes that makes for a killer reconstructed ‘G&T’. While the mere concept of a chilli-infused gin is enough to set back the most seasoned bartender, Grobler suggests the dominant full-bodied chilli and savoury spice touch to be complemented with a slice of tarty citrus such as lime or grapefruit, and a decent Ginger Ale instead of tonic. Alternatively, a few drops of Ginifer’s artisanal Star-Anise bitters should do the trick.
Grobler will also introduce Tincture, a new gin creation to her already esteemed drawing board. The details and botanicals are being kept under tight wraps, so it’s best to look out for this secret addition at the upcoming Gin & Tonic Festival.
Ginifer offered tasting sessions at the Whiskey Live event in Sandton. The gin is available at a host of reputable retail outlets and cocktail bars throughout Gauteng.
Qualito Grey Hawk Classic Craft Gin (43% ABV) is the third act and another triumph for Qualito, the boutique distillery located on the outskirts of Phalaborwa. This thriving small empire saw its humble beginnings while mastering the art of vodka, vodka infusions and whiskey, so it was only natural to rise to the occasion and try their hand at gin making. The ‘Grey Hawk’ title is somewhat of a paean to the majestic African harrier hawk, one of the most frequent visitors at the distillery. It took distiller Loumarie Raubenheimer little over 3 years to develop various iterations, trying different botanicals before settling on Qualito Grey Hawk Classic Craft Gin. And that patience and diligence provided her with a wealth of technical experience to curate a somewhat underrated gin. Raubenheimer ditched the commonly used cane for distillation and instead chose to ferment her own GMO-free grain for the alcohol base. The result is a smooth alcohol, yet much higher in volume. But fermenting grain for alcohol comes with its own set of drawbacks such as the incredibly hot weather in Phalaborwa. To counter this, Raubenheimer manually cooled the fermentation process down to reach the desired temperature. Qualito Craft Distillery also employed the use of extracted natural oils from a union of carefully selected secret botanicals – as opposed to the herbed variety- to keep the flavour profile of their spirit consistent. With a depth of character, featuring top notes of Juniper and higher-toned zesty lemon elements, Grey Hawk Classic Craft Gin’s select group of premium botanicals yield a complex, balanced and smooth dry gin. The gin can be served neat on the rocks, or with a dash of pomegranate seeds and lightly crushed blueberries.
But why not pop in at the distillery off the R71 for an exclusive day tour? Qualito Distillery offers specially crafted gourmet food and spirit pairing sessions from Mondays to Saturdays. Advanced booking is essential. The gin, and Qualito Distillery’s collection of vodka and whiskey, can be sourced from key outlets such as Norman Goodfellows branches, Ashton Manor Liquors, and most high-end Spar Tops bottle stores. You also may have caught Raubenheimer and her team at the Whiskey & Spirits Live in East Rand.
Distillers Jayde Maasdorp and Mike Sayers ditched the shackles of the corporate world by tapping into their creativity and entrepreneurial ‘spirit’ (pun intended) to kickstart the unique Black Meerkat ‘Old Town’ Gin (44% ABV). The entire process of experimenting and securing botanicals, hitting stumbling blocks, and finally putting a cap onto this slick beauty lasted eleven months. And the result was worth the wait. What we get is a captivating combination of eleven botanicals distilled exclusively at the uber-chic New Harbour Distillery in Cape Town, using a unique range of organic and ethically sourced botanicals such as Pineapple Sage, Liquorice Root, Star Anise, Rose Geranium and Coriander. Sitting pretty with a robust 44% alcohol volume, the gin’s tasting profile kicks off with a fresh and flavourful zesty green feel furthered by the Sage, while the Aniseed and Liquorice components chorus along for a slightly sweet palate towards finish. Black Meerkat ‘Old Town’ Gin is currently the only Old Tom-style gin in the country, somewhat of a rarity for South Africa. For those not familiar with this niche varietal, Old Tom gin is a more versatile and slightly sweeter style of gin which will appeal to non-gin drinkers and fanatics alike. Maasdorp and Sayers cleverly renamed their gin ‘Old Town-style’ instead, perhaps an allusion to Woodstock, where the distillery is located.
And the meerkat is not only their favourite animal, but also lends somewhat of a South African twist to the ‘black cat’ urban legend which surrounds the classic Old Tom gin. The duo recommends their gin served neat on the rocks, or with a dash of Fitch & Leeds tonic. Sandtonites may have experienced Black Meerkat ‘Old Town’ Gin at Whiskey Live, running from 8 to 10 November 2017. The gin is available for retail at Norman Goodfellows branches in Illovo, Melrose Arch, Kyalami and Sandton from Monday 13 November. For a taste of this wunderkind in more of a chic setting, head over to the dedicated and much revered Carbon Bistro in Pretoria.
Part of the early gin renaissance in South Africa, Charles and Glenn Bryant, with the help of their friend Luigi Marucchi, set up a small batch distillery on the fringe of the Karoo in 2013. And many can vouch for the classic brilliance that is Six Dogs Karoo Gin. But not content with garnering rave reviews and gathering a solid following, the three alchemists recently handcrafted a new quality spirit to bowl over South African gin fanatics. With a distinctive indigo tint, Six Dogs Blue (43% ABV) changes colour when tonic or lemon is added. But don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a gimmick. The natural potent colour actually develops due to a post-distillation infusion of rare Indonesian Blue Pea flower petals, scientifically known as *ahem* Clitoria Ternatea. The name alludes to the fact that the Blue Pea flower is believed, in Ayurvedic medicine, to boast aphrodisiac qualities. But beyond the ostentatious appeal lies a multitude of pronounced botanical influences such as Rose Perlargonium, Naartjie, Coriander and Angelica Root.
The trio are gradually working towards a more sustainable approach by producing their modern gin using mostly native plant-sourced ingredients. They’ve braved the intense cultivation of the Blue Pea Flower locally, while the hand-picked and morning-harvested Rose Pelargonium is sourced from a neighbouring farmer. Six Dogs Blue is a genteel, harmonious and aromatic drink best served properly chilled with just a tonic and minimal garnishing. Or for a more adventurous streak, play up to its colourful side by blending it for swoon-worthy cocktails such as an Ink Martini. Being such an established brand, the distribution is fairly well developed across Gauteng. You can catch Six Dogs Blue or Karoo Gin at Norman Goodfellows in Illovo, Melrose Arch, Kyalami and Sandton, Riverside Liquors in Bryanston, Liquor City in Hazelwood and several other specialist liquor outlets in Johannesburg and Pretoria. As expected, it is also on offer at Crabon Bistro in Pretoria, and discerning retailers, bars and restaurants across Jozi.