Inverroche Gin is one of the first distilleries to emerge onto foreign shores from the new wave of South African gin makers, that have been steadily creating a bustling gin movement on the southern tip of Africa.
The story of Inverroche Gin began in 2007, when mother and son duo, Lorna and Rohan Scott, began experimenting with a 1.7L copper pot still affectionately known as “Mini Meg”. Working through various ideas, learning different techniques and allowing the process to grow organically – 4 years of enthusiastic tinkering and research ensued.
One of the key areas of development was to truly understand which botanicals could be used to create their trilogy of Gins, in particular, how best to harness their key ingredient, Fynbos.
The Inverroche distillery lies at the confluence of the Goukou River and the Indian Ocean near the coastal resort of Stillbay. Vineyards, olive groves and Fynbos surround the distillery itself, with ancient Milkwood trees marking the boundaries of the estate. The name Inverroche was an amalgamation of French and Celtic words, combined to celebrate the unique geography surrounding the distillery (‘Inver’ refers to the confluence of waters, ‘Roche’ is the French translation of the word rock).
The distillery’s three gins were launched on 16th December 2011, which incidentally, is also the first time that they opened their doors to the public. From selling a few bottles on that first day to now producing between 10,000 and 13,000 bottles per month, the distillery and their spirit has been a veritable success story.
Before sharing a few production details and our thoughts on the flavours of the gins, to understand not just the flavour of the Inverroche Gins but why they are worth seeking out from a non-South African perspective (and in our opinion, to actually fully appreciate what they represent), one must first take a botanical detour and first understand more about Fynbos.
Fynbos is the major type of vegetation of a very small botanical region known as the Cape Floral Kingdom. Only five other floral kingdoms are recognised. Fynbos has one of the highest known concentrations of plant species: 1,300 per 10,000 km2. Conservation of the Cape Floral Kingdom, with its distinctive Fynbos vegetation, is therefore of global importance and draws the interest of botanists the world over. From a gin maker’s perspective, it also offers up a vast array of different combinations, as well as a very specific regionality, not just unique to South Africa, but on a much smaller scale where Fynbos can literally be unique to a specific area of farm, coast or mountain giving it a very distinct terroir.
The Inverroche Fynbos botanicals are harvested by hand from the coastal dunes of the cape and high mountain regions when they are in season, with particular attention spent not to harm the environment. It is also worth mentioning that there are also farmers who cultivate certain Fynbos flora by propagating new plants in their natural habitat to meet the growing demand for particular indigenous products (such as the Cape Aloe, Rooibos, makataan melons and buchu).
With the assistance of local botanists, Inverroche is helping to play a role in rescuing Fynbos and indigenous flora from obscurity by finding new ways of using them in their spirits. In doing so, they hope to further stimulate a conservation economy to the benefit of the broader community, which will continue to protect the precious Cape Floral Kingdom in its natural habitat.
Which brings us nicely onto their three gins. Each Inverroche Gin has a distinctive profile and to create them, each uses a different recipe containing between 20 – 30 different varieties of Fynbos, which are then complimented by various other (more traditional) gin botanicals, such as juniper.
The process begins with the team buying in their base spirit (derived from Sugar Cane) at 96.1% ABV. While the initial distillation is similar for each of the gins, Inverroche also use secondary infusions for two gins to further accentuate the underlying complexities of their star ingredient, Fynbos. Let us explain…
To create Inverroche Classic Gin, the still, nicknamed Magnanimous Meg (a much bigger version of the trial still they experimented with), is charged with their spirit, with the botanicals layered in steam baskets so that once the still is gently heated, they are infused by the vapour during the distillation process.
For you process geeks, more info about the distillation method can be found in other articles from distilleries who also vapour infuse, such are Bombay Sapphire, Rock Rose and Monkey 47 (they like to call it percolation but it’s the same thing…).
The Fynbos Inverroche uses in their Classic Gin is specifically derived from the Limestone area Fynbos. The predominant flavours in this Fynbos are citrus lead and with a subtle floral character. Even though Magnanimous Meg is a 1000L lady, they do not fill her to capacity. Once they have taken a carefully selected hearts cut and broken down the spirit to 43.5% ABV bottling strength, each batch is roughly 800 bottles per distillation.
Inverroche Classic Gin is almost in every way, not classic at all. Don’t expect booming resinous juniper and traditional gin flavours here. That said, you can expect something vey interesting instead… On the nose, there is a very green, almost grassy juniper note amongst a bouquet of soft flowers.
To taste, rose-like floral notes emerge along with more assertive perfumed florals thereafter, finally brought back by citrus, catching it just before it becomes overwhelming and returning it into safer gin flavours. Interestingly, their aromas are not typical gin florals either – much more exotic and intriguing. It’s where understanding the role of Fynbos becomes key, as it is such an unusual botanical and the overall impact is of a genuinely unique gin, different from what most of us would ever have tasted.
It’s very floral by typical gin standards and while lovely; we struggled with it a little both in a G&T and in a Martini as we tend to gravitate towards more resinous juniper gins here at Gin Foundry HQ. It is however, unquestionably a multifaceted, smooth and memorable spirit and those who like gins such as G’Vine, BLOOM or Warner Edward’s Elderflower would particularly enjoy Inverroche Classic Gin.
To create Inverroche Gin Verdant – the same vapour infusion process is selected for the distillation process; however, the first key difference is that Verdant is distilled with the Fynbos derived from the mountainous regions of South Africa (which has beautiful floral top notes with earthy undertones).
The second key difference is that instead of going straight to bottling, the hearts cut undergoes a second infusion with the mountainous Fynbos. Not only does this add an extra layer of flavour, the colours contained in the Gin Verdant are all extracted from the Fynbos used and the liquid has a golden-green hue.
Inverroche Gin Verdant has a more delicate floral aroma, almost reminiscent of elderflower and chamomile. The term, “Summer Bloom” really captures the flavour of this gin as it’s both fresh and floral, with a slight acidity. Flavours reminiscent of waxy lemon rind come on the finish, along with a warming, slightly sweet spirit that helps the underlying juniper fight back.
We found it to be a very pleasing gin to use in a G&T with a lemon peel garnish, but also as a base for a refreshing punch recipe where the light, bright notes really shine.
To create Gin Amber – the same vapour infusion process is selected for the distillation process, however, the two unique areas are that the Fynbos selected for vapour infusion are from coastal regions of South Africa (coastal Fynbos is aromatic and spicy), and the spirit also undergoes a secondary infusion (with this costal Fynbos) before bottling.
Interestingly, there is a dramatic colour change between Gin Amber & Gin Verdant, hinting at the massive diversity of plants, roots and herbs there is within the Cape Floral Kingdom. On the nose, the gin is mellower and a touch more spiced than the other two Inverroche offerings. Red bush, Rooibos tea flavours emerge to taste with hints of sweet toffee apples that give way to delicate florals. The spice returns towards the end in a layered and intriguing flavour journey. There’s a good complexity to Gin Amber and with a dry, woody finish it offers up a fantastic depth. If all were served neat, we felt it was probably the most interesting of all the Inverroche range. Very sippable and the smooth, almost soft nature of the gin belies the 43% ABV it is bottled at.
In cocktails we also found the Gin Amber to be our favourite in the three as it managed to combine botanical intensity, while also being more balanced and complex. In doing so, it made for an interesting G&T with an orange peel garnish, a complex French 75 and would appeal to many gin fans that are seeking out something different.
On the whole, we found all three expressions to lean towards being more of a botanical spirit than traditional Gin, in that all three move away from classic juniper-centred spirits. If placed on a “gin flavour map”, these three would be closer to the edge, but firmly on the right side of tasty gin. In many ways, this very fact makes them something worth discovering for yourself.
Regardless of what they taste of or how best to use them in a cocktail – what is clear is that Inverroche’s spirits use ingredients that tell a story and evoke a sense of place. In doing so they have achieved a feat that many gin makers are not able to do. They have found a botanical that is both genuinely unique to taste and authentic for their geography. We for one are glad that in this rising tide of gin sweeping the globe, this is not a gin intended for mass-market ubiquity and stands out for all the right reasons. Inverroche Gins are distinct and because of this, will find a large fanbase that are drawn to at least one of their offerings.
So what next for this South African Distillery?
The business has grown exponentially over the four-year period since their launch and is now exporting to 13 different countries across the globe. That said, in looking towards expansion and new horizons, the team seem aware that given only 15% of what they produce is exported and 85% is consumed by the local market, there is still a huge demand to quench at home first.
With UK distribution seemingly in the pipeline and a trend favouring import brand in 2016 / 17, Inverroche seems set to establish a few new outposts in the months to come. With a genuine point of difference and a memorable range of gins, we have no doubt they will be able to nurture an audience. Incidentally, if you are in the area, they offer distillery tours, just book ahead as they are very popular…
With South Africa on the rise when it comes to Gin and numerous distilleries opening up, both the country and Inverroche as a one of the early distilleries in this new wave are definitely ones to watch.
For more information about, visit their website: www.inverroche.co.za
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