From Australia to the UK, craft gins have become the hottest bottle behind the bar and local distillers have been quick to catch onto the trend: in the wake of the craft beer revolution, burnished copper potstills across SA are bubbling away as distillers dabble in small-batch gins.
Like wine, craft gins are increasingly showing their “terroir”, as African botanicals are blended into the traditional mix of juniper, citrus and herbs.
Perhaps the most interesting examples come from the Western Cape, where fynbos flavours loom large, with distillers using everything from buchu to kapokbos and honey bush in a bid to create unique gins that are distinctly South African.
“A lot of commercial spirits are one-dimensional, whereas craft gin has many ways of being made and appreciated,” says Rolf Zeitvogel, Cellar Master of Blaauwklippen estate outside Stellenbosch.
“There’s more and more interest from consumers in how gin is made and where it’s from.”
“No two gins are the same, because the recipe is unique and the stills are unique,” adds Lucy Beard, who started Cape Town’s Hope on Hopkins distillery with partner Leigh Lisk.
“Making a gin is more like being a chef than being a distiller, because flavour components are so important to the product.”
A wonder through any decent liquor store quickly shows the boom in the category, with over a dozen craft gins on the market, matched by a sharp rise in the number of premium tonic waters to help you craft the ultimate gin and tonic.
Little surprise then, that this classic cocktail has spawned a home-grown G&T Festival, which took place in both Cape Town and Johannesburg earlier this year.
It’s the perfect cocktail for sultry summer days, so as the weather warms up, it’s time to ditch that little anodyne, mass-produced gin and put a measure of local craft. Add a few blocks of ice, a splash of tonic and a twist of lemon peel and you have the perfect South African sundowner. Cheers!