Rowan Leibbrandt is one of three partners at Truman & Orange, responsible for bringing the wickedly good Innis & Gunn brand, a beer that holds the equivalent of a Michelin star, to South Africa.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
My background is in whisky; I worked for William Grant & Sons (makers of Glenfiddich and Balvenie) in Russia and Germany, and then Chivas Brothers (Chivas Regal, Glenlivet) where I was based in London. I moved back to SA two years ago – mainly because Cape Town is so much better than any other city I’d come across, but also because I’d seen how South Africans were demanding better and better drinks and we thought we could help them find some!
How did you get involved with Innis & Gunn?
Innis & Gunn was actually owned by William Grant & Sons at one stage and I had met the brewer a few times – Dougal Sharpe. He went on to take Innis & Gunn independent and has, since then, built a very successful brand and what has become known as one of the highest quality beers in the world – Innis & Gunn holds the equivalent of a Michelin Star. When I returned to SA, we saw the exciting revolution that was happening in beer and the opportunity for a premium beer of the same exceptionally high quality as all the Single Malt and Champagne that South Africans are now drinking. Innis & Gunn was made for that niche.
In a market that is predominately SAB-run, how does Innis & Gunn aim to establish itself as a player in the South African beer scene?
We get the SAB question a lot, but in reality we’re not really competing with them – in the same way that Lamborghini doesn’t really compete with Toyota. SAB make great beers for everyday drinking, but Innis & Gunn is a different type of drink altogether. If you want to drink a 6-pack of beers on the beach, Castle Lite is difficult to beat; but if you’re enjoying a beautifully made meal or a fine cigar and looking for a beer of enormous character and complexity, then you might prefer an Innis & Gunn.
Which beer by Innis & Gunn is your favourite and why?
I’d have to say Innis & Gunn Original. I first came across this beer in Scotland, at the Glenfiddich distillery, and I can’t help being taken back there every time I drink it. It’s an extraordinarily rich beer, with very powerful vanilla-toffee notes, and I just love it. It’s big character makes it one of the few beers than can stand up to our meaty cuisine, and do justice to some of the lamb or beef dishes we eat so much of in SA.
What does the future hold for Innis & Gunn SA?
The future… you can’t see me now, but my eyes are half closed and I’m looking thoughtfully into the distance. Predictions seem to have the habit of often being entirely wrong, but I think we’re heading toward an increasing demand for better quality beer – I can’t see the craft genie being forced back into the bottle. Our mission is to give people the chance to a drink beer of the same level as the fine wines and Scotch they’re drinking. And given South African’s initial response to our beer, I see a very bright future for Innis & Gunn in South Africa.