The South African Gin Revolution
Distilling, brewing, wine and brandy making are steeped in the heart of South African history. Whether it is fermenting ginger beer (delicious if done right, trust me) to distilling mampoer and witblits, the famously blow-your-head-off White Lightning ‘moonshine’, South Africans have been at it for generations.
It is no surprise then that the last few years have seen a rise in craft gin distillers in SA. Perhaps you could even call it a revolution. And these exciting gins are making their way around the globe one botanical at a time.
One entrepreneur at the forefront of this revolution is the founder of Inverroche Distillery Lorna Scott. A less likely revolutionary you could imagine. But in her own determined way, Lorna is producing her own delicious gins and at the same time spearheading the advance of SA gins. Inverroche distributes its gins throughout SA and to 14 other countries worldwide. In this interview with Lorna Scott I asked her about her experiences as a gin distiller in South Africa.
Scottish and French Huguenot Roots
Lorna has Scottish and French Huguenot roots and spent 20 years living in Scotland before returning to the sunny warmth of the Cape province. The name Inverroche is a combination of the Gaelic ‘inver’ for the confluence of water and ‘roche’, the French for rock and refers to the distillery’s unique location in Stilbaai (Still Bay), Western Cape.
” Despite the dark and wet winters ~ I do miss Scotland ~, especially in autumn when the leaves start to turn. The Southern Cape and Scottish highlands are both so full of contrasts ~ extreme landscapes and seasons and so rich with history that I think I need to have lived in both to appreciate them in their own unique way. “
Inverroche was the first distillery to use fynbos (delicate shrub vegetation unique to the southern tip of SA) in the creation of gin. There are 3 mainstay gins in the Inverroche catalogue: Classic, using fynbos from the limestone hills and cliffs; Verdant, using fynbos from the mountain slopes and Amber, using fynbos from the coastal dunes.
The fynbos biome has 9,000 unique plant species, many used by man for over 250,000 years. Lorna has talked about her gin having a sense of ‘belonging’ and is very passionate about the landscape she lives in. Clearly, the environment plays a big part in her business.
“ Stilbaai ~ which is where my distillery is ~ is in the middle of the Cape Floral Kingdom – the smallest and richest of the 6 floristic regions on our planet ~ and we make gin infused with the very plants which still flourish here and which sustained our ancestors millennia ago. You could say our gins not just connected to this place but to everyone on the planet. “
The botanicals which grow here, grow nowhere else in the world
A Family Business
Inverroche is a family business launched in 2012 by Lorna, her son Rohan and daughter Lauren. I asked Lorna how important it is that Rohan and Lauren are involved in the business?
“ Both my children have been part of my journey from the very start. They shared in the highs and lows and Inverroche is as much a part their lives as it is of mine. Inverroche is theirs as much as it is mine and knowing that they understand the business as well as I do means we make shared and collective decisions.
Despite having their own interests and dreams for their own futures, they remain involved in various aspects of my business. Rohan’s interests lean towards technical and engineering matters and he is a member of my creative and strategic planning team whilst Lauren follows her passion for both food and photography by creating cocktails and other recipes with our gins, does the styling, videos and photography and is busy developing a food brand of her own. “
Talking about food, gin distilling is a lot like cooking. I was curious to find out if Lorna is also creative in the kitchen?
“ My daughter is the real chef in the family. We all follow a plant-based diet so coming up with vegan recipes is her forte ~ my son and I are the very willing test subjects. She is also busy developing a food range of her own. My cooking is limited to a few signature dishes which I do quite well! “
At the age of 55, Lorna went back to university to study sustainable development before going on to develop Inverroche gin. All done, having never worked in a distillery or the traditionally male-dominated spirit industry before. I asked what advice she would give to women wanting to go into the spirit industry?
“ Read all you can about the industry and the craft. Find a mentor. Spend time in a distillery to become familiar with the technical aspects of the business. You will only be successful if you are confident that you truly understand both the technical aspects as well as the industry. Finally ~ develop a clear vision and find a niche. I am a serial entrepreneur and if not gin ~ I would probably be travelling the world looking for new stories to tell and brand ideas to bring to life. “
At a time when gender pay inequality is at the forefront of the media, the Inverroche workforce is 70% women. Was a conscious decision, I wondered?
” It was and continues to be so. In rural areas like this unemployment is sky-high with little prospects for school leavers to become independent. The men often leave to seek opportunities in the big cities and so care of the children fall to the grandmothers and mothers who stay behind. I know I can rely on women who are creating secure futures for themselves and their families. At Inverroche we employ women in all areas of our business ~ from harvesting and propagating our botanicals, to labelling our bottles, hospitality services and front-of-house, administration, marketing, media and management. “
Lorna began distilling gin in a tiny 2-litre copper pot still she bought while on a trip to Italy. Famously christened Mini-Meg, the forerunner of Magnanimous Meg, a 1,000-litre wood-fired still now used to craft the gins. I asked if she still experimented in the tiny pot still.
“ I do ~ its impossible to resist the temptation. There are so many more amazing flavours just waiting to be discovered. I plan to launch a limited edition gin every festive season – so yes, there are a few already waiting in the wings. “
Any plans in the pipeline to add to your category?
“ No ~ only the limited editions as mentioned earlier. “
Finally, I had to ask ~ your favourite cocktail with one of your gins?
“ Inverroche Amber G&T ~ it’s such a unique and well-balanced gin. The fragrant and aromatic coastal fynbos botanicals create a rich mouthfeel and enhance the woody notes of the juniper. The gins amber colour is exceptional and always shines through. Your tasting experience starts with aromas of fresh citrus, subtle juniper, red bush on the nose, sweet toffee apples and delicate floral notes intertwine to deliver a dry, woody finish. Its lovely with tonic served with a curl of orange zest ~ add a sliced strawberry, a few pink peppercorns and 5 bruised juniper berries for the most sublime G&T ever! “
Inverroche gins: Classic, Verdant and Amber can be bought online from The Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt. If you are lucky enough to be in the Western Cape, SA then do take a look round the Inverroche Distillery, open Monday to Saturday 10 am to 4 pm.