Rottcher Wineries - The amazing world of gin small batch distilleries

BY GRAEME LUND - MARCH 6, 2018

Rottcher Wineries - The background to the origins of gin

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 jenevers 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.


Rottcher Wineries - White River, Mpumalanga

A German immigrant with the surname Rottcher settled near Greytown in the KwaZulu-Natal in 1916 and began producing orange wine, some of which became communion wine!

Three generations later, his grandson, Kurt, was still continuing with this wonderful family tradition.  

Kurt moved his winery to White River in Mpumalanga in 1959. Over the years, the winery changed hands a few times until, in 2012, Frank Theron bought Rottcher Wineries and enthusiastically began to expand operations into distilling.

Still located in White River, and now a major tourist attraction, Rottcher Wineries has become famous. Frank now produces a variety of Orange based liqueurs, a handful of gins, a delicious limoncello and of course, a mampoer.

Rotttcher Wineries products may be found at a small number of exclusive retail outlets around the country or you can purchase online at rottcher.com.

We tasted their Orange Gin and the Gin Infused with Strawberries, Mint and Black Pepper.

Rottcher Slowveld Gin – Orange

Frank says, “In October 2016, I produced my first gin – the first citrus-based gin in the world.

“Instead of using grain alcohol, I extract the alcohol from my orange wine and used that to make gin. This handcrafted gin is unique in that 100% of the alcohol is made from oranges,” he adds.

I found this gin to have a wonderful orange nose. The Plantation Tonic concentrate, topped up with soda water, worked very well with this gin.

Frank says that this gin should best drunk with a good tonic and a sprig of rosemary.  We also found it delicious neat and on the rocks.

Janine, in the best simile of the day, said; "My first thought after tasting the neat Slowveld Orange Gin was of childhood memories of hockey matches and the sliced oranges being handed out at half time. This gin should be passed around in shots at half time now that I am of drinking age and playing club hockey."

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

Contact Franchisee Linda Thünemann-Faasen
Mpumalanga contact number 0026 87 659 3411 or 0027 82 971 7609
Mpumalanga email address linda@homefoodandtravel.co.za