Fynbos gin is a speck of southern Cape antiquity in a glass. Add it to a homemade syrup and fruit to make a sorbet, and you have in that sweet temptress of a dessert or palate-cleanser a tiny homage to hundreds of generations of humankind and the terrain they roamed, lived on and fed from as long as 100 000 years ago.
This is the extraordinary provenance of the fynbos gins – or more particularly wild Cape fynbos botanicals – that Lorna and Michael Scott are producing in their family distillery at Stilbaai on the southern Cape coast, a breath away from Pinnacle Point with its deep anthropological and archeological history. Distilled in small batches, there’s a trio of them– amber, verdant and classic– that sit alongside other spirits and liqueurs that are starting to come out of their Inverroche distillery.
I was given some samples of their gins by an old friend and colleague, Diana Powell, who lives in the area, after another (relatively old) friend and colleague had visited her there and come back to Cape Town raving about his amazing gin discovery.
I was sceptical at first, as any journalist is and should be, something that Diana drilled into me when Pinnacle Point was still relatively young and she was one of my first news editors, putting the fear of God into trembling cadet reporters. But when she said, recently, “I’m coming to Cape Town, meet me at the Planet Bar at the Mount Nelson”, my interest was piqued. There, I discovered that not only does the Planet bar stock all three of the gins, they’ve even created their own cocktail around one of them. (Although, the barman said, it contains mango, which did not seem like a brilliant idea).
“Inver” is Gaelic for a confluence of waters, and “roche” is French for rock (a la the Grande Roche in Paarl, named after Paarl Rock), and the name, when combined, honours both Michael’s Scottish Highland roots and Lorna’s Huguenot ancestry.
There’s some kind of sense in quality gin, or jenever as the Dutch and Belgians call it, being produced in South frica, given that Dutch provenance. The Inverroche trio are juniper-based, like many of the world’s classic gins, but it’s when you combine that classicism with fynbos such as wild geranium, aloe, buchu, kankerbossie, suurvygie (sour fig) and even rooibos that the spirit attains a backbone of southern Cape antiquity.
Myself, I’d be tempted to call them liqueur gins, because they really are great for drinking on their own, chilled, as a nightcap, although I suppose technically that would render classification problems. Even so, there’s a liqueur in the pipeline, they’re already producing rum, and they promise a whisky eventually to honour the Highland heathers than course through Michael’s veins.
I often feel that we South Africans can’t see the wood for the trees when it comes to appreciating the liquors we have on our own doorstep. We don’t only make world-class wines and methode champenoise can’t-say-Champagnes that frequently beat the best the rest of the world has to offer in international competitions, but we make splendid brandies too, not to mention some notable liqueurs and now a trio of gins that we should be proud to show off anywhere in the world.
So it’s not anathema I hope that for my purposes I have used them in food preparation, and plan to do more of. I’m looking forward to curing fresh salmon, for example, in gin with fennel, and to making a gin cream sauce to go with poached chicken breast.
To start with though, I decided to make a duo of sorbets using the Inverroche verdant gin and apple in one, and lemon and amber gin in the other. Try these, and of course you can substitute other gins of your choice. You don’t, of course, have to garnish them with maraschino cherries, as I did here, but generally one doesn’t have fynbos garnish lying about in the kitchen. I thought of draping some succulent leaves over it from some or other half-dead vygie in the corner of the garden, but that would have been just silly.
You can find out more about the Inverroche gins at www.inverroche.co.za
Amber Gin and Lemon Sorbet
3 large ripe lemons
1 cup/250ml sugar
1/2 cup/125ml cold water
4 tots Inverroche Amber Gin
1 egg white, beaten
Peel the zest, not including the pith, and place in a pot with the sugar and water. Stir and bring to a simmer, then simmer for five minutes, not too briskly. Strain into a bowl, discarding the peel, then place the bowl in a larger bowl of iced water and leave aside to cool.
Mix the juice of the three lemons with the gin and stir into the cooled syrup. Freeze for several hours, until partially set, then stir and return to the freezer. Repeat this process every two or three hours. Once it is thoroughly frozen, beat the two egg whites to soft peak stage. Scoop the frozen gin and lemon mix into a blender and blitz for a minute, the remove to a bowl and fold in the egg whites. Freeze, and after three hours or so, stir again and refreeze.
Fynbos Gin and Apple Sorbet
3 large green apples
1 cup/250ml cold water
1 cup/250ml sugar
4 tots Inverroche Verdant Gin
1 egg white, beaten
Core and peel the apples and blend to a puree with the gin. Stir the water and sugar in a pot to dissolve over heat, add the apple peels, and simmer for five minutes. Strain, discard the peels and chill in a bowl over a larger bowl of iced water. When cool, stir in the drunken pureed apple, and freeze. Follow the instructions as for the amber gin and lemon sorbet recipe until it’s ready to eat.
First published in Weekend Argus November 2012