Michael Stephenson and Travis Kuhn prepare frozen martinis, made using dry ice.
Michael Stephenson and Travis Kuhn prepare frozen martinis, made using dry ice.

Bartender spirits up his own gin

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Oct 24, 2020

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Durban - It’s not every day that a champion bartender gets to produce his own champion gin.

Industry legend, Travis Kuhn, launched the first limited-edition Pioneers Collection gin under the Inverroche label at a cocktail tasting event at uMhlanga’s Lucky Shaker last week.

Kuhn, 40, who describes himself as a professional bartender, smiler, mixologist, entrepreneur, Joburg boetjie, entertainer, cocktail aficionado and flair specialist, came fifth in the World Class Club Bartending Championships in 2018, a competition entered by 10 000 people from 60 countries.

Travis Kuhn serves a taster of his own gin, produced by Inverroche.

The Inverroche competition was held in February last year. “But then big bad corona came along and tried to crush everyone’s dreams,” Kuhn said.

“There are two things every bartender always wants to achieve. One is to open your own bar – mine tanked in the middle of the pandemic. People think bartenders don’t become things in life, but they do. We are charismatically gifted and it’s amazing what we can do.

“The second thing is to make their own product, whether it’s bitters or a tonic or a luxury gin. It’s very rare I will make a base drink myself.”

His approach to creating his perfect gin was to stir things up and he admits he was “completely green”.

A gin tasting of the Pioneers Collection gin from Inverroche.

“I didn’t want to make a gin that would sell forever. And not everybody would have to like it. I had to make a gin that I like, and what do I like? Flavourful, heavy, full bodied spirits because I want to make cocktails and cocktails need flavour from the base spirit.”

He was involved in every aspect of the production himself from creating the liquid to the design of the label and bottle.

“Michael said to me,give me your flavour profile and 12 botanicals and we’ll distil it. The two of us played around with different percentages and we experimented until we got it right,” said Kuhn.

Szechuan pepper for spice was his first profile, plus “double dips of juniper which is where London dry gin comes from. Szechuan pepper tastes a lot like juniper,” he says.

“The second flavour profile was freshness so we used lemon peel - that’s our backbone. And then we wanted a cool refreshing lasting finish so I went for cardamom. I didn’t want anything sweet.”

And then Kuhn got into the making of cocktails with his gin. A cocktail with honeybush tea, honey syrup and fresh Durban pineapples, a champagne cocktail with grapefruit juice and pink peppercorn foam, and the highlight, a frozen martini, made using dry ice, topped with a block of olive Turkish delight.

The Independent on Saturday

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