The craft gin revolution in the Mother City shows no signs of subsiding anytime soon, and we are (more than) happy to be along for the ride! Keeping up with the latest can be a full-time job, so here’s our run-down of the stellar distilleries and gins not to miss out on when you’re out and about gin tasting in Cape Town.
We love nothing more than to visit gin makers on their own turf, meeting the passionate souls behind the drink and getting a ring-side-seat to the magic they create. Craft distillers invariably have fascinating stories to tell, of hardship, perseverance and sheer raw determination. It never ceases to amaze us what lengths distillers will go to, to make their vision come to life, and there’s no better way to understand what is in your glass than to hear about their journey and ethos first-hand.
You can say we made it our business to be in the know on gin tasting in Cape Town. Tracking the trend for a few years now, we were here when the first inner-city artisanal distillery in Cape Town, Hope on Hopkins saw owners Lucy Beard and Leigh Lisk turn from law to polishing their stills. Also when one of Cape Town’s youngest Master distillers Nic Janeke and his wife, Andri evolved craft gin-making into an experimental art with elements such as speckboom and Rooibos.
The more we see and hear, the more we fall in love with the craft gin evolution so we’re pleased to see more and more distillers open their doors in all sorts of ways to let in gin explorers with thirsty minds and lively tastebuds. Here’s our line-up of must-visit distilleries to peel back the curtains and take a peek behind the scenes of the mad world of spirit production, and of course for the very best gin tasting in Cape Town.
Gin tasting in Cape Town
Not all Capetonian distilleries have a grain-to-glass ethos but Hope Distillery certainly does. This is testament to their dedication to flavour harnessing the notes of South African malted barley in their base spirit as the first botanical component. So, if you are on a mission gin tasting in Cape Town, this one needs to be right up there at the top of your list.
Owners and life partners Lucy Beard and Leigh Lisk made the unusual move from big-town lawyers in London to craft distillers back in Cape Town after an extended period of travelling through Europe and Morocco, where they became inspired by the undercurrents of the craft gin revolution.
The couple undertook several distilling classes and Lucy completed a correspondence course at the International Institute of Brewing and Distilling, becoming a qualified distiller in 2014. After a yearlong wait for licensing, the official launch of Hope was in 2015 and ever since it has been hands-on experimentation and learning, with results to great effect.
It is in this spirit that you can always look forward to discovering something new at Hope Distillery. Their pillars such as Hope London Dry Gin and Hope Mediterranean Gin are omnipresent to delight but their pioneering streak results in an ever-expanding range of spirits and small-batch, limited-edition distillery-only offerings featuring local botanicals.
Every Saturday the Hope Distillery tasting room is open to the public for walk-in tastings which can also be pre-booked if preferred. All tastings are hosted on a welcoming open-plan mezzanine level offering a bird’s eye view over the distillery.
Here you can meet the team, learn about the botanicals, taste a range of spirits and also make some ‘cellar door’ stocking up of your favourites
Fingers crossed Lucy and Leigh and their brain-child Hope will continue to prosper as the gin landscape in Cape Town will not be the same without the stark raving passion of this enthusiastic pair.
Address: 7 Hopkins Street, Salt River, Cape Town, visit website
Cape Town Gin Company
Gin tasting in Cape Town keeps you on your toes. Another day, another South African gin it seems. Right? But whilst there’s an ever-increasing number of gins to taste in sunny RSA it has to be said that some rather out-there-in-the-wild-west versions have emerged. In some instances the limits have been pushed so far with ingredients so removed from the classics, that you can legitimately beg the question whether it even can be called a gin anymore?
Not so for the Cape Town Gin & Spirits Company who’s Cape Town Classic Dry Gin has Juniper notes that jump right out of the bottle into the nose and lingers on the palette. Cape Town Spirits founder Jaco Boonzaaier has created this gin with a bouquet of juniper, cardamom, orris root, star anise, cassia bark, coriander, bitter orange and dried rhino bush resulting in a rare local gem – a gin that celebrates the notes of the classics, and if that is what you like you will love it.
The Cape Town Gin Company launched its first product in 2015 made through a third-party contractor. Their technique of steeping the botanicals overnight in a neutral corn spirit, and gin made to concentrate in 600lt tank, raises a few eyebrows but results in an affordable price tag. Their Classic Dry Gin is well-loved and has a number of gold awards to prove it.
Subsequently, the company has added two more gins to their repertoire, showing off their creativity, one with a Rooibos infusion, Cape Town Rooibos Red Gin and the other paying homage to the iconic Mount Nelson and an era gone by, the Cape Town Pink Lady Gin.
The gin-tasting at their tasting room in Heritage Square is not as immersive as some, but it is informative and relaxed and very affordable, even free if you buy a bottle. Now, who can say no to that?
Address: 100 Shortmarket Street, Cape Town, visit website
Pienaar & Son Distillery
In the heart of Cape Town’s bustling inner-city, ex-rocker-turned-master-distiller André Pienaar and his chemical engineer father Schalk has created a cool urban distillery. Dad Schalk has 40 years of distilling technology under the belt and is the mastermind behind the stainless steel stills that dominates the space.
According to André these high-tech stills are comparable to the sophistication of a Lamborghini and produce a far superior product, but you don’t have to take his word for that, get over there and go and taste for yourself when doing the rounds gin tasting in Cape Town.
The Pienaar Empire Gin made with a half corn, half grain spirit base is all light and subtle, like a summer breeze with its delicate notes of grapefruit, lemon and cardamom. They also produce a vodka and there are talks of a Bourbon-style whiskey in the future, so check in regularly to be there for the wild ride.
Tastings in their urban space are free on a Saturday 10h00 – 14h00, you can just pop in, no need to book. If you are after a more immersive experience and distillery tour by the man himself you can make a booking for your private group to enjoy their distillery tour and cocktail making experience which will have you leaving with a full bottle of their spirits to continue your cocktail experiments back home.
Address: 1 Roeland Terrace, Cape Town, visit website.
Distillers & Union
This collective of like-minded craft brewers and distillers is located in the beating heart of downtown Woodstock, an area of Cape Town well-known for its boundless creative energy and grit.
Small batch distillers can affordably rent a space here to conjure up their vision plus Distillers & Union itself also produce spirits on the premisses on commission for companies, as well as their own house brands in their multi-column copper still.
Founders Simon von Witt and Warren Harries-Jones both have previous experience in craft brewing, Simon as founder of the Woodstock Gin Company (now sold) and Warren as the brains behind Dragon an alcoholic ginger beer. Simon now creates a new range of gin, vodka and rum called 5 Pence and is also developing a tonic water under the name of James Benson. Warren’s new brand-child is calling Cold Fusion, a range of handcrafted spirits and mixers made using the cold fusion method.
At this cool creative hub you can see the artisans in action, or get closer acquainted with the end-product at the tasting room and bar through gin-making sessions, tastings and getting stuck into cocktails. Bring it on!
Address: 415 Albert Rd, Woodstock, visit website
Gin tasting in and amongst the winelands
New Harbour Distillery, Somerset West
The founders of New Harbour Distillery, husband and wife team, Nic Janeke and his wife Andri got the ball rolling in 2014 in the heart of Cape Town, but soon outgrew its original premises and their carbon-neutral distillery now resides in Somerset West.
Nic, a chemical engineer spend his student life experimenting in this parent’s garage, building a pot still from a pressure cooker and making vast batches of vodka. After meeting Andri his quirky science skills merged with her creative mind and today they are challenging boundaries of the spirit industry.
Their range of gins is always expanding but has one thing in common with the original two gins that put them on the map namely that they are based around a namesake ingredient such as rooibos, spekboom, and maroela. They also experiment with product creation to complement and feature their gins with contemporary products such as Gin Lab Simple Syrups, Juniper Candles, and Gin Infused Jam.
Their innovative Gin Lab was funded by a crowd-funding campaign through Thundafund, offering incentives ranging from bottles of spirits, to the opportunity to name their still. They raised R67 000, enough to create their vision. Through the Gin Lab, Nic and Andri share their passionate love of gin, inviting groups into their space for gin-making experiences.
Their pioneering gin-making class, scheduled every last Saturday of the month, takes you through the history of gin, styles of gin, production methods, and ends off with making your own gin (say what!?).
Address: Firgrove Industrial Park, Unit 4, 5 Firgrove way, Macassar, visit website.
Wilderer Fynbos Gin, near Paarl
As the first producer of Grappa and Eau de Vie in South Africa, it is safe to say that Wilderer knows a thing or two about distillation. In fact, Wilderer was South Africa’s very first private distillery since April 1994 when South Africa’s newfound democracy evaporated some pretty strict spirit production laws.
Helmut Wilderer, previously a German restauranteur, turned owner and founder of Wilderer, started the company after discovering on a golf trip to South Africa that there were no local Grappa or Eau de Vie produced in the country.
Sadly Helmut passed away in 2016 but his son Christian continues building on years of distilling experience and excellence and Wilderer now also produces a multi-award-winning gin. One of South Africa’s best.
The purest wine spirits, water from the Franschhoek mountains and unique Fynbos botanicals such as Buchu, Honeybush and Wild Dagga blend in perfect harmony in this Juniper forward gin.
You can taste their gin in a line-up of spirits but be warned it is not for the faint-hearted! Both their tasting rooms in Simondium and The Spice Route have an open-door policy and you can just drop in unless your group is bigger than 10 people, in which case you have to pre-book.
Address: Pappa Grappa (Wilderer Distillery & Ristorante), R45 Simondium, Paarl and La Grapperia (Wilderer Distillery & La Grapperia Pizza and Bistro), Spice Route Wine Estate, Suid-Agter Paarl Road, visit website
Cruxland Gin, Paarl
Not the spirit you would normally expect from the well-known South African wine and spirit producer but definitely a gin that oozes a sense of adventure and discovery.
Cruxland Gin’s beginnings can be traced back to a trip to the Kalahari by KWV’s Brandy Master who happened upon the Kalahari truffle and decided that it would probably work a treat in gin. Just like that.
The KWV Spirits production team took on the challenge under the watchful eye of blending Master Ilse du Toit and made it on a grape base with juniper, Kalahari truffles and a bouquet of local botanicals including sweet honeybush. The result is complex with uniquely South African flavours.
If you are interested in a first-hand taste you can make the trip to Paarl to visit the KWV tasting room where you can taste a variety of KWV spirits, including the Cruxland Gin, but don’t forget to reserve in advance.
Address: Kohler St, Southern Paarl, visit website
Jorgensen’s Gin, Wellington
Roger Jorgensen, the father of craft distilling in South Africa founded Jorgensen’s Distillery but has since retired selling the company to the Roos family. Quinn took over as distiller a natural step after working in the industry for many years. The distillery is situated on a farm called Versailles, against the backdrop of the Limiet berg mountain range, just outside the beautiful historic town of Wellington.
They take great pride in producing small-batch, high-quality gin hand-crafted from start to finish with great care and passion. Each gin is bottled, labeled, and numbered by hand. It does not get more personal than this.
A 200-liter copper pot still, Ugly Betty which Roger originally found in Standford and lovingly restored, is used for all the production, done to this day in the traditional way. Hand-harvested botanicals and aromatics add a delicate herbaceous spirit, resulting in a sophistication that most small-batch distilleries cannot achieve.
They do have a tasting experience but be sure to pre-book as tastings are only available by appointment.
Address: Regent, Wellington, visit website.
Photography: Kleinjan Groenewald, Cape Town Gin and Spirits Company, Pienaar & Son, Jorgensen’s Distillery, KWV, Wilderer, New Harbour Distillery, Distillers & Union