Great flavours from the craft distillers around South Africa - Distillery 031

BY GRAEME LUND - JUNE 5, 2018

Contrary to popular belief, the distillation of spirits is a relatively modern art. It was only at the time of the industrial revolution that the whiskey, rum, vodka and gin, as we know them today, began to be developed.

Although distillation is a rather simple process of separating the alcohol from a fermenting, carbohydrate-based brew by selective boiling and condensation, the equipment required for efficient and safe spirit production took many hundreds of years to develop.

The earliest evidence of distillation comes from Alexandria, in Roman Egypt, in the 1st century BC. Yes, we take our favourite spirits for granted and assume that something as special as whiskey has been around since the days of Braveheart, but this is not true.

China, India and Europe all developed basic and, what we would consider, very primitive distilling processes from that time onwards.

The spirits were very weak and by the Middle Ages, chemists were reported to carry out as many as 500 to 600 distillations in order to obtain a pure spirit! In the early 19th century, the basics of modern techniques including pre-heating and reflux were developed, but it was the emergence of chemical engineering as a discipline at the end of the 19th century that was the greatest contributor to today’s delightful range of strong drink.

In the mid 1900’s, governments worldwide almost killed off the art of distilling. The thousands of micro, boutique or craft distilleries that had been handed down from father to son were banned and destroyed and large corporations obtained the sole rights to distil mass produced, but well-marketed mediocre spirits.

Thankfully laws around the world are being liberalised and craft distilleries are on the rise. For those of you, who enjoy something special and want to pair their spirits with their food, mood and the atmosphere, there are new delightful, well-crafted and very special spirits appearing on shelves and more importantly, in on-line stores.

At Home Food and Travel, we take our food, brews, wine and spirits very seriously and, at times, light-heartedly too. Thus, in the true spirit of investigative journalism, we embarked on some very careful research at a recent craft distilling tasting.

We spent an evening at the Brickmakers Distillery Co in Port Elizabeth where owner, Eugene Coertzen, introduced us to his distilling process before we embarked on our tasting. This is what our team of twelve - journalists, taste specialists, chefs, distillers and foodies, discovered.

Distillery 031

Distillery 031 was founded in 2008 in Durban by Andrew Rall, who chose the name in reference to the Durban’s dialling code.

After a trip to Scotland, Andrew was intrigued by the distillation process and fascinated in the wide variety of flavours that could come from different single malts. Rum was his spirit of choice and on a trip to the US, he discovered premium aged rums.

Inspired and motivated by his spiritual experience, Andrew converted his garden cottage into a tiny distillery in 2007, obtained a home distiller’s licence and began experimenting in a land that is one of the largest sugar cane producers in the world.

What began as a hobby turned into a business. Andrew says, “Station Drive was the perfect home for the distillery and complemented my vision for Distillery 031, which is to capture the essence of contemporary Durban in the spirits we produce … Durban Distilled.”

Distillery 031 produces a wide variety of spirits including 031 Vodka, Bay of Plenty Rum, Ancestors Absinthe, Limited Edition 10-Year-Old Potstill Brandy, Durban Dry Gin, Barrel Aged Gin, Agua Zulu Cachaca and four liqueurs - Vanilla & Baobab, Naartjie & Rooibos, Cinnamon & Wild Dagga, Heart Of Darkness.

“Because our spirits are produced in small batches, we are actively involved in every step of the distillation process, from the sourcing of high quality, local raw materials to the hand distilling, bottling and labelling,” adds Andrew.

We tasted Distillery 031’s Durban Dry Gin and Barrel Aged Gin.

Durban Dry Gin

This is a classic London Dry style gin. Having sampled many of the countries boutique gins, I have to say that this is the most quintessential gin to come out of South Africa. Think gin and tonic, think Durban Dry Gin.

Although the gin is made with a blend of ten botanicals including African Rosehi, the juniper still stands forth.

The Distillery 031 website describes Durban Dry Gin as having a strong citrus nose with distinctive but subtle juniper coming through. There’s a ‘sweetness’ and a distinct floral character in the background not found in most London Dry gins. The palate is deliciously oily and thick, covering the tongue thoroughly.

At first, on the tip of your tongue, juniper hits you square in the palate – nice and fresh. The middle has a nice build, with a touch of a floral nature orris root, cardamon and African rosehip. Lemon follows before giving way to a touch of heat, juniper in the back of the mouth with subtle pepper and cassia bark on the finish. It is a well-rounded Classic London style gin.

Liesl, one of our team, commented, “This is a very complex gin, starts off with botanical, floral notes and in the middle the juniper and cardamom come through. The finish is woody and peppery.”

Barrel Aged Gin

Essentially similar to the Durban Dry Gin, the Barrel Aged Gin differs in being aged in French oak barrels.

Distillery 031 describes the Barrel Aged Gin as being aged for a limited time to retain the freshness that characterises a good gin. This unmistakeable gin has a subtle citrus nose, with juniper and some of the warmth of oak coming through. The palate is smooth, oily and thick, covering the tongue thoroughly. It begins on the tip of the tongue with the freshness of juniper.

The middle has a nice build, with a touch of florals, natural orris root, cardamom and African rosehip. Subtle citrus follows, then gives way to a subtle spiciness in the back of the mouth, imparted by the French Oak.

The oak mellows the spirit, generating tannins that transmit a light sweetness combined with vanillins and fruity flavours. It adds a hint of toasted almond flavour to the finish.

Liande, from our team, said, “Citrus at first, the sweetness of the oak is prominent and comes with almond in the end. Delicious with tonic.”

Agua Zulu Cachaca

Distillery 031 has produced Africa’s first cachaça (kuh-shah-suh). Essentially, a white rum, cachaça is made from fresh sugarcane juice that is fermented and distilled.

Água Zulu Cachaça is crafted in small batches in their copper pot, using high quality KwaZulu-Natal sugar cane for a uniquely Durban flavour. The sugar cane juice used for Água Zulu Cachaça is pressed and fermented within 24 hours of harvesting to ensure that it retains the freshness of the sugar cane from which it is crafted.

Described as having an inviting nose, which alludes to the verdant sugar cane fields from which it is born. On the pallet fresh, grassy flavours open, followed by citrus and earthy notes. The finish is extremely smooth with warm butterscotch and vanilla flavours.

Darren described this as, “Not your average rum. Sharp taste, but finishes very smooth. A unique take on a classic rum.”

Eugene, himself a distiller, says, “Clean aromas with neat but subtle tastes. Sweet with a hint of vanilla. A very good white rum.”

If you enjoyed this article and would like to know more about the other craft distilleries we sampled, read more about Zululand Distilling.

Contact Franchisee Alison Kirk
eThekweni contact number 031 764 7425
eThekweni email address alison@homefoodandtravel.co.za