The spirit of gin
Originally published in Livingspace magazine
We certainly won’t deny the refreshing power of a G&T come five o’clock, but it is 2016, and a bitter aftertaste drowned in sugar and quinine doesn’t quite cut it any more.
That's why we're converting to craft. Whereas traditional London gins tend to be dry and rather same-same, the new local craft gin creations have a brighter, more complex flavour profile of local botanicals, including fynbos and rooibos, as well as grains of paradise and other spices.
At nuts-and-bolts level, all gin is made the same way: by infusing a neutral base spirit with botanical ingredients. The important flavour component – what really makes gin, gin – is juniper berries. But that’s where the similarities between different craft products end.
‘Juniper, of course, must be present to make gin, but from there, different distilling methods and different combinations of botanicals are used to create an individual flavour profile,’ says Simone Musgrave, the owner and creator of Musgrave Gin, whose own gin recipe includes no fewer than 11 different botanicals.
At the well-loved Jorgensen’s Distillery in Wellington, for example, Roger ‘The Alchemist’ Jorgensen steeps his botanicals in the base spirit to infuse it. Incidentally, he’s the only gin producer in the world to create a product from South African-grown juniper berries.
Over at Musgrave, Woodstock Gin Co and Inverroche, they vapour-infuse their gin. ‘We place a big muslin bag filled with our botanical mix in a reflux column still,’ explains Simon von Witt of Woodstock Gin Co. ‘During the distillation process, ethyl alcohol passes through this bag and then condenses out the other side as a pure gin. This is then cut with spring water to reduce it to 43% alcohol, ready for consumption.’
At Stilbaai’s Inverroche, distiller Lorna Scott follows a subtly different process. Her combo of roots, bark, flowers, berries and peel is placed in a custom-made gin basket. This is suspended inside her trusty copper pot still, which is nicknamed Magnanimous Meg, allowing the spirit vapour to extract the aromatic oils. ‘These vapours collect in the helm and travel down the condenser, culminating in precious drops of complex spirit with layers of flavour,’ says Lorna.
And base spirits themselves differ from product to product. Woodstock Gin Co, for example, produces two versions of its flagship Inception – one made from a beer base and one from a wine base.
Gin tasting 101
‘Sip it neat’ is the general consensus for when it comes to tasting a good gin. Go ahead and give it a nose too, to enjoy the aromas. Then add ice or a few drops of water to open up the flavours and enable you to appreciate the complex mix of botanicals.
Stock your bar
The gin you should be drinking...
Inverroche Small-batch, quality gins. Choose between crisp Classic, floral Verdant and dry, spicy Amber.
Musgrave This gin uses 11 botanicals inspired by Africa’s spice route.
Jorgensen’s A sipping gin made to reflect the Cape Floral Kingdom.
Inception Smooth and easy-drinking, Woodstock Gin Co’s creation balances a sharp citrus tang with botanicals.
Make mine a double...
Lorna Scott, distiller at Inverroche, shakes and stirs the perfect G&T for us:
1. Chill a tapered highball or Burgundy wine glass, then fill to the brim with ice.
2. Pour a double tot of gin.
3. Add a curl of citrus zest. The oils in the skin soften the bitterness of the tonic and enhance the flavour of the gin.
4. Don’t drown your gin – one part gin to three parts tonic is a good ratio. The tonic should enhance rather than overpower the spirit, so choose one that isn’t too sweet, lemony or bitter.