Inverroche Gin - Lorna Scott

We talk to an icon of South African distilling and find out more about her gins.

In the world of Craft Distilling, Inverroche Distillery is one of South Africa's best known names.

Their use of native plants, the community lead approach of the distillery team and the gins they produce have not only gained international recognition, they've inspired many others in the county to take a similar path.

We joined founder, Lorna Scott, to explore some of her story, the context behind the decisions and what's coming up next...

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.

You harvest and propagate botanicals and have a very direct connection with your ingredients. How do you go about managing it all and how much forecasting is needed to ensure you have enough? 

By propagating and harvesting the Fynbos by hand we can ensure that no pressure is placed on the wild fynbos and we are able to secure supply. We only use the blooms berries or foliage, not the whole plant.  All the plantings are registered and supervised by Cape Nature. We do this to maintain their habitat and ensure a sustainable supply of the Fynbos and Botanicals we use in our spirits. 

Given you use so many natural plants and resources, do seasonal climate changes affect your recipe and gin flavour and how do you mitigate against that? 

Every batch of Inverroche is in essence a “limited edition” because of the natural ingredients and the seasonal variances and flavours of natural botanicals. 

Due to the nature of the Fynbos, no two are ever identical when it comes to colours and so forth, but our gins are distilled in small batches and we retain a number of bottles from each batch for quality control and consistency.

Distillery tourism is reshaping a lot of the drinks industry all over the world. The past year of pandemic carnage aside, how have you found that trend playing out in your region and the role it plays in connecting drinkers with what you do? 

The Inverroche brand home not only plays a very positive role in connecting our consumers with what we do by inviting them into our world to discover and understand the magic of Fynbos, but the Distillery is also a fundamental part of the tourism industry for the small town of Stilbaai, the place we call home. 

The impact for you is a little larger than for most distilleries as 70% of your employees are indigenous women from the local area meaning that around 50 families are directly sharing in your success and will have secondary benefits to increased tourism in the area. Does that mean that distillery visits play a bigger part in your efforts or just a happy halo effect? 

Yes, the distillery plays a big part within our tourism sector bringing many visitors to the Stilbaai, especially over the busy seasonal periods. 

During this time, we hire additional members from our community, so an increase in tourism and visits to the distillery has a positive effect on our community, from our permanent staff members and those who help out seasonally, which allows them to bring home a little extra to their families. 

Smaller businesses such as transport companies and farmers also benefit as we support several small businesses in our supply chain, so as we grow- they grow.

Inverroche is a family affair, with both of your children a part of the distillery from the start. Has working as a family made things easier or more complicated and do you feel it’s given you an edge over the years? 

Working closely with family from the beginning was most definitely advantageous as we are like minded in what we wanted to achieve and as a team we shared the highs and lows of starting a new business. 

Being connected to the next generation of consumers and custodians of the Inverroche legacy keeps me at the forefront of trends and changing world views –very useful when developing marketing strategies 

You export Inverroche to many to markets now. Which countries do you look at and get excited about their gin scenes and take inspiration from their trends? 

We are grateful for the growth of Inverroche over the years and the ability to export our proudly South African Spirits and tell our story all over the world We work closely with our different agents as well as Pernod Ricard to understand local markets and engage directly with consumers through interactive VR and tasting events. 

Our experiences and marketing plans are therefore bespoke for each country to ensure nothing is lost in translation. Countries leading the charge for Inverroche right now include the USA, UK, France, Italy and Germany.

Last but not least, what idea are you working on for your next special edition gin?

Without giving away too much and to keep it a surprise for now, let me just say that each special edition / creative collection is developed as a collector’s item and only made once – never to be repeated again. 

The next one is already being created with delectable and unusual botanicals quietly releasing their essential oils in tinctures or being dried in advance. It will be a celebration of the cornucopia of unique botanicals from the cape and the role of women throughout history who discovered these plants millennia ago. It will be a spirit that can spark a conversation amongst friends and bring us together as creative beings. 

Spirits Kiosk
Inverroche 3 Gin Gift Pack
Inverroche 3 Gin Gift Pack
Inverroche Amber Gin
Inverroche Amber Gin
Inverroche Classic Gin
Inverroche Classic Gin

21 March 2021