Black Meerkat Gin
There is something quite endearingly naïve about the way Black Meerkat Gin creators Jayde Maasdorp and Mike Sayers operate. Why Black Meerkat? Well… because they like meerkats. And black. Why’d they decide to make a gin? Well… everybody else was.
Maasdorp explains their hop aboard the bandwagon: “Mike is a keen tabasco grower and plans to do this on a large scale. After seeing the craft distilling boom insert on Sky News in December 2015 and brainstorming over what would keep us busy during the chilli’s growing season, we did some research and saw that the craft distilling bug had already reached South Africa.”
Though there was a certain innocence about their approach, Maasdorp and Sayers were wise enough to research the industry; they scoped out the competition at the first Gin and Tonic Festival in Cape Town in the January of that year, then headed to New Harbour Distillery to meet founders Nic and Andri Janeke.
Sayers is a keen horticulturist and worked with his hands in the earth for a decade before moving into the air conditioning industry, where he spent 20 years keeping heads cool across South Africa. Maasdorp, a qualified conveyancing paralegal, worked in finance for 13 years. The duo – who met at work – left corporate life behind in July 2016, plunging themselves headfirst into the spirit world.
As a quartet, the Black Meerkat/New Harbour team agreed that Fynbos-led and London Dry gins were dominating the local scene, whereas there wasn’t yet an Old Tom to represent the country. The idea for Old Town Gin (‘cause… you know, Cape Town and Old Tom) was born, so the team set to work creating a recipe.
Anyone who’s familiar with the gins of South Africa will know it’s damn near impossible for distillers to not run wild in the countryside with a pair of shears in a bid to catch and cram as much locality into their products as possible. Maasdorp and Sayers were no different, though they took a decidedly less gung-ho approach, using only a couple of members of the Fynbos Kingdom in Black Meerkat Gin.
The end recipe is formed of juniper, coriander seeds, cassia, almonds, lemon peel, orange peel, angelica root, liquorice, star anise, rose geranium and pineapple sage. The latter two were grown at New Harbour Distillery.
As the style of gin was hard to come by, the team had a lot of research to do to get theirs underway. Maasdorp explains: “We had no Old Tom gins available in South Africa to use as a tasting reference, thus relied on the internet and Nic’s handbook of Gin, which had a chapter containing summaries of six brands currently producing an Old Tom. We found that the brands used the same six botanicals, which we in turned used as our base.”
To make Black Meerkat Gin, Janeke places the botanicals in a vapour chamber which allows – during each eight hour run – the cane neutral spirit to travel up through the fruits and plants, absorbing their essential oils as it goes. No sweetening agents of any kind are added after distillation, either, so all of the sugary notes are derived from the liquorice, almond, rose and pineapple sage and to some extent, the base spirit itself.
Black Meerkat Gin to taste…
Black Meerkat Gin is quite implacable on the nose; a spirity sweetness rises up (that’ll be the cane base), joined by cooling, bushy and green pineapple sage. There’s a slight splash of almond milk and hints of spice, but the overwhelming feeling is of stewed flowers and soft tea.
To taste, everything lands at once; not in an aggressive manner, but in a rather hurried, yet orderly fashion. The sage brings a huge, minty green taste and that fresh almond from the nose brings cream to the mouth. The liquorice is as sweet as it needs to be, but it also allows huge aniseed notes from the star anise to come through, which seem to conspire with the pineapple sage to drag the gin in a cooling direction.
Rose is quieter than on the nose (and actually used very subtly), but it does seem to be the anchor at which the gin pulls. Juniper is as shy as it is in New Harbour’s own gins but it’s there, whispering timidly in the background. There’s also a noticeably full mouthfeel on Black Meerkat Gin, and one that’s botanically loaded enough to smooth out the 44%ABV and make it seem soft and rounded.
With tonic, the aniseed qualities of the star anise/liquorice/sage trio is gifted a megaphone and uses it with gusto. Rose fills the mouth with a dried flower softness, but the overall impression is – surprisingly for an Old Tom – quite savoury. We’d garnish with a wedge of grapefruit and a handful of juniper berries, though we also like Maasdorp’s suggestion of lemon and thyme.
Black Meerkat Gin is packaged in a rounded, tapered bottle of clear glass. A black, textured wrap around label displays the word GIN in big gold letters, but the name of the brand – and of the gin itself – is small. It could quite easily get lost amongst a bigger collection, but for now – while Black Meerkat proudly wears the label of South Africa’s only Old Tom – that’s nothing to fear. The gin stands out, and barkeeps keen to shake up some old school cocktails will make a natural reach for that Old Tom authenticity.
Though they’re planning to release variants in the next six months or so, we’d almost like it if they didn’t. In a world positively drowning in Gin, theirs is something that stands out for all the right reasons. A South African Old Tom that can stand up to old recipes, yet one which transports the drinker straight to the cape. We’d love for it to come to England, where it will meet a geeky, juniper-thirsty audience that’ll be all too keen to welcome it.
The only problem they may have is a certain insurance company’s Russian mascot… Meerkats are bizarrely popular right now, and the problem with fashion – no matter how accidentally it’s used – is that it drops out pretty quickly, leaving a litter of stuffed toys and abandoned lunch boxes behind it.
For more information about Black Meerkat visit the website: www.blackmeerkat.com/
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