Looking back at the start of the Inverroche you were at the Department of Agriculture investigating the commercial potential of using indigenous plants when you discovered fynbos. Was it an instant “light bulb” moment for you, or something that piqued your interest and that then grew into a broader idea?
A bit of both – the original lightbulb moment was in the Blombos cave (a world-renowned archaeological site where evidence of the emergence of modern humans as creative beings were discovered) while listening to Prof Chris Henshilwood bringing history to life. Our ancestors survived and thrived in this place one and a half millennia ago because of the abundance of the ocean and plant life called “fynbos”, unique to this area. I understood that this is the very place which every human alive today can call home and that it was a story that needed to be told.
The idea to make a luxury product, infused with these historically significant plants and finding a solution to drive local economic development however, developed over time.
With a background in marketing, I understood the power of luxury brands to tell stories and create sustainable industries, I set about looking for ways in which to use these aromatic edible plants. I first explored the idea to make perfume before deciding to make gin as the most suitable vehicle to create a world class brand leading to job creation, preserve the fynbos by finding a commercial use for it and become a vehicle to tell the story of our common origins.
Annette Pienaar and her husband are two horticulturists who helped you explore the potential of fynbos. What advice did they give that most helped you on your journey?
These two incredibly knowledgeable individuals taught me the value of sharing your knowledge, respect for the environment and that humans are interconnected and totally dependent on nature for our survival.
I embraced this philosophy and have incorporated all of the principles of sustainability as foundation for our brand and business. We started the Inverroche gin schools as an extension of the philosophy of sharing knowledge where participants can learn all the secrets of alchemy and reconnect to nature, their senses and creativity.
Do you remember the moment when you knew you had cracked the gin recipe? What did it feel like and how long had you been working at it to get to that point?
The process of finding the correct recipes and flavour profiles as well as the optimum process for the delicate Fynbos species we use took myself and my son Rohan a period of 3 years to perfect. During that time we had several very devoted, brutally honest and enthusiastic tasting panels of retired self-confessed gin connoisseurs, consisting mainly of local retirees, friends and relatives.
One of these local retirees was the legendary master distiller, the late Dave Acker. A generous and gentle soul who had been master distiller for both Bols and Booths before coming home to Africa and unstintingly shared his knowledge and palate throughout the process. Needless to say, it is definitely a “hooray” moment when everyone finally agreed that we’d hit the mother lode and that all three were so good we had to just launch them all.