Botanicals in a Glass – Hope on Hopkins Gin Distillery
Gin. It’s a dividing spirit, you either love it or hate it. It’s known for being wildly popular in the UK, with Winston Churchill going as a far as to say “the gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” In South Africa, we’re not that gin-crazy yet, but with the trend growing as quickly as it is, it shouldn’t be too long before we are. Over the years we’ve welcomed a couple of some big gin heavy hitters, but none more exciting than Hope on Hopkins, the country’s first artisanal distillery based in Woodstock, Cape Town. They’re making some of the best craft gin available using many local and organic ingredients. The unique flavour of these homegrown botanicals truly shine through in Hope on Hopkins gin.
The history of gin is a colourful one, there are conflicting stories about whether Dutch physician Franciscus Slyvius invented gin in the 17th century (derived from the Dutch word for juniper– jenever) or if it was discovered earlier than that in the 1300s. It was traditionally used as a cure to all sorts of ailments; kidney problems, gallstones, gout and even the plague.
It was used so avidly by the Dutch in the Thirty Years’ War in the mid-17th century, that not only did the English pick up on this medicinal elixir but the term “Dutch courage” was coined. The English took the spirit back to their homeland where it became increasingly popular amongst the poor, as well as the working class.
Hope on Hopkins is run by husband and wife duo Lucy Beard and Leigh Lisk, who met while living in Grahamstown. They both finished their law studies, packed up on a road trip to Greece before settling in London for 14 years. It was here where they picked up on the renaissance of gin-drinking. After too long in the London rat-race, they packed up and hit the road again, this time to Morocco and Spain, and began seriously to think about a change of scene for their lives. Inspired by gin’s popularity in Spain, as well as the UK, they decided after much deliberation to start their own distillery in Cape Town.
The Hope on Hopkins’ range is a completely refreshed idea of gin, one that respects the heritage of the spirit while still keeping it local and representative of the floral and botanical offering that make Cape Town so unique.
They make all their own base alcohol with local malt barley, and from there they create three of their flagship gins. It all begins with the London dry, which is a nod to classic the London style of gin – the flavour profile comes from rosemary, lemon and of course, juniper. The sun-dried lemon peel used in this gin comes from organic fruit from a farm in Cedarberg, and the herbs come from the impressive garden at Allee Bleue. The juniper is the only non-local ingredient, due to the fact that our local juniper berries don’t produce enough essential oils to impart that necessary ‘ginny’ flavour. So, the berries come from Macedonia – where local villagers beat the trees and allow them to fall. It’s a very traditional, but effective method. Leigh and Lucy like to serve this classic style simply, with lemon peel and a sprig of rosemary.
To bring things closer to home, comes the Salt River gin, as a showcase of the beautiful ingredients that surround us in the Western Cape. The vodka base is redistilled with buchu and kapokbos, a type of wild rosemary, which are foraged in the Winterhoek mountains. The flavour of this is herby and delicate, perfect served with a slice of grapefruit and a sprig of thyme.
The last of their stalwart range is the Mediterranean gin. This gin is a powerhouse of flavours. It’s infused with Crisna’s olives from Stellenbosch and Allee Bleue’s rosemary, basil and thyme, to name a few. It will transport you to an Aegean island far, far away in no time. Serving suggestion? Dirty, with an olive and a shot of brine. Leigh and Lucy do justice to the gin culture by retaining the founding style’s integrity, but make it fun and personal with delicate nuances. They also ensure that if there’s any way to further highlight the abundant flavours of local ingredients, they’ll utilise them.
With such fresh and aromatic ingredients available, Leigh and Lucy are able to experiment with exciting flavour combinations. They often bring out limited releases of their gins, such as Lucy’s Last of The Summer Wine where they infused 50kgs of Rustenberg Wine’s end of harvest cabernet sauvignon grapes into their London Dry gin, resulting in an overall tannic-sweet-herby marriage of flavours. They’ve also just released their first vodka, which comes from a grape base and just whispers of an underlying flavour from the base.
The distillery in Woodstock doubles as their tasting room, as well as Leigh and Lucy’s home. When you go for a tasting (available on Wednesdays and Saturdays by appointment), they welcome you open arms, just like an old friend. The gins, while served with quirky toppings, are delicious and so different from the bog standard gins we’re accustomed to in this country. If you think you’re not a gin drinker, Hope on Hopkins will probably convert you to one, so be sure to book a tasting with them soon.
We love that they’ve always kept South Africa in their hearts and local ingredients, where they can, in their gins.
Look out for their iconic range, along with their limited releases at all good bottle stores. Pick up a bottle and let the flavours speak for themselves. Won’t be disappointed, but you will find yourself struggling to get to 5pm before pour yourself a sneaky ‘G&T’.
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