South African wine has made waves around the world for decades, but the country’s rich array of spirits has yet to make it into the public eye. Fortunately, the Western Cape region has a wealth of distillates to please any palate – most of which incorporate distinct botanicals that can only be found locally.
When it comes to the art of distillation, South Africa is uniquely equipped to produce spirits that offer bold and innovative flavours unlike any the world has seen before. The secret lies largely in the rich level of biodiversity available throughout the country. From the hearty scrubland of Fynbos to the Kalahari Desert, a vast array of native plants can be used as new and intriguing botanicals, offering distinct flavour profiles. Given the long list of species to experiment with, it’s no wonder that Cape Town is experiencing such an incredible increase in distilleries.
With a name like Deep South, one may expect to find this distillery in the thick of the Louisiana Bayou. In reality, this innovative operation is the southernmost distillery on the Cape Peninsula, crafting a variety of small-batch spirits. While the company produces a fiery chili vodka, their flagship product is a classic juniper-forward gin. In the words of brand ambassador Leon Bussio, “Our Cape Dry Gin won the London Spirits Competition Overall Gin of 2019 – it’s a prestigious award, and many people are quite surprised that a boutique distillery at the end of the Cape Peninsula can produce such exceptional quality!” Tours and tastings must be booked in advance by phone or online and are on offer from Wednesday to Saturday.
Located near the colorful Bo-Kaap district, Cape Town Gin & Spirits Company has been producing high-quality gin since 2015. The operation offers three award-winning gins, each one containing native South African plant species as botanicals. Two of the products are vibrantly colored – the company’s Red Gin is flavoured largely with rooibos, a bush native to the northern Cederberg district of Western Cape, while the Pink Lady features indigenous rose geranium and dried hibiscus to impart it with a soft pink tone. For those searching for a quintessential gin with a South African twist, the Classic Dry incorporates historic botanicals found in London Dry Gin, then finishes it off with dried rhino bush to add local flair.
Though KWV isn’t quite in Cape Town – it’s located in the nearby winelands city of Paarl – its unique spirits and long-standing legacy make it a formidable force in the Western Cape gin industry. Founded in 1918, the company established itself as a leading producer of wine and brandy within a matter of decades, and now offers a wealth of distilled spirits in its portfolio. One particular product, Cruxland Gin, incorporates a unique infusion: Kalahari truffle, a rare fungus that grows solely in Southern Africa’s Kalahari Desert. These flavourful pods are incredibly difficult to come across – skilled indigenous hunters must watch the skies patiently for clouds, as the truffles only grow after a bout of heavy rain. Tours and tastings can be booked online.
Just east of downtown Cape Town, this family-operated distillery hopes to create a craft rum boom in South Africa, echoing the country’s thriving gin and beer industries. The company operates with utmost authenticity in mind – all base spirits are distilled on-site rather than sourced from a mass producer, and adding extra sugar or artificial ingredients to the final product is strictly forbidden. The Great White Rum, one of their popular unaged expressions, incorporates South African blackstrap molasses, while their Fyn Botanical Rum adds distinct native plant species, such as honeybush and Naartjie (a type of mandarin) to add a bold citrus element. Tours and tastings available can be booked online.
An early mover in Cape Town’s gin industry, Hope Distillery made history in 2014 as the city’s first licensed small batch distillery. While South Africa is best known for its recent craft gin boom, spirit maker Lucy Beard runs a truly versatile operation, with multiple varieties of gin being produced alongside vodka and a tequila-style agave spirit. Each product is designed to capture the unique spirit of South Africa – the distillery’s London Dry Gin contains lemon pelargonium, a native species that infuses citrus notes, while the African Botanical Gin incorporates botanicals found specifically in the Fynbos, a coastal belt of South Africa containing a wealth of endemic shrubs and flowers. Tours and tastings can be booked online.
One of Cape Town’s foremost micro-distilleries, New Harbour is a consistent innovator in the field of South African distillation. Located in Somerset West on the outskirts of Cape Town, the carbon-neutral operation crafts quality spirits with a heavy focus on incorporating local ingredients, as well as experimenting with methods such as vacuum distillation and maceration. The company produces several gins featuring native South African botanicals. Its London Dry style is flavoured largely with the citrusy marula fruit, a favourite snack for elephants, while the Spekboom Gin features the leaves of the iGwanitsha tree as a prominent botanical.
After noticing South Africa’s propensity for growing sugar cane, musician James Copeland began to wonder why the country’s rum industry had yet to take off. Taking matters into his own hands, he poured himself into finding the proper components to craft his own small batch spirit: thus, Copeland Distillery was born. While white rum is the company’s flagship product, promising no artificial additives or added sugar, the distillery has begun to expand into other ventures, ranging from a London Dry style gin infused with tiki botanicals to its very own pisco, a grape brandy that’s typically found in Peru and Chile.