“Start a tradition,” exhorts a sign at Cape Town’s newest craft distillery tucked down a little alley close to Parliament in Cape Town. After tasting Pienaar & Son’s two gins, that’s something I fully intend on doing.
The first, Empire, is an instant classic – with fresh, clean notes of pine, lemon, lime and cucumber. Great for fans of London Dry-style gins, it’s perfect with tonic and slices of fresh cucumber on a hot afternoon. The second, Orient, is a feistier option, with eastern spices, orange peel, ginger and vanilla hints. Pair with tonic or ginger ale and orange slices as a pre-dinner drink on windswept evenings.
Although master distiller Andre Pienaar is new to the craft distilling game, you can’t imagine a safer — or more creative — pair of hands: the musician, producer and lyricist helpfully has a degree in chemistry and biochemistry. His dad, a chemical engineer with 40 years of experience in distillation process and technology, designed and built the distillery’s shiny steady-state still. Unlike the bubble caps many other stills feature, the three-columned monster is able to process solids. This enhances the flavour and means that, in a single step, the fermented maize (from which the neutral spirit base is derived) is converted to a 96% neutral alcohol with only a 0.5% effluent alcohol loss — making the process much more energy efficient.
“I wanted to create something that was fresh, modern and different,” says Pienaar of the gins’ bottles — which are tall and narrow and certainly not like anything else in your drinks cabinet. “A lot of bottle design lately is very similar and uninteresting. Slapping a sticker on a dumpy round bottle felt like being lazy to me, and I wanted to create something that reflected our take on crafting spirit: using modern methods to create fresh, young, modern spirits.”
“Every single bottle is slightly different to the next which I really like,” Pienaar says: they’re all screen printed by hand, and signed by him. All in all, he believes the design (by Cassandra Leigh Studio) conveys “an image that is ‘fresh’ but not ‘trendy’ and ‘new’ but not ‘intimidating’.”
What’s up next? A vodka, of course! Waskis, an extra neutral spirit, will be launched this February once Pienaar is satisfied that his tweaking has brought about the quality he wants.
Book a tasting (by appointment only) at pienaarandson.co.za