Review: The Gin Jol

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The Gin JolIt’s Wednesday noon, clear sunny sky, and while the majority of Capetonian worker bees are slaving away or counting the minutes before lunchtime, we’ve gathered with a few hipsionistas for Kiff Kombi Tours’ very first Gin Jol. Due to the fiercely individual profile of craft gins, people want to see the narrative behind it and how it is produced more than ever. And at the helm of covering that demand is Aussie defector and host Drew Campbell with his quirky, vintage Volksie minibus. Campbell hoped to create a more laid-back yet vibrant approach which highlights Cape Town’s diversity while providing a good dose of gin fix. Millennials may be ’accused’ as the scapegoats of society’s cultural ills, but a recent study suggests that we are single-handedly responsible for catapulting the craft gin wave to astronomical heights. Our tour mix was a perfect exemplification of that theory – a group of 12, all seemingly well under 35!

Our first leg of the tour kicked off with a scenic drive past sweeping views over the picturesque landscape of the Durbanville countryside. The destination was father-son duo Robert and Eugene Kleyn’s small Durbanville Distillery at Meerendal Wine Estate. While we never actually got to meet them, we could spot them bustling in the background with their customised wood-paneled still. One could tell that our tasting wiz Elmarie Kleyn came with an immense understanding of distillation. As we sipped on the gin line, Kleyn’s interactive rendering really cemented some of the topics which included the history of gin segment, what food to pair it with, and the alcohol content. We came to grips with the key ingredient of all gin: imported Juniper berries. A slight twist between the fingers released a potent whiff which naturally forms an integral part of gin. Kleyn also delved into the brand’s progressive yet complex Cold Distillation concept that they employ to distill their spirits. This rare method actually lowers the boiling-point of alcohol while vacuuming the botanical molecules, ultimately amplifying the overall flavour profile of their gin. Given we were inside a distillery, it would have been rude not to try the rest of Durbanville Distillery’s line-up (Vodka and Rum). All were smooth, very sippable and impeccably made, but my fancy still tickled towards their Gin offering.

Next up was the much revered and thriving Woodstock Gin Company, situated close to the upbeat Old Biscuit Mill. The distinct monochrome décor allowed for a nice, unfussed atmosphere in the tasting bar. The space is ingeniously split into two by a glass panel – on one side a cosy tasting area, and on the other their production zone, housing an imposing floor-to-ceiling still. Master distiller and owner Simon Von Witt had his food and gin pairing presentation ready for us. Von Witt touched on the founding of his label in 2012, his love for distilling, and the process of fusing botanicals for flavour as we tried the full range of his small-scale, handcrafted gins. Woodstock Gin Company’s diverse collection more than furthered their reputation as a seasoned force in the South African gin domain. There is basically something for everyone on offer. From a dominant Cask-Aged grape gin distilled in American oak barrels, to their High Tea gin which would be the perfect alternative for dessert wine. Von Witt urged us to savour all his gins neat first, and then added a tonic mixer afterwards. My bias went towards his Inception Wine-based Gin, which seemed the ideal draw to lure wine lovers. The harmonious mix of Buchu and citrus undertones provided a fresh burst of flavour for such a sunny midweek day. A simple garnish of mint, apple and cucumber added even more aroma into the already heady mix, and gave it a real punchy flavour.

Our last stop for the day was New Harbour Distillery, located in the graffitied centre of lower Woodstock. New Harbour Distillery instantly impressed with their contemporary industrial interior which wouldn’t look out of place in Visi magazine. But it was Andri Du Plessis’ bubbly and personable welcome which immediately set an effortless tone to our visit. We had an insightful Q&A with distiller Nic Janeke, who went on a passionate foray detailing his distilling process and securing botanicals. New Harbour Distillery’s impressive selection of botanicals in clear glass tankers is something truly interesting to behold. Well known varieties such as Cassia bark, vanilla and dehydrated citrus was housed next to obscure types like Angelica root, Protea flower extract and Spekboom. Indeed, Spekboom takes centre stage for one of their signature gins, Spekboom/Igwanitsha. The three gins on offer were New Harbour’s Rooibos and Spekboom gin varieties, and one of our Five Local Gins to Try this Summer, Black Meerkat’s ‘Old Town’ gin. I much preferred the tasting profile of their Spekboom gin. It was remarkably robust and, despite the 47% alcohol content, its very layered dominance finished off with a faint spice touch. Sadly, we couldn’t spot or try their new Protea Gin, with its swoon-worthy ceramic bottle, as only 200 units were released for 2017. As of 4 October, there were only 15 bottles left. And for ardent gin fanatics, the distillery also offers Gin-making courses on the last Saturday of every month.

With our tour over, it was onto the famous Gin Bar on Wale, tucked beyond Honest Chocolate’s delectable display. Many locals and visiting tourists are positively in awe of this dainty hotspot, mainly for its indie appeal and artisanal gin offering. With one of their famed cocktail mixes in hand, we run over our favourites of the day.

At R770 per person, inclusive of transport and all drinks, Kiff Kombi’s Gin Jol is a very enjoyable and unique way to experience Cape Town while sipping on some of the city’s best craft gins. And the good news is that Campbell will be mixing up his route for each tour (different distilleries, different gins), so there’s no risk of that paint-by-numbers vibe so many local tours function on. The idea to open the micro distilleries to the public and allow visitors to see the production and even taste some of the product is not exactly new in Cape Town. But the Gin Jol is the first (to my knowledge) to brave on the idea and weave a variety of distillery visits into one day tour. And based on the audience feedback, they’re likely off to a flying start!

Benn van der Westhuizen

Kiff Kombi Tours’ The Gin Jol is currently running on specified dates throughout the year. To book, visit their website.

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