Take one bearded Capetonian, one Woodstock distillery and a cup of tea, mix together well, and you have the city’s latest (and most proudly South African) drink of choice: rooibos-infused gin.
IT’S NOT DRY, SO YOU CAN DRINK IT
A collaboration between photographer/bartender Gerald Kallis (aka the man with the plan) and Simon Von Witt of Woodstock Gin Co, High Tea is as sippable a gin as they come. ‘It has very “soft” gin qualities, with a lingering rooibos aftertaste,’ says Gerald. ‘None of that harsh, dry gin taste. This is very much a product that gin-drinkers and non gin-drinkers alike would enjoy.’
He’s not wrong. In fact, you don’t even have to panic if Woollies has run out of tonic water before your braai – High Tea on the rocks with a squeeze of lemon is pretty tasty, refreshing stuff. ‘You could also serve it as a long drink with tonic, lemonade or even soda,’ says Gerald.
‘The Woodstock Gin Co High Tea is distilled from a beer and wine base, infused with botanicals, producing the hard, clear spirit. We then cut and re-infuse it with rooibos, which also gives it the strong red colour instead of your better-known clear gin,’ he explains.
GIN, GIN EVERYWHERE…
Gerald’s brainchild couldn’t have been conceived at a better time – Cape Town is currently enjoying a renewed romance with gin. Dedicated bars have popped up in the CBD and locally-distilled products feature alongside international heavyweights on drinks menus around the city.
Gerald – who, incidentally, has spent his fair share of time behind a bar – thinks he knows why: ‘Gin is such a versatile spirit. You can almost do anything with it. I think this is a big reason for the resurrection of its popularity. For a while the only gin we knew was that bitter London Dry Gin your crazy aunt would drink at family gatherings. But in the past couple of years this has changed dramatically, and new craft gin companies are making the spirit interesting and cool again. And let’s be honest… Capetonians wouldn’t want to be caught not keeping up with the latest trend now, would we?’
OUR CUP OF TEA
Wine drinkers make a big thing about terroir; about enjoying wines that have a sense of place. And rightly so. But while we’ve been spoilt with our wine, it’s only recently that small-batch distilleries are bringing local spirits up to snuff. Craft gin companies like Inverroche and Woodstock are doing us proud with products infused with fynbos from the Cape Floral Kingdom, and now we have a gin echoing the comforting flavour of our country’s favourite tea.
‘I grew up in a very Afrikaans house, and rooibos has always been part of our Afrikaans heritage, so I had quite a bit of knowledge on the flavour and what to mix with it. Credit for my palate definitely goes to my mother – she taught me from a young age about cooking and adding flavours together, which played a big role in the development of the rooibos-infused gin.’
It’s almost enough to make you imagine Toto playing in the background.
THE ROAD TO GIN
Like most great ideas, this one started small and gained momentum almost organically. Most nights you’ll find Gerald behind the bar at Aces ‘n Spades in Hout Street, but the opening of its sister establishment The Village Idiot saw him helping out in Loop Street for a couple of months.
‘Let me set the scene for you,’ Gerald says, mock dramatically. ‘It was a quiet Tuesday night in Cape Town. The bar was slow, with a grand total of three customers. What was a young, bored bartender to do but play with the ingredients he had in front of him. That fateful Tuesday night, my rooibos gin was born.’
Though not on the menu, the infusion proved popular with regulars, and the seed of an idea was planted. After Gerald returned to man the bar at Aces, that seed was watered by a late-night conversation with art director Brett Webb, but it wasn’t to germinate until one sleepless night in the future.
‘I was sitting up one night unable to sleep and researching the stock market as a way to grow my money. I read an article that basically said the only way to build your wealth is to create something new, something no one else has. I sat there for hours thinking “Wow, if only I had something people would buy”. And then it hit me – I make gin.
‘I immediately started looking at local gin companies who I could contact about getting this product on the shelves. The Woodstock Gin Co got my full attention because it’s such a humble company. I emailed Simon Von Witt at 5 am with my little sales pitch, not really fully expecting to get anything out of it. He replied at 9 am and I almost jumped out of my skin. We set up a tasting so he could see this crazy product of mine and, as they say, the rest is history.’
Photography courtesy Matthew Moon and Laura McCullough