The rebirth of gin in SA

Gin: it’s the inspiration of many a famous author, film-maker and songwriter, the tipple of choice of the rich and famous, and those who’d quite like to join their ranks.

Winston Churchill famously said: “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.”

However, gin and tonic wasn’t always the posh beverage for a day at the polo, or to be sipped at a yacht club on a hot summer’s day.

A brief history of gin

There’s a period in English history, circa the 18th century, that’s now only whispered about: The Gin Craze.

What started out as a medicine in mid-18th century London became known as “Mother’s Ruin”, because it was cheap and, as put by writer and historian Patrick Dillon, “not even maternal instinct has survived the ravages of gin”.

It was produced on a massive scale, making it the chosen drink (although it was more of a drug of the time) for the poor and working classes. Until this point, beer was the most popular alcoholic drink in the country and it was significantly more expensive. But it was also much weaker, meaning it did not hit the people quite as hard.

Ultimately, tax was raised by the government and gin sales predominantly moved to the underground black market. But it wasn’t until a grain shortage in 1757, when distillation was banned, that the craze subsided.

For years after, gin lurked in the shadows, as rum, vodka and whiskies gained in popularity. Now, fast forward almost 300 years, and the aromatic spirit is going through a global renaissance.

Remarkable resurgence

South Africa has well and truly embraced the trend, with more than 50 independent gin distillers in the country producing more than 75 local gin brands.

According to Avukile Mabombo, Group Marketing Manager for Protea Hotels by Marriott, gin sales are consistently growing at almost 15% worldwide year-on-year, with tonic following suit with 12% growth – more than any other mixer. “We’ve seen not only an increased demand for the classic G&T, but for many other gin-inspired cocktails, especially at our Fire&Ice! Hotels. To me, this is an indication that the younger generation is definitely on the gin train,” says Mabombo.

Local brands like Inverroche, Jorgensens, Durban Dry, Ginologist, Hope on Hopkins, Woodstock Gin Co, Musgrave and Wilderer can be found on the shelves of bottle stores and bars across the country, joining international heavyweights like Hendricks, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphir, and Tanqueray.

New on the scene locally, Khayelitsha-based couple Luvoyo and Nodumo Jongile recently launched their craft gin brand Mayine Premium Gin – the “first black-owned gin produced in Africa”.

Their initial products, Rooibos Infused Mayine Gin and Grape Mayine Gin, are gaining popularity quickly, and the couple plans to introduce more flavours in the near future.

While you can get a G&T pretty much anywhere, dedicated gin menus can be found in the popular hot spots of major South African cities. So when it’s Gin O’Clock (it always is, somewhere), where can you go?

Johannesburg

Social on Main and Workshop 55 in Johannesburg and Carbon Bistro in Pretoria are seeing people arriving in their droves to sample gin cocktails.

KwaZulu-Natal

In Umhlanga, Europa is serving up delectable cherry and mint, as well as watermelon and basil options.

Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg

Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! hotels in Cape Town, Pretoria, and Johannesburg have long supported local gin brands on their menus, but to take things to the next level this summer, they’ve launched a new “Over The Top Gin & Tonic” (OTT G&T) menu to follow suit.

The general trend is to be adventurous when using gin as a cocktail base, with pairings of apples and cinnamon, blueberries and thyme, black pepper and rosemary, or jalapeno and lime.

“Global trends inspire innovation. It’s not enough to simply serve a classic G&T anymore. It’s all about creative combinations. We need to cater to the latest international trends for our guests, but we always like to put our own spin on things to make things really interesting for them,” says Mabombo.

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