Gin first arrived in the Cape in the 1600s with the Dutch ships en route to the East. In the 19th century, the British consumed it as your typical G&T. Tonic water had been recommended for troops stationed in tropical or sub-tropical climes as the quinine content was said to ward off malaria. Its bitter taste, however, made it unpleasant without a heady pour of sweet, botanical gin.
Today, however, gin is far more than a necessary aside to quinine-rich tonic water. Gin cocktails have revolutionised the way we see gin, making it a lifestyle drink involving innovative local distillations, a wide choice of tonics (be they fruity, floral or herbal) and garnishes from cucumber to grapefruit, chili, mango and crushed berries — making that slice of lemon so yesteryear.
Craft gins satisfy millennials’ search for brands with meaning in that they offer authenticity and provenance. In South Africa we know that local is lekker, so support for locally distilled craft gins has been unhesitating. Millennials are also seeking healthier drinking options and rank creativity and innovation highly - which explains the appeal behind the off-the-wall gin cocktails.
Each gin distillery has its own secret recipe of botanicals. All gins include juniper as an ingredient and other botanicals range from coriander to angelica, orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom, cinnamon, berries and nutmeg. Typically, a fine gin contains six to ten botanicals.
With South Africa’s host of indigenous botanicals in the form of fynbos, rooibos, buchu and honey bush, we have all it takes for a local gin renaissance and local distillers have shown great creativity and dedication to fine products. The result is that our local gins are attracting the adventurous and many a dedicated follower – millennial or not.
To experience these magical flavours, visit what is said to be the first gin-specialist bar in Africa – Mother’s Ruin, situated in happening Bree Street. This slick little “gin palace” takes its title from the nickname given to the spirit in 1700’s England when much of this “medicinal” drink was consumed by women – often to their demise. Mother’s Ruin is known for its wellstocked bar which displays and offers over 80 different gins – local and international. You are spoilt for choice here so if that sounds too overwhelming, head for Wale Street where you will find The Gin Bar tucked in the charming courtyard behind Honest Chocolate Café. The feel here is more relaxed and continental and the options contained with the mixologist catering to your Head, Heart, Ambition and Soul with four elixirs bound to alleviate any troubles and woes.
For those truly captured by botanical infusions, there are three city distilleries worth visiting. The Woodstock Gin Company is located a few doors down from the Old Biscuit Mill. This micro-distillery produces four craft gins (the latest addition is aged in American oak casks) all available for sale on site. Tastings can be done daily and a smiling barista peddles welcome coffee chasers. Also in Woodstock is the New Harbour Distillery (a carbon neutral distillery and crafter of two gins and a vodka) where tastings and tours are offered from Wednesdays to Saturdays. Not far off is Hope on Hopkins – home to the first stills to be licensed by the City of Cape Town and located in a sleek minimalist distillery which fills a renovated warehouse in Salt River. Their artisanal offerings are three gins and a vodka which can be tasted in their Gin Experience - by appointment for Saturday afternoons.
CityLife columnist Ginette de Fleuriot is a Cape Wine Master.