Creating A Legacy With Pienaar and Son

Words: Jess Spiro

Pienaar and SonIt’s one thing to start a business, but to craft a legacy is an entirely different ball game. It’s not something you can whip up out of thin air. It takes time, energy, patience and an unwavering dedication to your brand. This is something that André Pienaar, owner of Pienaar and Son Distillery in Cape Town, knows all too well. His distillery, which is barely two years old, seems to exude maturity far beyond those two years and is already something of an icon in Cape Town.

You may have noticed that gin is having a bit of a moment lately and it appears to have reached peak popularity. You can’t spit without hitting another new distillery or distiller.

And André, in his bang on-trend sneakers, rockstar past and his jewellery designer wife, would seem like the perfect hipster to open up a distillery.

Pienaar and Son

From Rock Music to Distilling

But André is not just another musician-turned-creative who decided to start making gin on a whim. After finishing high school, unsure of exactly what he wanted to do, he studied Biochemistry at UCT and graduated with top marks. His father, an industrial engineer who specialises in distillery technology, lived in hope that André would join the family business, but wasn’t surprised when André hit the road with his band Ashtray Electric.

After 8 years travelling around the country, living the rockstar life, he settled back in Cape Town and focused his musical talents on a small composition studio where he would create music for adverts and other such creative projects. Though the saying goes, ‘do something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life’, André found that producing music in this way almost killed his love for it.

The brewing of something magical

It didn’t take long however until he started playing around with a 20-litre pot still that he had bought online some time in 2015. In the process of making his own whiskey, a lightbulb switched on. Here was something creative that allowed him to exercise the geeky science-loving part of his brain. Add to that a father with an entire career dedicated to building distilling machinery and it was, in his words, ‘a cloud-parting moment’. At that time, gin was increasing in popularity, but there weren’t that many people producing it locally.

Pienaar & Son

The hard work begins

What followed was a year of business plans, tinkering, experimenting, building, brainstorming and branding before Pienaar and Son formally opened for business in November 2016. André, with his father’s guidance, oversaw every finite detail. He revelled in developing the flavour profiles, relying on his experienced palate to tweak and perfect the taste of his gin.Pienaar and Son

Designing the Pienaar and Son Gin Brand

He challenged local designer Cassandra-Leigh to create an exciting, out there logo. He did everything himself (up until 3 months ago), from distilling to bottling to labelling and everything in between. If there was an example in curating a lasting legacy, this was it. André wasn’t going to rush a thing, Pienaar and Son was settling in for the long haul and he was creating more than just a business.

Pienaar & Son

But was the juice was worth the squeeze?

What emerged from this dedication were two truly unique gins. Deciding to go against the grain, Andre opted to omit fynbos from his flagship range. It is, rightfully, a popular local ingredient to infuse into gin, but had already been done well by a couple of brands. Instead, he chose to be culturally inspired rather than literally when it came to his flavours.

Pienaar and Son Gin – Empire

First up was Empire – an ode to the British and the influence they had on South African tastes and traditions. Though it is not a standard London Dry-style, it is packed with floral cucumber, grapefruit and lemon, and is softly spiced with cardamom and nutmeg.

Pienaar and Son Gin – Orient

As a nod to the Cape Malay influence in the Cape, he created Orient – a harmoniously sweet and spicy mix of vanilla, rosemary, cinnamon, almonds, ginger and allspice.

And then there was vodka…

And lastly, there’s Waskis, Pienaar and Son’s vodka – christened for his mother’s maiden name. If any of his liquors gave him sleepless nights, it was this one. As André describes it, when making gin, once your recipe is nailed down, the result will always be the same. With vodka, you’re tweaking the smallest increments of alcohols, which all have a role to play in the overall flavour. Simply put, there’s nowhere to hide in vodka. But Andre persevered and got it right, and Waskis is a smooth, buttery, corn-based vodka, dangerously easy-drinking.

Where to from here for Pienaar and Son?

It’s fascinating to sit down with someone like André, and from the moment he starts talking about the distillery it is obvious that he truly is creating something incredible for the future. Not just for himself, but for the micro-distillery industry as a whole.

For him, it’s more than being on trend and though he’s looking to expand his gin range, you won’t see any gimmicky flavours coming from him. He’s exploring bourbon, whiskey and even moonshine instead. And despite being pushed to make another gin ‘just because’, he’s only going to do that for a genuine reason.

It’s an organic process for Pienaar and Son, and that’s probably why they are already – in such a short time – so well-respected and welcomed into the micro-distillery industry.

For them, it’s about more than just trendy gin. It’s about longevity and authenticity and doing something that they truly care about.

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