The juniper-based spirit is having a major moment in South Africa.
If you’re someone with a weak spot for a G&T, then Cape Town needs to be the next destination on your travel itinerary. Those with a love for the juniper-based spirit will get a kick out of the creative ways entrepreneurs in South Africa’s (arguably) coolest city are putting their own spin on gin – with native rooibos tea and indigenous botanicals such as fynbos, for example. This new handcrafted craze has even somewhat edged out the city’s last obsession: craft beer. From dedicated gin bars to a handful of cool distilleries, here are the ultimate places to enjoy a glass… or several.
The Gin Bar
Cape Town’s first dedicated gin bar takes a bit of a detective’s nose to sniff out. To reach the intimate, antique-laden drinking den, one must be buzzed into the darkened and closed Honest Chocolate Cafe, then wind through a small hallway and exposed-brick courtyard. It’s worth it. What started two years ago with three local gins has turned into a couple dozen on offer for G&Ts, martinis and negronis. Carefully crafted sips include the Wild at Heart, which combines Wilderer Gin (from the Cape Winelands) with cinnamon, naartjie rind and Fitch & Leedes tonic, which is also local to SA.
The Woodstock Gin Company
Beside the Old Biscuit Mill, the site of Cape Town’s best pop-up food and shopping market (Neighbourgoods Market is a can’t-miss on Saturdays), lies this innovative distillery, which began, funny enough, making limoncello. Founder Simon Von Witt got on the gin bandwagon at the perfect moment, and has since created a beer-based gin and a wine-based version by using stock from local brewers and wineries. In addition, they make a High Tea blend using South Africa’s famous rooibos tea and honeybush, a London Dry, and even their own tonic using a natural, double-refined cinchona bark from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Visit for a tasting of their ever-growing roster of gins aided by fresh citrus and spice accoutrements.
Hope on Hopkins
Founded by partners Lucy Beard and Leigh Lisk, Hope on Hopkins – in the Woodstock-adjacent Salt River neighbourhood – was the third distillery to open in South Africa. One way they differentiate themselves is by making their gin with malted barley that’s milled onsite and then cooked, fermented and triple-distilled. Lucy also devises unique gins, including her take on London Dry, a summery Salt River (evocative of the Western Cape’s botanicals), and a savoury Mediterranean brew, which uses a grape base with elements like basil, lemon, thyme, bay leaves, cardamom and manzanilla olives. If you’d like to visit, book a Saturday afternoon ‘Gin Experience’ ahead of time.
The newest Cape Town bar devoted to gin is conveniently located on buzzing Bree Street, where hip restaurants are opening at an impossibly-fast pace. There, more than 100 gins sit behind the bar alongside various tonics and bright garnishes. (Tapas, wine and other types of booze are also available.) Frequent patrons will expand their knowledge and palette, thanks to the comprehensive array of both South African brands and international labels, one of which is featured each month and commemorated with menu specials.
New Harbour Distillery
Experimental and innovative, New Harbour Distillery – in Woodstock as well – is the place to go if making your own gin is your idea of a cooking class. Not only can guests and gin drinkers try their Spekboom (featuring the botanical of the same name, which is known as a wonder plant and contains high vitamin C levels) and rooibos-infused bottles during tours and tastings, but on the last Saturday of each month they offer eight people the opportunity to dig in deeper, learning the differences between gin styles, tasting (of course) with the master distiller and, ultimately, crafting your very own bottle with single-distillation botanical blends.