More than ten years ago, our friend Colleen Smith and Lesley Clark retired from their psychotherapy practices in Cape Town to live a quiet and reflective life in the rugged beauty of the mountains bordering on the Grootwinterhoek Wilderness area. Here they live off the grid, are powered by the sun and use pure mountain water. Surrounded by fynbos, unique to the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of the richest in the world. And of course, the birdlife there is abundant, as are the animals which include the shy and elusive Cape Leopard. A couple of rare sightings inspired Colleen and Lesley to name their farm Tygerkloof, and to grace the Ginsmith Bottles. They are also keen supporters of the Cape Leopard Trust.
The dream became a reality as they sat on their stoep, gin in hand, contemplating the grandeur of the sunset over the mountains. “Just think – we have a ‘terroir’ of unique fynbos botanicals, a pristine source of spring water, and we love gin – perhaps we should create a craft gin unique to our area”. And so the idea was born, and two years later this moment of inspiration has culminated in the arrival of Ginsmith Gins onto the South African craft gin scene.
At their Tygerkloof Distillery, Colleen and Lesley handcraft their gins in the time honoured, traditional way, using copper alembic stills over flame. Their 300 litre still was handcrafted by village artisans in Portugal and named Bella Maria in honour of Maria the Jewess, the first recorded alchemist and designer, in 2AD, of the first alembic still in Alexandria, Egypt. It seemed apt that, as women distillers, our beautiful still should be named after her.
Ginsmith Gins are ‘slow’ gins, and from field to glass, are infused with Colleen and Lesley’s relationship to every aspect of the product. They hand harvest botanicals from otheir immediate terroir – kapok, imphephu, and buchu (which only grows naturally here and, on the mountains, surrounding Tygerkloof Distillery).
When we of necessity import botanicals we endeavour to source them from our ‘emotional terroir’, places to which we have some emotional attachment, such as Tuscany from where They import juniper berries and orris. The ruby grapefruit for the delicious Ginsmith Pink are grown on a farm down the valley.
Ginsmith Navy and Ginsmith Pink are distilled using a combination of the one shot method and vapour infusion. In the one shot method they macerate the ‘harder’ botanicals including berries, seeds and roots overnight, and before they begin the distillation in the predawn hours of the following day, they hang the more delicate botanicals – blossoms (buchu), citrus (ruby grapefruit zest), and pink peppercorns, in the vapour path.
Bella Maria is slowly heated so as to extract as much of the essence of the botanicals as possible, without changing their character, and by dusk they have the ‘hearts’ of their distillation and a new batch of Ginsmith Gin.
Each batch sits for a week or so to integrate fully, before they ‘cut it’ with pure spring water, to bottling strength. Ginsmith Navy is bottled at 57%, and the Ginsmith Pink at 43%. As a nod to the glorious pink of the ruby grapefruit which is used in the distillation process, they add black grape skins at bottling to give PINK its distinctive colour. This, being an natural product will result in the pink gradually changing in tone over time.
Ginsmith Gins are unfiltered – the copper of Bella Maria naturally extracts any unwanted compounds, and filtering could detract from the rich, full botanical flavour profile of the gins.
We tasted the gins for the first time yesterday. Last night at the Michelangelo International Wine & Spirit Awards, the Navy and the Pink were awarded Gold Medals, and their as yet unlaunched Ginsmith Gold, also took a Gold Medal. Colleen and Lesley are on point with their distilling of truly fine craft gin.
Both the gins are beautifully textured with an almost oily palate, which is totally beguiling. They are excellent with tonic and other mixers. They are just so delicious as sipping gins simply poured over a couple of ice blocks.
Ginsmith Navy 57% [7 Botanicals]
So smooth, with beautiful balance between the flavours and the soft alcohol. Great harmony, no ‘edges.’ Great as a mixing gin for a classical cocktail like a Dry Martini or a Negroni. But as I said, a great sipper when poured over ice. Excellent with fat green olives or delicately salted almonds.
Ginsmith Pink 43% [11 botanicals]
Here the botanicals shine – floral [Buchu], citrus [Ruby Grapefruit] and of course the wonderful piney juniper. Undertow of cardamom and buchu blossom, grounded beautifully by orris and angelica. You can use the pink to make something long and tinkly with tonic, thin slices of ruby grapefruit skin or a strip of cucumber, borage flowers, or a sprig of coriander, if you have them.
Some thin slices of pissaladière is a perfect pre-lunch appetiser.
Information and products from Ginsmith Gins
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