9 Things you never knew about gin
A booming industry
South Africa’s gin industry is continually growing, year on year. There are now around 135 different local craft gins on the market, with 65 distillers across the country, from the Karoo, to Stilbaai, and over to Phalaborwa.
While South Africa tends to follow the UK in trends, we always add our own spin and creativity to create a unique signature. Taking inspiration from our natural South African resources – Cape fynbos and bushveld botanicals – our local gin industry has exploded with craft distillers, bringing a new world spin on the craft.
Some of the major local and international awards and accolades won by our local craft industry include:
- Westcliff Gin by Angel Heart Distillery was named the Best Gin at the Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards at the end of 2017, it also secured a bronze medal in the category best International Contemporary Gin in the 2017 American Distilling Institute’s (ADI) craft spirits competition.
- KWV Cruxland Gin, awarded Best South African London Dry Gin at World Gin Awards in London 2018
- Hope on Hopkins were recently ordained into the Gin Guild in the UK.
- Six Dogs Distillery were recently awarded the Gin Foundry Bursary which has them exhibiting at the world-renowned Junipalooza on the 9th – 10th June for World Gin Day.
Why is gin called “Mothers Ruin”?
Gin has had a rather chequered history, and it is certainly a long and often violent one (there were even gin riots!), and it has given rise to some of the familiar phrases we hear today – from the Orange War and a soldiers “Dutch Courage” to satirical socialist Bernard Mandeville’s comment of “Mother’s Ruin”, because no mother can survive the ravages of gin.
Gin made it’s way to South Africa in the 1600’s, as an outpost of the Dutch East India Company, and it was popular for more than just for the joy of drinking. For troops stationed in tropical or sub-tropical climes, the quinine in tonic water helped to ward off malaria, but its bitter taste made it unpleasant without a heady pour of sweet, botanical gin!
The Perfect Serve
Gin works great in a cocktail, but since our South African Distillers are being as brave and showing such innovation, why not learn how to serve the perfect gin and tonic?
The joy is that not much equipment is needed: good ice, (ice that doesn’t melt too quickly and overly dilute the drink), good tonic and a flourish of garnish to either complement or enhance the gin in question.
The trick here is not to drown the gin with tonic. Aim for about a 1:4 ratio for every tot of gin. Choose a tonic that isn’t highly flavoured, so the natural botanical gin flavours can be appreciated.
Choosing the right garnish will enhance those flavours even more, but be sure to pick the right garnish! No two gins are the same, and so each garnish should be paired for perfection. Download the Ginventory app for helpful tips!
If you always head for a lemon slice with your G&T, take this advice from Hope on Hopkins – “using lemon zest is far better! A lemon slice introduces a lot of bitterness, whereas the lemon zest has all the beautiful zingy oils and will enhance any gin. I also recommend serving in a tumbler or wine glass, rather than a high ball: this allows the aromas of the botanicals to reach your nose, which really adds to the drinking experience.”
Why is ice important?
While ice is arguably one of the most important ingredients in your cocktail it’s also the most overlooked one. Ice comes in different shapes and sizes, each one having its own purpose.
Each craft gin is paired with a unique tonic water to give you the perfect serve, but did you know that each cocktail also requires a specific form of ice to get the full flavour of your drink? There are 5 basic forms of ice that you would generally use when preparing your favourite drink. Take a look:
- Your regular bag of ice from the store. Cracked ice tends to make a G&T watery as it easily melts away.
- Much like cracked ice, shaved ice is also very popular in frozen beverages. It blends easily which makes it ideal for blended cocktails like the Cosmopolitan and Pina Colada.
- One could say that block ice is just ice in its raw form. In the old days this was the only form of ice available, so bartenders had to make use of ice picks, shavers and other ice tools to get the desired size for their mixing. It is to the block ice that craft ice connoisseurs are returning, as this gives them the freedom to cut out the shape and size of ice that is required for specific cocktails.
- Home-made ice from your freezer. Try reaching for the big ice tray next time, as the wider the surface and the larger the cube, the slower your ice cube dilutes.
- The ice ball was introduced in 2009. It’s a large ball of ice that you put in the middle of your tumbler when enjoying a drink on the rocks. Large cubes like this release less water into your drink as they take longer to dilute. So, your first sip will taste as good as your last.
How to drink gin & be healthy
It’s not only been the gin craze that has hit SA but also the creation of more craft tonics. Thankfully to those of us that want to drink a guilt-free G&T, some of these tonic producers have developed a sugar-free option too.
Fitch & Leedes offer their Indian Tonic Lite which contains less sugar, and lower calories without losing from the taste. Pretty in pink with whiffs of rose petals and fresh cucumber, Fitch & Leedes also recently launched a sugar-free Pink Tonic. It is a delightful alternative without compromising on taste.
Barker & Quin Light at Heart, is another highly recommended guilt free tonic to accompany that gin. What makes Barker & Quin so unique and delicious is they seem to have really mastered the taste, despite losing the sugar. Low in sugar and calories, mixed with mountain spring water.
Toni Glass’ tonic water range is also sugar-free and available in 3 varieties available – Citrus, Watermelon and Original flavour.
How to ‘taste’ gin
Our local manufacturers use our uniquely South Africa botanicals, including fynbos and other indigenous plants and trees. “A lot of these are incredibly punchy, giving many South African craft gins bold and unusual flavour profiles” says Lucy Beard of Hope on Hopkins. As with wine, there’s much to appreciate.
It starts with the aroma. Nose the gin: take a slow, gentle sniff and allow your nose to acclimatise to the alcohol (South African gins are bottled at a minimum of 43% which is quite strong!).
Taste the gin neat at room temperature: swill it around in your mouth to explore the different flavour elements.
Add a splash of cold water or block of ice, then sip and swish it around in your mouth. The water or melting ice encourages the release of the botanical flavours within the gin, as the oils are released into the water. Then swallow and breathe in gently after swallowing, to prolong the release of flavours.
SA gin is seriously creative
With our artisan distilleries and awarding winning Gin’s, South Africa is putting its own creative mark on this new gin revolution:
- Six Dogs Blue gin, which turns from blue to pink when tonic is added;
- Marari Damask Rose Shimmer Gin, a limited edition gin from Time Anchor Distillery in Johannesburg, which literally shimmers when shaken.
- Phantom Knysna Gin which is black from the forest plant botanicals that are added.
- Amari Indian Ocean Gin is a savoury gin using Indian Ocean water.
- Pienaar & Sons recently launched a Drought Edition Gin which is 87% ABV (Alcohol by Volume) – officially gaining the title of the “world’s strongest gin’!
You can get it delivered to your door
Thanks to The Gin Box, SA’s first craft gin club, gin lovers can enjoy the multitude of locally produced, craft gins and tonics delivery right to their door. Each magnificent box showcases a small batch craft gin with unique tonics, and hand-picked gourmet food items that complement the taste journey. No two months are the same.
Members receive can choose from monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly membership, or boxes can be purchased individually as gifts. Visit www.theginbox.co.za to order your Gin Box today!