We inched the bottle of Cruxland Gin up to our nose with something of a cautious wince. Many of the South African efforts we’ve tried of late have been so crammed with fynbos that they’re more cough medicine than they are gin, and while stereotyping is a lazy pursuit, we couldn’t help but expect a floral explosion… which is why it was such a present surprise to get a face full of something that’s much more three dimensional, a lot more junipery.
The gin, made by wine and spirits producer KWV is a botanically unique affair, even in this day and age. Made on a grape base and with Kalahari truffles in the mix, Cruxland Gin was inspired by a trip KWC’s Brandy Master (how’s that for a job title) took to the Kalahari desert. There, he stumbled upon the fungus and decided it would probably work well in a gin.
The Kalahari truffle is as rare and exotic as it is aesthetically displeasing. It can only be found at certain times of the year, when rain causes it to swell, creating tell-tale (to experts only) cross shaped cracks in the ground surrounding it.
Cruxland Gin is distilled by the KWV Spirits production team, under the watchful eye of Blending Manager Ilse du Toit in Paarl, South Africa – around 50 minutes outside of Cape Town. It features eight botanicals – aniseed, rooibos, lemon, coriander, honeybush, almond, juniper, cardamom and Kalahari truffles – and works hard to tell a South African tale.
“It took some time to test and refine which botanicals to use,” du Toit told us. “The Kalahari truffle was a given, as was juniper, and the rest were carefully chosen to create a symphony of flavour. One thing we were very clear on from the start was that it should have a uniquely African flavour, so we added both South African rooibos and honeybush.”
To make Cruxland Gin, du Toit and the team produce a neutral wine spirit. This spirit is then placed into the 500-litre pot still alongside a makeshift teabag containing the majority of the botanicals. The Kalahari truffle is distilled separately, and doesn’t meet the rest of the botanicals until long after the run, where the two distillates are blended along with additional grape neutral spirit and cut down with water to 43% ABV.
Cruxland Gin to taste…
From bottle to glass, the scent takes a leap towards the bush botanicals so revered by South African makers, as well as to their base spirit derived from grapes. Cooling aniseed and lemony coriander steal the fore, while the fresh, sweet honeybush teams up with almond to bring a sweet note to the back. Juniper is present, with the honeybush pushing it in a sugary, ripe direction.
There is no dominant botanical upon the initial sip, with all parts striking a strange, bushy harmony. Aniseed, though, as it usually wants to do, becomes the drunk at the party half way through, making noise, falling over, dominating an otherwise balanced affair… It’s a bold botanical to use, especially as it takes no time to steal every bit of attention from the curious Kalahari truffle.
There’s a big, loud spice finish coming in from the cardamom and coriander too- they bring fiery, cassia like notes, wrenching Cruxland Gin back from the brink of either an aniseed or fynbos overdose in the nick of time.
With tonic, the juniper takes on an almost chalky, bitter demeanour (helped along by the rooibos), while the coriander and lemon work together to take the flavour in a decidedly acerbic direction. A Cruxland Gin G&T is complex and intriguing, it dries the mouth just as soon as flooding it, yoyo-ing between bitter and sweet and everything in-between. It’s an exciting drink, but one that is a decidedly modern take on the gin genre. And by ‘decidedly modern’ we mean it will very possibly be a polarising choice to serve and one we’d recommend you try before you buy.
Du Toit recommends a half tonic, half soda mix with lemon wedges and some fresh mint to serve. This would amplify the gin undoubtedly, complementing the coriander and aniseed perfectly, but we’d probably try to bring the gin back in our direction a little with a handful of juniper berries.
Now… Kalahari truffles are – according to all sources – a rich, earthy addition. While their inclusion is a real point of interest, in our opinion their presence isn’t that well felt. Instead it’s those crazy fynbos ingredients that shout out, along with the grape base and aniseed, resulting in a crisp, bushy green gin that very much errs on the side of a “New Western”.
We’d be very interested to see what the Kalahari truffle distillate tastes like separately, or even mixed into a more traditional base. It is, after-all, the namesake botanical: the Crux Constellation is an alternative name for the Southern Cross, and as ‘X’ marks the spot when truffle hunting, it ties in neatly.
Talking of brand identity, Cruxland Gin is a very neat package: It’s delivered at 70cl in a squat, black bottle decorated with a white label bursting with vintage botanical illustrations. That look, combined with a leather tie around the neck and cap, bring a real hint of adventure – it’s as though you’ve happened upon an explorers sketch book. It’s undeniably solid design work, and definitley gift-worthy.
Though the Kalahari truffle is played down in the spirit, the gin still tells a tale; one of discovery and adventure. It paints a picture of the dessert in the drinker’s mind and will appeal to everyone with a taste for the wide world. Is it unusual? Yes. Is it still a gin? It’s on the edge… Is it worth seeking out? Definitely.
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