Nothing beats a refreshing G&T at the end of a scorching summer day. Or any gin-infused concoction, really. And with the local Juniper-based renaissance in full swing, there’s never been a better time to hop on board. The mother city is home to plenty of great bars throwing their weight behind this much-loved spirit – from much established cocktail institutions that are all about the classics, to those teasing with a fresh twist on locally-crafted gin. So buckle up as Benn van der Westhuizen shines a spotlight on where to explore gin, expand your knowledge, and meet like-minded aficionados in the Cape this summer.
While we are spoilt for choice with new, contemporary hot spots regularly popping up across the city, we’re still excited by the latest slick entry into Cape Town’s bustling bar scene. The Gin Dock is summer’s go-to destination, boasting with sweeping views over the V&A marina and a predilection for the spirit à la mode, South African craft gin. This conceptual pop-up bar, running until February 2018, is a collaborative effort between three sharp-minded boutique distillers who share a passion for hand-crafted, quality spirits. Gin tastings are available throughout the day to showcase some of the Cape’s much-revered spirits – Geometric Gin, A Mari Ocean Gin, and Hope on Hopkins.
Geometric Gin, the brainchild of Jean-Baptiste Cristini, is an innovative gin paying tribute to South African brandy by using grape spirit for its base as opposed to the commonly used cane or grain varieties. Request to pair it with one of Cristini’s three premium Symmetry botanical tonic mixers to amplify the gins. Don’t leave without trying the Floral Tonic variant with it’s heady palate of native rose scented Pelargonium leaf, Lavender and Chamomile. A Mari Ocean Gin is giving local gin disciples a head-start to try their much anticipated Indian Ocean counterpart for limited release at The Gin Dock before it hits the shelves in February. We’re told the distillers, Jess Henrich and Niel du Toit, developed this tribute to East Africa to complement their existing Atlantic Ocean gin, using a selection of botanicals indigenous to the Indian Ocean’s shores, including Swahili Lime and Madagascan pink peppercorns.
The gin will be formally introduced for retail next year. Hope on Hopkins don’t need any introduction. The small micro-distillery spearheaded by Lucy Beard and Leigh Lisk has grown from strength to strength since its 2014 launch. You can try the label’s three signature gins: Salt River Gin (an established local favourite), London Dry Gin, and Mediterranean Gin. For those who aren’t fans of drinking spirits neat, a team of guest mixologists can whip up an array of well-balanced G&Ts, Negronis, and unique gin cocktails that’ll keep you coming back again and again. Local is better and lekker, especially when paired with a delicious cheese and charcuterie snack platter! So whether it’s a pre-dinner tipple or just a casual catch up with friends, banish the FOMO and let The Gin Dock’s cocktail crew work their magic in a tranquil and charming nautical space.
Where: Scheryn Pavillion, Bascule Bridge, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
When: Mon to Sat 12pm to 10pm | Sun 12pm to 9pm
Contact: Call Raphaël on 064 897 9287
Too hipster to worry about following a trend, the The Twankey Bar has been serving up rare and underrated gins long before it became fashionable. Fast-forward to today, and this small hidden gem in the heart of Cape Town CBD is still a mellow and chilled Mecca for gin enthusiasts and cool cats of the night. The cosy bar comes laden with a mature and elegant masculine charm which harks back to the storied secret society of yesteryear. The Twankey Bar boasts with a carefully crafted programme and the finest innovative cocktail specialties concocted by resident mixologist extraordinaire, AJ Snetler. To curate their best selling cocktail, Snetler didn’t have to look very far for inspiration. Aptly titled ‘The Company Gardens’, this house favourite comes up smiling with Rosemary accents, Yellow Bell Pepper juice, fermented Honey Wine and Passion Fruit extract, finished with a dash of Tanqueray Gin. It’s a definite Insta-worthy crowd pleaser while paying tribute to Cape Town’s must-see spots. Snetler may keep it simple with 10 key gins on his list, but he’s able to showcase all their unique qualities in a myriad of experimental ways. You’ll find among them some dark horses in the SA gin field such as Step 5 Gin, recently covered as one of our Five Gins to try this summer, and Musgrave Gin, immensely popular with the ladies. There’s also Whitley and Neill’s African inspired Protea & Hibuscus Gin with its overt floral essence touch and the much revered Scottish indie label, The Botanist, a micro-batch gin which captures the spirit of Islay by using 22 of the island’s native botanicals. In addition, The Twankey Bar’s team are constantly fine-tuning your experience with personal touches. Whether it’s creating mixer cordials and syrups from scratch, dabbling with barrel-age processing, or perfecting their own clear ice (a true craft!).
Naturally, with such #ahotelbarwithadifference, the grub stacks up way above your average pub fare. Light dishes such as Confit Pork Belly with Plum dressing and smoked Cheesy Arancini balls keeps them ahead of the gourmet foodie curve. And if you’re staying for dinner, try the Mushroom and Biltong Rigatoni or the classic Class A Grade Karan-aged Ribeye Steak.
The vine gurus at Asara Wine Estate and Hotel in Stellenbosch, having already proved their salt with award-winning wines, recently added their trademark touch of sophistication to the gin sphere with the Sansibar Gin Lounge. The atmosphere at this boutique gin bar and terrace teems with contemporary opulence and uninterrupted views over the valley and surrounding mountain range.
So far, the new-ish casual spot seems to be attracting gin aficionados like moths to a flame. A swoon-worthy bar lined with close to 350 gins includes all the well-known classics and a carefully curated selection of hard-to-find, small-batch craft gins, both local and international. Some of the local highlights include Ginifer Gin, one of Joburg’s top gins to try this summer, 031 Distillery’s unique Africanode, and Southern Cross Gin – a triple distilled spirit curated in Cape Agulhas using Atlantic and Indian Ocean seawater.
And to keep Capetonians up to date with the burgeoning global gin scene, Sansibar’s selection includes some 260 gins imported from countries around the world. Among them are Japan’s ‘new wave’ Roku Gin, which instantly impresses with notes of Cherry Blossom, Green Tea, and Yuzu (an aromatic Asian-style citrus, something of a cross between lime and orange); AuraGin, from the Yukon in Canada, hand-crafted with a rye, barley and potato spirit base and 12 botanical flavour; and, from the Isle of Harris at the northern tip of Scotland, Isle of Harris Gin with oceanic influences and Insta-chic vintage Seltzer bottling.
For those who wish to give some of the vast collection a test-drive, Sansibar offers gin tasting sessions of 4 different gins from 4 different countries priced at R195. An ideal experience for both the newbie and gin fundi looking to broaden their ‘ginsperience.’ The tastings can be done impromptu but phoning ahead to book is recommended.
Visitors to Sansibar shouldn’t forget to leaf through the bistro-style gourmet menu for a dish to match their cocktail or G&T. The Gin-cured Salmon salad with zesty Lime, Fennel and Orange comes highly recommended – a dish no doubt crafted by a gin alchemist. But Juniper will play equally well with the oven baked Pork ribs, smothered in a home made Pinotage basting.
And judging by the turnout at Sansibar’s recent Pure Gin Festival, hopefully an annual event going forward, this gin spot is definitely on our radar this summer. We’ll drink to that!
Up the Grand Daddy luxury boutique hotel’s stunning vintage elevator lies the quaint and cosy Sky Bar, with its twinkling fairy lights, vintage trailers, and sweeping views over the Cape skyline. This secret hotspot is definitely the daddy of Cape Town’s vibrant rooftop bar scene, and a firm favourite for locals and cluey tourists alike. The décor is creative, eclectic and casual all at once. The mood is cosy, chilled and approachable, with a vivacious crowd. What’s not to like? Sky Bar may not be known as one of the city’s top gin bars per se, but what it lacks in niche it makes up for in laid-back atmosphere and quirky finesse. The mixology team aims to please with a straight-forward yet delightful approach to gin. You can expect the cream of the crop in South African craft gin labels here such as Six Dogs’ game-changing Blue Gin, Inverroche’s Amber Gin which applies vapour infusion to coastal Fynbos for it’s remarkable flavour profile, and Cruxland Gin from KWV, the storied South African spirit giant’s triumphant entry into the craft gin realm.
Sky Bar is also the perfect pre-party spot with a big selection of cocktails — including the ‘Trailer Park Happiness’, which sees gin married with Raspberry puree, zesty citrus juice, and lemonade for a tarty twang – perfect for those scorching summer nights. And while not a gin cocktail, ‘The Grand Daddy’ with it’s roller-coaster of flavours deserves an honourable mention. Bourbon goes fruity with fragments of fresh strawberry, cranberry juice, lemonade, while a few drops of aromatic Bitters gives it a sharp edge. Bartenders have had to think out of the box in order to rejuvenate some of the classic gin cocktails, and their experimentation has paid off, resulting in refreshing takes on old favourites. You must try their killer version of the Gin Martini, but opt for one of the local craft gins instead for more of a local twist. This being a bar within a hotel, there’s also a snack list from the kitchen, diverse wine list and a wide array of other spirits and craft beers to sample.
Classic Cats has been the firm favourite of many a wedding planner for some time now. But there’s more than meets the eye with this exclusive vintage car showroom set in the scenic strip of Stellenbosch. Housed at Vredenheim Wine Estate, Classic Cats also doubles as a stunning gin spot hosting daily tasting sessions which highlight some of South Africa’s top artisanal gins. With 26 different varieties of gin currently on his menu (Rooibos infused gin from Cape Town Gin Co, anyone?), owner Quentin Strydom and his team certainly know their stuff so it’s best to let them take the lead. Strydom hopes to eventually list each and every gin label made in South Africa. A special snack platter crafted by neighbouring Hudson’s Restaurant aims to amplify not only the gin, but also the overall experience at this new summer hot-spot.
Classic Cats had a humble start in 2007 with only 3 Jaguars on its roster, but this innovative brainchild has since expanded as a conceptual hub for vintage car enthusiasts. Now the fleet is standing tall with 14 impeccably-kept and restored emblematic models up for rental or sale, supplemented with a servicing option to spoil your own classic car to a professional and refurbishing polish. Top vintage model highlights include the show-stopping 1958 Jaguar Mark VIII, transporting you to the glitz and glam of the 50’s with its ebony and ivory splendour. So is the convertible 1955 Triumph TR2 two-seater in Signal Red – perfect for a memorable romantic trip in the surrounds. Classic Cats boast with the kind of rare finds car lovers can only dream about.
Aside from his fierce love for classic automobiles, Strydom is also unabashedly patriotic, passionate, and dedicated to the cult of South Africa’s craft gin industry. So ultimately the idea to merge two of his favourite passions (gin and classic cars) with an entrepreneurial twist only comes somewhat natural. Whether you are after a round of tastings in a fresh setting, Classic Cats is a drinking experience like no other. What better way to marvel at the exclusive and eclectic collection of classic cars with a killer craft G&T in your hand? Classic Cats operate on a walk-in basis therefore advance bookings for 10 or more guests is essential.
Website: Classic Cats
Where: Vredenheim Wine Estate, R310 (Baden Powell Drive), Stellenbosch
When: Mon to Fri 9am to 4pm | Sat 11am to 4pm | Sun 11am to 3pm
Contact: Call Quentin on 061 783 1156 or email email@example.com
Cape Town is a burgeoning Mecca for gin lovers, and the distilleries dotted around the city are some of the most renowned anywhere in the country. So if you have a day to your disposal, The Gin Jol at Kiff Kombi Tours promise a behind-the-scenes scope into our thriving local gin scene. Australian founders Drew Campbell and Sophie Bagheri have undertaken to highlight top-notch gin distilleries with their trademark professional yet laid-back vibe. The duo tapped into their entrepreneurial spirit to craft this conceptual tour offering visitors and locals the chance to sample and purchase some of our finest gin varieties. The premise is simple and previously covered in our review of the tour – Kiff Kombi Tours’ team will pick you up at Yours Truly on Kloof in their quirky yet slick street art transporter, allow some time to mingle with fellow guests, then whisk you off to 3 of the stunning distilleries across the city. What follows is an educational yet entertaining glimpse behind the beauty of gin-making. Passionate distillers and entrepeneurs will impart on some insider tales of the trade while giving you a fascinating foray into their distillation process and some of the native botanicals they source and employ. And throughout the tasting tour, ingenious pairing snacks are provided to amplify the ingredients and flavour profiles of the gin. The Gin Jol concludes with a closing visit and reflection of the day (if you can recall all the info) at the secret Gin Bar on Wale Street, famous local haunt nestled behind Honest Chocolate. This small-group tour is the ideal option for a cracking day in the Cape, making it perfect for bachelor(ette) dos, couples, small groups, and solo travelers.
It’s not often you get the opportunity to rub shoulders with Cape Town’s top gin makers. So if you are looking to get up close and personal with the Mother City’s top makers, The Gin Jol should be right on the top of your list for a day-trip with a difference. Kiff Kombi Tours also offers a host a variety of culinary and cultural tours. The Craft Beer Safari Tour presents the cream of the crop in local Craft Beer, while their flagship ‘Urban Safari’ package encapsulates the city’s major scenic attractions within one chilled out and memorable day.
Website: Kiff Kombi Tours
Where: Pickup will be at Yours Truly, 73 Kloof Street, Schotsche Kloof, Cape Town, unless otherwise arranged
Contact: Call 072 213 3888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
In the big arena of craft gin, there’s always something new to explore, no matter how (in)experienced you are. And it’s not nearly as snobby or pretentious as the wine scene. Bar Keeper comes as the perfect resource to kick-start your gin journey, or just to up your game with the ever-increasing artisanal gin movement. This upscale Cape retailer, with branches in the CBD and Bellville, specialises in premium local and international gin, beer, wine and other spirits. Extreme care seems to have gone into curating their unique collection of over 95 international and South African gin varieties ranging from New World, London Dry, aromatic to lightly sweetened and everything in between. You’ll find top selling indie brands such as New Harbour Distillery, Jorgensen’s Gin, to some dark horses such as Black Mountain Karoo Gin, Mirari Gin and Ginifer Gin. Add to that a premium range of tonic water, artisanal bitters, and even chic accessories. That means Barkeeper will help you master a slew of stunning cocktails as diverse and unique as the spirit itself.
Owner Carla Fernandes pulled out all the stops to revamp her venue to world-class architectural splendour, but with distinct colonial and contemporary industrial design movements to reflect our national identity. The interior tasting space is tastefully minimalist, with concrete floors and black metal motifs. Bar Keeper host personalised tasting sessions with 50 different gin labels daily, except every Friday between 3pm and 6pm when a craft gin, beer or wine producer stop by to showcase their offering. These sessions also sometimes allow gin lovers some one-on-one interaction with distillers to get to know them and the brand a bit better. General daily tasting is free on the premise that you invest in a bottle. Fernandes explains ‘It’s a great opportunity to make an informed decision instead of picking a gin because of its packaging.’ So leave your angst at the door and allow the accommodating and expert staff discover the perfect bottle to match your taste.
Bar Keeper’s expansive selection of gin (and other alcoholic requirements) are also available for online ordering via UberEATS.
With the craft gin revolution in full swing, founder Jean Buckham jump-started The Gin Box at just the right time to help both novices and gin-thusiasts navigate the daunting Junipery spirit scene. This innovative subscription club, a first for South Africa, aims to introduce and educate its members to the vast variety of micro-batch gin brands popping up. Getting a Gin Box delivery to your doorstep is akin to a monthly Secret Santa for adults – you never know what you will get, but the surprise is guaranteed to always bowl you over. At R650 per month inclusive of shipping, each box includes a 750ml bottle of world-class South African craft gin, insightful comprehensive notes and garnish recommendations, some tonic mixers, rounded out by an exclusive and well-paired range of gourmet treats. And they deliver in each and every corner of South Africa, which means nobody need miss out on the gin-volution.
Buckham and her panel of seasoned experts rigorously short-list and debate the tasting profile and botanicals of each gin before the final shipment is sent to their clients. The team pride themselves on placing a strong emphasis on good tasting and quality labels with a very unique flavour profile of signature native ingredients. Past gin boxes included Pienaar & Sons Orient Gin’s uniquely South African craft gin created by the father and son duo, Andre and Schalk Pienaar, who tapped into their chemistry and engineering background to present a bold and feisty gin with hints of Sweet vanilla, Mandarin Orange, Ginger and Cassia bark. This quality gin was paired with a Star Anise and orange preserve, citrus-infused chocolate and nougat, and sesame crackling.
And for something a little more special for the festive season, Hope on Hopkins crafted three limited edition gins exclusively for The Gin Box which were a hit over the Christmas season. The Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh juniper-based gins boasted pronounced Cinnamon, Cardamom, Nutmeg and Angelica Root notes. The Christmas Box was paired with Goldberg Yuzu tonic water, a festive pear preserve, iced gingerbread biscuits and unique gin garnishings. Not only was the box an ideal corporate gifting option, but also a fabulous lavish ‘treat-yourself’ luxury! Suffice to say, The Gin Box subscribers felt the same way and the Christmas box sold out within days! ‘The Christmas box was really an experiment to test the appetite of consumers,’ reveals Buckham. ‘Based on the enthusiasm of our subscribers and demand for this limited edition box, we will definitely be upping the number of Christmas boxes next year.’