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


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 jenever 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 jenever berries, jeneverus communis specifically. 

Most gin today is not distilled from jenever 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 jenever is 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.

Inverroche Distillery - Stilbaai, Overberg

Arguably the most famous craft gin distillery in South Africa and probably one of the first, Inverroche’s gins are found countrywide.

Owned and operated by Lorna Scott and her two children, Rohan and Lauren, Inverroche is far more than just a distillery. They offer tours and even distilling training.

I found it very interesting that the name Inverroche is an amalgamation of the Gaelic word ‘Inver’ (meaning confluence of the waters), and Roche (French for rock). I am told that this is a celebration, not only of the founder’s shared Scottish and French Huguenot roots, but also the unique environment surrounding the distillery.

In all aspects of this distillery, you will find a strong influence of Fynbos, the unique and beautiful plant biome that surrounds Stilbaai, the home of this distillery. Inverroche claim to be the only distillery that infuses their gin with this remarkable and very fragrant group of plants. 

At our tasting, we sampled all three gins – the Classic, the Verdant and the Amber, to high acclaim. I have yet to try the 7-Year Old African Black Strap Rum and the Fynbos Botanique Liqueur, but look forward to the experience.

Visit Inverroche Distillers online at


Inverroche – Gin Amber

The beautiful colour of this gin in its stylish bottle had my taste buds excited even before the bottle was opened.

“The Amber has a gentle, but distinctive rooibos flavour. I particularly enjoyed this gin on the rocks and found it further enhanced with a sprig of thyme and a slice of grape fruit,” says Janine, one of our tasters.

The Gin Foundry, who Inverroche quote on their website, say that there’s a good complexity to Gin Amber and with a dry, woody finish it offers up a fantastic depth. 

Lindsay, from our group, adds; "Once mixed with tonic, the rooibos flavour intensifies with every bubble popping on your tongue.”

If you liked this article and would like to read more about the other gins we sampled, check out our article on the Misty Mountain Wine Estate.  

Contact Franchisee Liandé Barnard
Garden Route contact number 084 571 8659
Garden Route email address