A Visit To South Africa
Ben Bewley-Pope, Fishers Gin Distiller
Since 2014 I have been coming to Cape Town to visit friends and now as of a few years ago, extended family. I consider it to be one of the best places to travel to, not only as a Brit, but in our winter, which is of course their summer; I'm incredibly lucky to spend time here.
Cape Town and the Western Cape is known as the Wine Lands. The winds from the Arctic and the Atlantic Ocean keep this little part of the coast temperate and cool in comparison to inland. There is often 10 degrees difference in temperature and of course a lot more rain. Because of this, Cape Town defies its longitude and has a distinctly Mediterranean climate.
I love a glass of Rosé on a hot day, and I have been enjoying quite a bit of it whilst in South Africa. The style of wine here is different, being a little more fruity and crisp in general. With over 1000 vineyards, there is far too much choice! However, one stalwart is the Glenelly Estate, found in the Stellenboch wine area. The heiress of a French vineyard decided to take what was being done in her home country and bring it here. All the vines at Glenelly are of French root stock, and the result is the best of both worlds.
Cape Town's colloquial name as the Wine Lands masks the interesting fact of how abundant and varied the floral life is here. Cape Town is home to some of the most diverse flora in the world. A square kilometre of Cape Bush here has more variety of floral life than almost anywhere in the world. The generic name for these flowers, herbs, shrubs, grasses etc is Fynbos.
Given that I am a Distiller of Gin, I am sure you can see where I am about to lead you…
Gin has gone through the same boom here as we have in the UK, albeit a few years behind. Legislation here changed in 2012 to make it much easier for individuals to start a distillery (just like in England in circa 2008). I visited the first distillery to open post these changes in Cape Town; Hope Distillery. The husband and wife owners (Leigh and Lucy) are now retired lawyers from London who took a year sabbatical and never went back. They make three gins, one of which is the most aromatic gin I think I have ever come across. They use a selection of Cape Fynbos (which are grown for them specifically). The use of Fynbos isn’t unique to them, in fact most gins found here use Fynbos as their ‘special’ botanicals. I am very jealous of their ‘back garden’ and the choices they have. The plants here are nothing like those that we have in the UK or the Suffolk coast. Most of which are unique to The Western and Sothern Cape. The resulting flavour and aroma of the gins here are noticeably different to ours in the UK and our classic London Dry gins the big companies produce.
Some of the most used Fynbos are:
Honey Bush (part of the Camellia family)
Rooibos (also part of the Camellia family)
Cape May (Rutaceae family)
Kapokbos (Wild Rosemary)
In general, Fynbos impart a floral, zesty taste and aroma but a lot of them also have present in them the oil; Pinene. This is important because it is found in Juniper. The presence of this oil naturally means they work and combine with Gin''s most important botanical very well.
The history of these well-known plants come from the early settlers, the uses of which range from; anti inflammatory, stomach relief, pain relief, insect replant… the list is long.
There is a lot of shared ethos between Cape Town and us at Fishers, in the gins they make here. Cape Town is on the coast and the botanicals are here because of the micro climate and proximity to the sea, rivers and (unlike flat Suffolk) the mountains and the cooler temperatures found at altitude. People here work to live, not the other way round. It is a place where the outdoors provides an abundance of natural beauty and things to do in it. At Fishers we too capture that same essence of place and the pursuits you can immerse yourself in, in all of our gins.
If Andrew were to have grown up in South Africa instead of Aldeburgh, I can't help but feel he would have created a Gin company very similar to Fishers.