Gin has grown in popularity in the past few years, moving away from a “colonial sundowner” to a trendy drink that has sparked a growing number of local distillers, tonic manufacturers and a gin accessories industry.
South Africa has embraced gin’s popularity, offering a variety of delicious crafted gins infused with local botanicals and fynbos.
In the Western Cape alone, you will find gin stills from Stillbaai through to Paarl, Stellenbosch, Wellington, Durbanville, Woodstock, Salt River and, now, in the “deep south” too.
A new, local, unassuming but award-winning distillery, known as Deep South Distillery, is producing gin, vodka and rum from its small factory in Imhoff’s Gift, on the way to Kommetjie, making it the southernmost distillery in Cape Town.
The rums and vodkas, some of which are available for tasting but aren’t on the market yet, are made from scratch in the distillery from molasses and grain fermentations.
All gins contain juniper berries, which are customarily imported, but with South Africa’s vast floral kingdom, our adventurous gin artisan mixologists have been playing with unusual infusions to produce some unique flavours.
These include indigenous botanicals such as rooibos, honeybush, spekboom, wild dagga, mountain buchus, pelargoniums, renosterbos and other fynbos.
I popped in to see what was on offer at Deep South Distillery.
It is producing two gins: the Cape Dry Gin and the Ruby Gin. A delicious spiced gin is in final production and due for release soon.
How it began
People of the “deep south” are known for their quirkiness, creativity, community spirit and zest for life.
They are passionate about the environment and also enjoy nature - whether that be mountain or beach walks, cycling or surfing. Local resident and avid sailor, Steve Erlank, left his former life in IT and academia and sailed the Indian Ocean for two years, sampling craft spirits along the way.
Back in South Africa and inspired by the natural beauty around him, and buoyed by his enjoyment of gin and good spirits, he decided to pursue his dream and open a distillery.
It took a year to gut and renovate the two small factories in Kommetjie, ahead of opening just before Christmas 2017
First up was the Cape Dry, made in a classic dry gin style with juniper berries, as well as locally grown and harvested botanicals - the mountain buchu adding a lovely herb and floral aroma and flavour. It was awarded a double gold medal at the Michelangelo International Wines and Spirits Awards last year two months before the distillery officially opened, so highly recommended.
The tasting, overseen by Steve, is fun. First you pour a single or double measure of gin over ice (four to six blocks) then nose and sip.
Slowly add an equal measure of tonic (his preference is SA’s Fitch & Leedes). Then garnish with a twist of lemon zest and a sprig of rosemary. For an added flourish, pop in some finger bruised juniper berries.
Explanations were given at each stage as we tasted the layering of flavours until it was time to drink and enjoy. And FYI, the choice of glass is important.
Never long and slim but rather shorter with a wide brim to really enjoy the aromas.
“Everyone has a preference when drinking gin but when we do tastings we like people to taste the subtle changes in flavour as you add the different components,” said Steve.
“The Classic Dry with juniper, coriander, angelica root, Cape fynbos, honeybush, cardamom and lemon peel is complemented when you pair with some additional lemon and rosemary. It highlights the citrus and herbal notes.”
Second up was the Ruby Gin. “This gorgeous ruby-coloured gin is our play-time gin,” said Steve. “Made in a floral style using lavender, cassia bark, rose pelargonium, orris root and elderberry, the beautiful colour and subtle aroma invites you to be creative in your choices of mixers and garnishes.”
Like wine, or fragrance, there are top notes followed by an initial taste on the palate with a lingering finish. The Ruby Gin’s top notes include rose and citrus, with a touch of lavender and hibiscus, which you taste ever so slightly - along with a subtle hint of Turkish delight type flavours from the pelargonium. The depth of flavour comes from the honeybush and spices.
It is not only pretty to look at but delicious whether sipped neat, on the rocks or in a cocktail. For this tasting we added a slice of orange and a sprig of thyme - it was simply sublime. Then, to mix things up there was a choice of rose petals and hibiscus flowers.
Good food and gin
Although gin is usually enjoyed as a pre-dinner drink, Steve and the team have been playing around with food combinations.
“The classic juniper flavours in the Cape Dry work well as a marinade or sauce infusion - for meat such as ostrich or venison. Whereas the Ruby is more fragrant and fun so suitable for desserts.”
To prove the point, we were offered a slice of gin syrup-drenched vanilla cake. Delicious.
The team at Deep South - including Dan Gutsa, the distillery assistant and Sandy (Steve’s wife) - love what they do and it’s evident in how they explain the process, show you the state-of-the art stainless steel stills and take you through each step until you finally taste and drink the end product.
Armed with a bottle of each type and ready to take my new-found knowledge back to friends and replicate the tasting, I bade Steve goodbye.
In parting he said: “We don’t just make great spirits; part of our ethos is to share and together we will truly make the world a better place, one sip at a time.”
I’ll drink to that.
* Deep South Distillery offers tours and tastings and bookings are recommended. For more information go to www.deepsouthdistillery.co.za.