The craft gin revolution has now exploded with over 50 distilleries in South Africa and new places are opening almost monthly where you can taste gins or just sit back and enjoy a gin cocktail.
The earliest confirmed recording of the commercial production of gin was in Holland in the 17th century, where it was produced as a medicine to treat a number of maladies. To make it more palatable, they began to infuse the alcohol with juniper, which had some medicinal properties of its own. Cheers to the Dutch I say!
Here are 11 gin-tastic spots that I found in and around Cape Town that come highly recommended.
1. Hope on Hopkins Distillery, Salt River
Contact: Tel 0214471950, hopeonhopkins.co.za
When I arrived at Hope on Hopkins on a Saturday afternoon to try their handcrafted gins, someone asked if they could have a pre-drink while waiting for the rest of their party to arrive, to which the answer was, ‘You can do whatever you want to’. This pretty much sums up the relaxed and fun atmosphere at this distillery, which was the first distillery in Cape Town (also why they are first on this list).
Sit at either one of their long tables, at the bar or cosy up in the corner on the couch and enjoy a tasting of either three or four gins, which arrive in tiny medicine-style bottles, served with tonic. There’s a handy booklet with a tasting guide and information on each of their gins, but the waitrons are only too happy to answer any questions. While you are there you can expect a sniffing over from Mr Scruff, their resident rescue dog. If you are really lucky you may get to meet their distillery cats, Martini and Mimo too. Before you leave, make sure you take home one of their Gin Popsicles (R30), made with Hope gin (at 7% alcohol they’re not advisable for children).
Gin tastings are currently closed for walk-ins, but appointments can be made be made via email here. They also host a Gin Experience on the first Wednesday evening of every month where you can enjoy a guided experience with the distillers and taste four handcrafted gins accompanied by small bites at R250 per person.
2. Deep South Distillery, Kommetjie
Contact: Tel 0217830129, deepsouthdistillery.co.za
A gin-tasting at this small distillery in an industrial park in Kommetjie is one-third knowledge, one-third alcohol and one-third fun! Open since mid-December 2017, Steve Erlank and James Copeland are hoping to make the world a better place one drink at a time. Steve will happily take you on a distillery tour where you will meet Tiny, Whiny and Shiny, watch bottles being hand-labelled, along with learning about the distillation process. This is followed by a tasting of their two gins, being the Cape Dry Gin (London dry style gin infused with Cape botanicals, including mountain fynbos and Honeybush) and the ‘unashamedly floral’ Ruby Gin, which was originally developed as a Christmas gin. You are given total permission to play with your gins, so expect to add orange peel, thyme, strawberries and rosemary (to name a few) to your glass.
Gin tastings are available every Saturday from 11:00 to 15:30 until the end of March 2018 and cost R120 per person. They are also happy to host private tastings for groups of 8-16 people during the week and evenings, along with being available for private events – they also have a pop-up gin bar!
3. Cape Town Gin Company, City Bowl
The Cape Town Gin Company has been making gins since 2016 and you can enjoy a tasting of their three gins (two of which are award-winning) at their tasting room in Heritage Square. Friendly and easy-going Richard Purce will take you through their handcrafted, small-batch gins while telling you about their distillation process and the botanicals used, along with some interesting history about the origins of gin.
Their Cape Town Classic Dry Gin pays homage to the first gins made in Holland and England when Juniper berries were the predominant flavour, while the hibiscus flowers and rose petals-infused Cape Town Pink Lady Gin (my favourite) is named after the Mount Nelson Hotel and their Cape Town Rooibos Red Gin is infused with organic, handpicked rooibos.
While this gin-tasting is not as elaborate as some, it’s a fun and relaxed experience where you’re guaranteed to learn something new about gin. Plus, at R60 for a tasting, it is the most affordable gin-tasting experience in the city. Tastings are done via an online appointment which can be booked here.
4. Pienaar & Son Distillery, City Bowl
Contact: Tel 0214614993, pienaarandson.co.za
Steampunk fans will marvel at the hand-built stills at this father and son owned distillery. Schalk Pienaar (father) has over 40 years of distilling technology experience (he designed the whisky still at Bains Whisky) and his creation is a wonder to behold! His son, Andre, is the master distiller and when you go on a distillery tour and tasting, you’ll find out just how much time and effort he put into formulating their gins and vodka. The testament to this is all the bottles of concoctions (including Moonshine) behind the bar!
The short tour explains their distilling process and is followed by a tasting of their vodka and two gins. Their gins are made from South African maize, with the Empire Gin being a dry English-style gin with fresh hints of citrus and earthy, pine notes of Juniper and Angelica, while the Orient Gin pays homage to the Eastern spice trade that influenced Cape Town (think Malay culture and the Bo-Kaap). The bottles, imported from Italy, are a piece of art in themselves.
They are planning a bottle refill service in the near future, while in 2022 you can look forward a Bourbon-style whisky! Tastings are R60, Friday to Sunday from 10 am to 7 pm.
5. The Gin Bar, City Bowl
Contact: Tel 0712412277, theginbar.co.za
Housed in a building that was once a morgue, there was always a sense of intrigue about The Gin Bar when word first got out about its existence. It was affectionately known as The Secret Gin Bar, hidden behind a chocolate shop in Wale Street! It’s very well-known now (the secret is out), but it’s still a quirky little spot to enjoy a gin or three. They also do gin tastings in the Upstairs Bar (minimum six people) where you will learn to identify a myriad of botanical flavours and experiment with different mixers and garnishes.
The Gin Bar is open from Tuesdays to Thursdays from 17:00 and on Fridays and Saturdays from 15:00. The small courtyard is on a first come first served basis, or you can make a booking for the Upstairs Bar if there are six or more of you.
6. The Drinkery, City Bowl
Contact: Tel 0711915034, Website here
When you walk into The Drinkery, upstairs in Heritage Square, you feel as if you have arrived at a bohemian home, with comfy antique couches filled with bright cushions, softly lit lamps and interesting art pieces, while feathered angels flutter above the door leading out to the balcony overlooking the vibrant square below. You’ll also find a lot of antique clocks, as owner, Shaileen Davis, has a small obsession with clocks after seeing The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali. What’s more, everything you see is for sale including the couch you are sitting on!
You can enjoy a free gin-tasting if there’s one happening, but it’s apparently Shaileen’s martini’s that are truly magical! I never had a martini, but I did enjoy my glass of Whitley Neill gin served with a slice of grapefruit, a splash of basil leaves and a dash of pink peppercorns that came from a palace outside Jadpur.
There’s a wide selection of good spirits, from gin to tequila, along with beers and ales and wines and bubbly from the area. You can choose to have your drinks by the glass, or simply buy the bottle – it works out the same if you buy by the glass or bottle. Pet owners will also be pleased to know that this is a pet-friendly establishment (by arrangement), but your dog must be well-behaved and nice to Mia, the resident cucumber-loving and Spanish speaking Schnauzer, who was adopted Costa Rica. She’ll steal your heart long before you can say ‘Me gustaria un gin tonic, por favor’!
The Drinkery is open Mondays to Fridays from 16:00 to late and on Saturdays from 14:00.
7. 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa, Camps Bay
Contact: Tel 0214379029, 12apostleshotel.com
If you fancy starting off your weekend in style then the Gin-Making Experience in The Conservatory at the swish 12 Apostles Hotel & Spa is definitely the place to be on a Friday evening! Not only do you get to taste top-class gins while scoffing delicious canapés, you also get to learn about the different styles of gin and the gin-making process, along with taking home a small bottle of your personally handcrafted gin. Pairings are both savoury and sweet and there are also bowls of olives, coated peanuts and savoury corn kernels to nibble on while you make your way through a tasting of three gins, including Woodstock Inception and Inverroche Amber gins, before making your own blend of botanicals to take home.
8. Botany, Newlands
Contact: 0218243367, https://coppercollection.co.za/
Next door to Patina in the Newlands Quarter in Dean Street, you’ll find a little bubbly and gin bar, serving the classiest gin cocktails in town. Open since December 2017, this new addition to the Patina family is perfect for date nights (plenty of cosy nooks and crannies and dim lighting), a night out with the girls (their pink gin cocktail is a favourite), or pop in before or after your steak dinner at Patina.
They have plenty of local and international gins to choose from, along with a wide range of gin cocktails, including Strawberry and Pink Peppercorn, Spicy Tomato Gin, Mint and Pink Grapefruit and Thyme and Lime. I really enjoyed their Coriander, Ginger and Cinnamon cocktail along with a selection of tapas (some of which are gin-infused). I can highly recommend their gin and fennel mussels and the melt-in-your-mouth grilled calamari tubes with aioli lime dressing! However, I am told that the de-shelled prawns with champagne butter are a firm favourite on the menu.
Botany is open on Tuesdays to Sundays from 13:00 until late and the venue is also available for private functions (no venue charge, but there is a minimum spend required).
9. Classic Cats at Vredenheim Estate, Stellenbosch
Contact: Tel 0617831156, classic-cats.co.za
If you like classic cars as much as gin, then pop into Vredenheim Estate for a craft gin-tasting at the Classic Cats Gin Tasting Bar while admiring their beautifully restored cars, along with vintage memorabilia. The cars, including Jaguars (from 1957 to 1965), a 1955 Triumph TR2, a 1963 Austin Mini, a 1958 VW Beetle and a Fiat, have been there for 10 years, while their gin bar has only been serving handmade gins for three months. It’s a cocktail of old and new and you are likely to find something new every week, along with their featured gin changing on a weekly basis. There are 52 homegrown gins to choose from for your tasting and you’ll have fun adding various botanicals to your glasses as you go along.
10. Sansibar Gin Bar at Asara Wine Estate, Stellenbosch
Contact: Tel 0218888000, asara.co.za
Whether you are sitting on the terrace overlooking a dam, vineyards and the mountain range beyond, or getting comfy on a plush couch in the lounge while giant fans whir above your head, a visit to Sansibar Gin Bar at Asara Wine Estate is a magnificently opulent experience on its own. But gin-lovers are in for a real treat as the Sansibar Gin Lounge boasts one of the largest selections of gin in the world, with 350 local and international gins (from Columbia to Sweden) currently available.
If your mind is boggling before you’ve even seen all the bottles, then I suggest you go for a tasting of their signature gin, being Southern Cross Gin which hails from Cape Agulhas. Infused with a long list of botanicals, including wild rosemary and angelica root, this rather special gin is created using triple distilled Pinotage Grape spirit and seawater from each of the two oceans. What’s more, the bottle is completely environmentally-friendly and if you take the empty bottle back to Sansibar you will get some money back towards your next bottle. Joseph Kasongo, their wonderfully charming Bar Manager, will take you through a tasting, which will find you infusing your gin with granadillas, mint and more.
They also have an extensive range of whisky’s, cognacs, local beers and non-alcoholic cocktails. Open every day of the week from 11:00 to 23:00.
11. The Royal Hotel, Riebeek Kasteel
Contact: Tel 0224481378, royalinriebeek.com
Whatever you do in Riebeek Kasteel, do not miss swigging back a gin and tonic on the magnificent stoep of this landmark hotel. I haven’t been there for a few years, but they are still served in gigantic brandy glasses with slices of cucumber and pomegranate seeds, together with a beaming smile. They have approximately 50 gins to choose from and you can have your first fix from 11:00. The biggest G&T’s in the Western Cape, from R18… for real.