The gin is out the bottle: Which one is SA’s best?
We quiz the winners of last week’s prize on their secrets
Gin is all grown up and we’ve made it our own. What started out as a cheap-and-not-so-cheerful backstreet spirit on the streets of London has become synonymous with sophisticated society as an all-rounder spirit for cocktails, with tonic, or even in its most recent guise – straight, on the rocks, allowing for an appreciation of its unique mix of botanicals.
At the Sunday Times and Makro craft gin awards last week, the four local gins and four international gins competing for the prize had already been narrowed down from more than 70 that were in the running.
The winner in each category was announced at the event. Ginologist won in the local gin category, with Orient by Pienaar & Sons the runner-up, and in the international category Tanqueray won the judges’ taste buds over.
Judges included comedian Lihle Msimang; Jean Buckham, founder of The Gin Box; Aspasia Karras, magazine supplement publisher for Tiso Blackstar Group; Higgo Jacobs, sommelier at large; and performer Thami Shobede.
Times Select spoke to Nick Taliakis, marketing manager for Ginologist gins, winner in the local category:
How did you get into making gin?
Our founding members are Matt van Wyk, Richard Kolbe and our secret distilling scientist whose name must remain secret. As gin lovers we often found ourselves debating the merits (and demerits) of the gins we tried and our collective curiosity led us to try uncover more about this wonderful drink. However, even in today’s world of instant information at one’s fingertips, gin making remains a bit of a mystery. How is it made, what flavours do different botanicals impart, what strength is it distilled at, should it be macerated?
The more we uncovered the more interested we became until we simply had to apply all this knowledge by making our own gin. We didn’t simply want to make a few bottles for our own consumption. We wanted to share our vision of everything a good gin embodies with SA.
Where is your gin made?
Just as SA has come to expect that alcoholic beverages come from the Cape we decided to buck that trend and set up shop on the outskirts of Bedfordview. We called our distillery Craft Link and after much trial and error developed the three recipes that comprise Ginologist, namely Citrus, Floral and Spice. We lasted for about 12 months before it became apparent that the industrial facility we occupied lacked space and character. After an intensive search we uncovered a gem in the heart of old downtown Joburg opposite the notorious John Vorster police station. The venue is 1 Fox Street and is home to, among others, Mad Giant brewing company.
Here we not only set up our custom designed distillery but we created a cocktail bar in conjunction with Gareth Wainwright called Little Fox to act as both bar and tasting room to our range of gins.
What makes it stand out among the proliferation of local gins these days?
Highest quality local and international material and ingredients, unique formulas, high quality equipment.
In our distillation process we recognise the differences between the botanicals we use and distill them accordingly. Our process treats every single part of the recipe with the respect it deserves to unlock the best possible aromas and flavours, hence the different ways our production is treated. We utilise a number of different processes often only seen in the biggest of international distilleries in order to achieve a superior end result.
Which botanicals do you use?
We source for quality and freshness and give local suppliers preference where possible, but on a number of our botanicals we have to source internationally. This includes juniper from Tuscany and Macedonia (we use different juniper in different variants). Our fresh ingredients such as the citrus fruit we use in our Citrus Gin and the rose geranium in our Floral are sourced from local suppliers. Other ingredients are sourced and imported from point of origin.
Our Spice gin consists of 17 botanicals whereas our Citrus gin has four. Our Floral gin utilises 14 botanicals but the primary is rose geranium which we infuse rather than boil to obtain the character of our Floral gin which is reminiscent of Middle Eastern desserts. This is underpinned by orange blossom which offers a sharp counterpoint to balance the gin perfectly.
There’s been a real explosion of crafted local gins. Why?
The death of cocktails after the 1970s led to a decline in gin-based drinks. Coupled to this was a dearth of innovation in the category, leaving only a few global players offering an almost identical spirit. That changed around 2009 when small distilleries started popping up and driving a revolution based on the relative ease with which gin is produced – not needing long maturation in wood, while the use of botanicals permitted each distiller to create something far more complex and memorable than flavoured vodka.
Which garnish goes best with your gins?
Our Floral Gin works well with frozen blueberries (used more for colour than taste) because they are frozen and their cells have burst. Therefore once the alcohol hits them they ooze out colour turning the drink pink. Secondly some rosemary to enhance the gin’s herbaciousness; top up with ice and tonic water. Alternatively, pour a tot into a large balloon glass. Squeeze a little honey into the alcohol and stir to dissolve. Drop in a slice of orange and a couple of lightly bruised sage leaves. Cover with ice and top up with tonic water.