Five festive favourites

Gin Cocktail
Gin Cocktail


The craft gin industry in South Africa has exploded, with local distilleries coming up with amazing and unique flavour combinations. As important as the juniper juice you choose, is the tonic water and garnish that go with it. finweek spoke to the experts at Tonic – a gin bar in Linden, Johannesburg – for tips. 

Entry level

It’s not easy to find an “entry-level”-priced craft gin from SA, says Caitlin Human, who owns Tonic with her husband Dennis. Craft gins are usually priced over R300 a bottle because, among other reasons, these gins aren’t being mass produced, and then there are also VAT, excise, bottling costs, and the like to take into account. 

Wixworth: A great fynbos gin, if you want a typically South African flavour in your gin, thanks to the punchy and piney Renosterbos.

Pair with: Indian tonic water, gooseberries, limes and a sprig of mint

Price: Between R280 and R329 for a 750ml bottle (outlet dependent)

Mid level

Pienaar & Sons Empire: “We love this brand so much, and both their Empire and Orient gins are our go-to South African gins,” says Human. Empire is a cucumber-infused gin.

Pair with: Pink tonic and lots of cucumbers and flowers

Price: R380 for a 750ml bottle direct from distillery (prices vary at other outlets)

Step5 Dry Gin: Orange, coriander and lemongrass are some key flavours in this gin, which is still juniper forward, so it’s flavourful and so smooth!Pair with: Fresh figs, cardamom and star anisePrice: R399 

Monks Medella Gin: “All of the Monks gins are our firm favourite too, but for a fruity gin, this would come out tops for us,” says Human. This gin is infused with blueberries. 

Pair with: Muddled blueberries and thymePrice: Between R399 and R480 for 750ml (outlet dependent)

High end

Autograph Gin: You don’t need to drink it with much else other than maybe a block of ice! But if you do, a lemon peel is recommended.

Price: Between R499 and R520 for a  750ml bottle (outlet dependent)


Cape Brandies are tops SA brandy sales have been losing market share since 2006, after whiskey overtook it as SA’s favourite spirit. While the market has stabilised over the past three years, the demand for potstill brandy, also called Cape Brandy, has been picking up due to concerted efforts to make consumers more aware of the unique quality of these brandies. 

“SA has been dominating the majority of international brandy competitions over the past years, winning the International Wine and Spirits Competition at least 11 times over the past 15 years,” says Danie Pretorius, commercial manager of Oude Molen. “What’s more, different brands are winning the awards, revealing that premium quality has become the rule in production.”

SA is not allowed to call Cape Brandies cognac due to an agreement with the European Union, but Pretorius says our brandies can stand their ground against the best cognac in the world and are produced in exactly the same way. SA brandy producers also don’t want to call their brandy cognac, because they feel their brandy is great in its own right.

“Where cognac is traditionally spicy and woody, ours are much more fruity and complex,” Pretorius explains. 

Pretorius suggests the following brandies:

Entry-level, presenting good value for money: KWV 10, Klipdrift Gold or the Joseph Barry VS

Medium price category: Tokara Cape Brandy, Van Ryn’s 12 or the Ladismith Cape Brandy 

Premium: Backsberg’s Sydney Back First Distillation, Oude Molen’s XO and the KWV 20


SA whiskey producers have been making international headlines in 2018. Bain’s Cape Mountain Whiskey won the World’s Best Grain Whiskey title at the 2018 World Whiskey Awards, while newcomer Boplaas featured on the Whiskey Brother Shop’s list of the top-five sellers and won a platinum medal at the 2018 Michelangelo International Wine & Spirits Awards, making it the best SA whiskey in its class. Daniel Nel, whiskey maker at Boplaas, says whiskey production never really took off locally because of the huge focus on brandy production. Small whiskey producers also struggled to compete with large, well-established international brands with big advertising budgets. 

Internationally, the demand for traditional Scotch blends has been relatively stagnant over recent years, primarily because of a lack of innovation, according to Nel. The growing demand for craft spirits, such as gin, has however breathed new life into whiskey, resulting in New World countries like England, Japan, India, Ireland and SA starting to produce whiskeys. 

Our warm climate makes local whiskey special, says Nel.Where the angel’s share – the percentage of spirits that evaporates out of the barrel – in Scotland is often less than 2%, SA is sitting with an angel share of 5% to 6%. The aging process is in effect much quicker, so that a five-year old whiskey of SA would be as soft and smooth as an eight to ten-year old from a cooler country. 

SA whiskey makers also have access to locally produced maize, which is considered of the best quality in the world and has for many years been used to produce whiskey in Scotland. 

With Boplaas and Bain’s the only local whiskey producers, Nel suggests the following:

Entry level: Three Ships 3 Year; Boplaas Single Grain 

Mid-range: Boplaas 6 Year Single Grain 

Premium: Three Ships Premium 15


Little Wolf Brewery

Stefan Wiswedel bought himself a homebrew kit back in 2009 and became hooked. “I really loved that brewing beer lies at the intersection of science and creativity.” And so Little Wolf Brewery came about in 2016, with brewing taking place at the Devil’s Peak brewery in Epping, Cape Town.

Summer thirst quencher: Little Wolf has just launched its Sorghum Gose – a limited edition collaboration beer brewed with Stellenbosch Brewing Co.

It’s low in alcohol and slightly tart, which makes it the perfect summer thirst quencher, says Wiswedel. 

Their Table Beer is designed to be light and easy-drinking but still flavourful. 

“It’s definitely something you can drink all summer long and not get tired of.” 

Sorghum Gose: +/- R23.99/canTable Beer: R19/bottle

Zwakala Brewery

The Zwakala Brewery and tasting room is nestled in the Magoebaskloof mountains of Limpopo. 

Zwakala means “come closer” and, according to head brewer and co-founder Luca Tooley, they believe in producing independent and proudly South African brews that will bring people together. 

“I love the fact that craft beer tells your story in a fun way. Some of our beers have been inspired by activists (The Weekend Special), others by local ingredients (The Upside Down Baobab Weiss) – and I think people appreciate those small details when tasting the beer.”

Summer thirst quencher: “Our award-winning Limpopo Lager is crisp and refreshing, perfect for a hot summer’s day (roughly R24 in bottle stores). If you’re looking for an interesting flavour, try our IPA, the Weekend Special, with seven different types of hops and hints of lemongrass – inspired by anti-apartheid activist Brenda Fassie,” says Tooley. 

This article originally appeared in the 20 December edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.

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