Thanks to the Mediterranean climate of the Western Cape — and a wealth of viticultural expertise inherited from its European settlers — South Africa (SA) offers the world magnificent wines. It’s no surprise, then, that the national brandies are internationally applauded too, cleaning up at many spirits competition. But South Africans aren’t just good at fermenting wine, on closer inspection, you’ll find several local spirits also have a medal or two.
Skills aside, the country has a plethora of fascinating indigenous plants on hand to use in said spirits, with exotic names like baobab, marula, rooibos, and spekboom…not to mention the 9,000-odd species of fynbos (an endemic evergreen shrub) found in the Cape Floral Kingdom, a World Heritage Site. These unique ingredients make for true alchemy, and the resulting infusions are quite literally unlike anywhere else on the planet.
Sugarbush fynbos is just one of the hundreds of unusual and regionally specific botanicals found only in South Africa.
Below are some of the finest brands across the categories, from the commercial giants to the craft beauties getting cooked up in sleepy villages across the land. Preference has been given to exports, and noteworthy favorites, that are definitely worth visiting SA for.
The local craft gin industry is positively booming with “Cape Gins” that feature the local fynbos, spilling over into the export arena. Look out for:
Hope on Hopkins: available in Europe, Taiwan and Southern Africa, and was showcased at America’s Food & Beverage show in Miami in September 2017.
Inverroche: the gin classic won Gold and Best in Class at the 2016 Alberta Beverage Awards. Available in the US from October 2017.
Triple Three: the African Botanicals won Double Gold at the 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Available in Europe and the UK.
Geometric Gin: available in the UK from summer 2017, followed by Japan and Europe, and negotiating export to the US.
Distillery 031: both the Barrel-Aged and Durban Dry took Gold at the 2017 Gin Masters, while the Durban Dry won SA Gin of The Year at the 2017 New York International Spirits Competition. Available in Europe and Thailand by end 2017, and hopefully in the US and UK in 2018.
Six Dogs: at the time of writing, the Blue (which gets its color from the blue pea flower) was going through FDA approval for the US.
A variety of botanicals found in Triple Three gins.
AGAVE, GRAPPA, ABSINTHE & VODKA
This is a smaller collection, but worth noting. The agave is grown in the Karoo semi-desert.
La Leona 100% Karoo Agave: the range will hopefully be in Europe in 2018.
Wilderer: available in Germany.
Hope on Hopkins: the Esperanza Blanco 100% Agave is not currently exported, but was showcased at America’s Food & Beverage show in Miami in September 2017.
Blaauwklippen: the Zinfandel Distiller’s Reserve Grappa is in Europe and the UK.
Distillery 031: Ancestors Absinthe won Gold at the 2017 New York International Spirits Competition. Available in Europe and Thailand by end 2017, and hopefully in the US and UK in 2018.
Jorgensen’s: the Primitiv Vodka isn’t exported, but it’s excellent.
WITBLITS & MAMPOER
These are the local moonshines — unaged brandies that can have ABVs of anything up to an eye-watering 70%! Witblits (“white lightning”) is made from grapes, while mampoer is made from fruit. You’ll only find them in SA.
Rottcher: Slowveld Mampoer
Drayman’s: Hakkiesdraad Mampoer
RUM & CACHAÇA
For a country that produces a significant amount of sugar cane, rum remains a curious underdog, but this is on an upswing.
Zulu Rum: Zulu won Gold for Best White Rum in the 2016 The Fifty Best and Zulu Impi won Gold at the 2016 Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards. Available in the US.
Time Anchor: the White Rum is available in Europe.
Inverroche: the 7YO African Blackstrap Rum is small-batch, only in SA.
When it comes to whisky, SA favors quality over quantity. Don’t miss these.
Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky: won Double Gold at the 2017 New York International Spirits Competition and Gold at the 2017 Whisky Masters. Available in the US, UK and Europe.
Three Ships: the Bourbon Cask won Double Gold at the 2017 New York International Spirits Competition, the Pinotage Cask won Gold at the 2017 Whisky Masters, and the 10YO won Best World Whisky at the 2017 International Whisky Competition. Only in SA.
SA is arguably the king of brandy — with the awards to prove it.
KWV: the 15YO won Gold Outstanding and Worldwide Best Brandy and the 12YO and 20YO won Gold at the 2017 International Wine and Spirits Competition. The 5YO ships to the US.
Oude Meester: the 18YO won Gold Outstanding at the 2017 International Wine and Spirits Competition, Double Gold at 2017 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Gran D’or at the 2016 Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards, and Gold at the 2017 International Spirits Challenge. Only available in SA.
Van Ryn’s: the 20YO won Gold Outstanding and the 12YO won Double Gold at the 2017 International Wine and Spirits Competition while the 15YO won Gold at the 2017 International Spirits Challenge. The 10YO is available in Germany and the UK.
South Africans certainly have a sweet tooth, and there are many liqueurs around. These are the best of the best.
Time Anchor: the Cocoa Rum Liqueur and Gincello are available in Europe.
Distillery 031: the Heart of Darkness Coffee Liqueur will be in Europe and Thailand by end 2017, and hopefully in the US and UK in 2018.
Triple Three: the Williams Liqueur is available in Europe.
Amarula Cream: won Gold at the 2017 San Francisco International Spirits Competition. Available in the US and internationally.
KWV: the Van Der Hum Liqueur is available in the US.