In Good Spirits - The amazing world of gin small batch distilleries

BY GRAEME LUND - MARCH 6, 2018

Gin has recently seen a tremendous revival. In fact, the last time gin was this popular was back in early 1700’s. The big difference between then and now is that back then, gin was considered a social evil, hence the origin of the derogatory terms ‘gin soaked’ and ‘gin joint’. In fact, gin was so bad 300 years ago that most of its flavour and content was derived from turpentine!

This was not always the case. Gin, or jenever, as it was originally known, was first distilled in Holland as herbal medicine in the 1500s. History records that soldiers drank juniper for its calming effects before battle, hence the term ‘Dutch courage’.

Gin only became popular in Britain when William of Orange, leader of the Dutch Republic, occupied the English, Scottish, and Irish thrones with his wife, Mary, between 1689 and 1702.

At this time, the English government allowed unlicensed gin production, and, at the same time, imposed a heavy duty on all imported spirits such as French brandy. Gin was thus, the cheapest and least controlled spirit available and its production methods became quite dubious.

Gin received another revival in in the 19th century in tropical British colonies where gin was used to mask the bitter flavour of quinine. Quinine comes from a very bitter tree bark, which was the only effective anti-malarial compound at the time. Quinine was dissolved in carbonated water to form tonic water, which resulted in the now world famous gin and tonic.

As one would expect, today’s gin is subject to more rules and regulations than ever before, especially since the European Union got involved. 

There are at least four different legal definitions for gin and any beverage bearing the name gin, must be produced in the manner stipulated. However, the one common rule is that gin is a liquor, which derives its predominant flavour from juniper berries, Juniperus communis specifically. 

Most gin today is not distilled from juniper berries, but is based on some other spirit of agricultural origin and then flavoured with jenever berries. Many other flavours may be added provided that the junipers are dominant.

This allows distillers a wonderful amount of leeway and has resulted in today’s gin being one of the broadest categories of spirits with some interesting, exciting and downright fun ingredients.

Today’s craft or boutique distillers have let their imaginations run wild and we now have a massive selection of wonderful gins. Much fun can be had in discovering, which gin pairs deliciously with a particular meal, flavour or mix.

So, we at Home Food and Travel, along with a couple of experts in the tasting, distilling and mixing business, took it upon ourselves to sample some of the amazing small batch, well-crafted gins from South Africa.

Here’s what we found.

De Rocco Pink Gin - Benn Koppen, Port Elizabeth

Jonathan Roch, the owner of Ben Koppen, first became famous for his craft beers. His ambition was to create great tasting, refreshing and enjoyable craft beers.  

Surprisingly, Jonathan does not do any of the brewing himself, but has recipes that are followed by various brewers around the country.

The Benn Koppen outlet is located along Main Road, in Walmer, Port Elizabeth and works on the growler exchange principle. Buy your beer and your first growler and once finished, return the growler and only pay for the refill. 

The growlers are sealed, ensuring that the beer stays fresh.

Following the same principle, Jonathan has introduced a pre-mixed gin and tonic that is also sold in a growler.

Da Rocca Pink Gin and Tonic

“We have taken a classic dry gin with a round and smooth mouth and combined it with Cape botanicals, the most recognizable aroma being Fynbos,” says Jonathan.

The gin itself is distilled in Stellenbosch and when delivered to Benn Koppen in Port Elizabeth. Jonathan then creates a mix with a tonic that he says best compliments the gin.

Most of us agreed that Jonathan had created an easy drinking, uncomplicated gin and tonic. You could spend the afternoon finishing off a growler on your own, it is that good.

Janine adds; “It has cucumber and rose undertones and pairs well with a few slices of cucumber. It is a perfect summer drink!”

If you liked this article and would like to read more about the other gins we sampled, check out our article on the Rottcher Wineries 

Contact Franchisee Liandé Barnard
Eastern Cape contact number 086 163 6845
Eastern Cape email address exec4@ricochetpublishing.co.za