{experience} Gin & Tonic Festival 2020: a showcase of Cape Town’s craft gin culture

It’s strange to think that less than three months ago, I was sipping in the sun at the annual Gin & Tonic Festival. Little did I know that I’d rely (rather heavily!) on my purchases that day to get me through the GIN-ormous lockdown!

Introduction

My passionate love affair with gin started when I lived in the UK for three years during the early 2000’s. Then, the gin offering was pretty much either Gordon’s or Bombay, or if you lucked out,  a double shot of Tanqueray. Whilst my friends chugged craft ales at the pub, I was sipping on this strangely bitter drink that I somehow have grown very fond of. 

Fast-forward ten or so years, back in South Africa, and we find ourselves in the midst of an ongoing and rapidly growing craft gin explosion. I have watched this industry bloom from infancy, intrigued by how people’s reactions to gin changed as the revolution gained momentum.

Our creative distillers and ginsmiths started changing direction and allowed their imaginations to take flight. They infused, macerated, steeped and experimented with the lush pantry of our local botanicals. The craft gin culture started to smash through stigmas and preconceptions about juniper juice.

All of a sudden, gin became trendy, and Cape Town was on the forefront of the South African revolt. Gin became a vibe, and was oh-so Instagrammable. I watched all this happen, craft gin in hand, and smiled. I was happy. The people finally caught on.

The experience

The annual Gin & Tonic Festival is the hippest celebration of craft gin in the country. With a thriving South African craft gin following, this is the festival you come to if you want to taste everything new on the scene.

Simply a day filled with sunshine, good music, awesome vibes, rad people and incredibly awesome gin, it’s an event I never miss. The Old Biscuit Mill is the perfect stage to showcase some of South Africa’s best craft gins, alongside some of the big international brands.

My third year attending this gin extravaganza, I’m excited to share my top finds for 2020 with you – this year’s festival was particularly good, and I had a hard time keeping my plastic in my pocket. I think back of this festival often during #lockdown, as a reminder of all the good times still to come.

To read about the 2019 Gin and Tonic Festival, click here!

To read about the 2018 Gin and Tonic Festival, click here!

Honourable mentions

I have some gins that fit me like an old pair of jeans. Even if you buy a new pair, you always somehow find yourself pulling this beloved pair from the back of the cupboard.

I simply had to sneak in pics of three of my most favourite staple gins. You know – just for an honourable mention and to show some love! These include Unit 43 Distilling Co, Muti Gin and Caspyn from West Coast Distillers.

The Little Hedonist’ s top picks for 2020

Little did I know that the bottles of gin I purchased at the Gin & Tonic Festival this year would soon become a commodity rarer than liquid gold during the national #lockdown. There is simply nothing more refreshing than an icy G&T after a long day at work. I mean at home. I mean working from home. You know what I mean! Gin is nice, and I’m so grateful to have some!

Without any further ado, in no particular order, my top finds for 2020 below.

Kumara Sweet Potato gin

This one has been on Tim’s radar for a few weeks prior to the fest already. A great fan of sweet potato, he was excitedly intrigued at the prospect. With a unique, earthy sweetness, Kumara didn’t disappoint either of our our romanticised expectations. The sweet potatoes are responsibly and organically sourced from underprivileged communities in the Western Cape. Best served with Indian tonic water and a round of cucumber, this is a gorgeously refreshing gin that simply had to come home with us.

Still 33 Jenny Johannesburg Dry gin

We spent a good part of our morning in the company of Still 33. Drawn to their stall like a moth to a flame, their unusual bottle shapes and gorgeously illustrated labeling caught my full attention. Based in Johannesburg, the brand has a distinct vintage-y, prohibition-era feel to it, supported by the symbolism of the Model A Ford and bootlegger airplanes.

The Jenny Johannesburg Dry gin has been smoothed over with the addition of macadamia nut essential oil, which in turn enhances the other botanicals to new deliciously complex flavour levels. A great gin, served with Indian tonic, strawberry slices and dried coconut shavings.

Still 33 Flivver Rooibos Citrus gin

We moved on to Still 33‘s Rooibos citrus gin. It smelled like a hot summer’s day, with a nose of fynbos and dried grapefruit peel. Fresh and warming, a great interpretation of South Africa’s famous botanical, with the colour of the gin reminiscent of a cup of soothing rooibos tea. My perfect serve? Indian Tonic, a round of juicy grapefruit, and a few sprigs of earthy thyme.

Cape Fynbos Gin Citrus Edition

Probably the prettiest bottle of South African craft gin on the market. Emblazoned with an artistic floral postage stamp collage, the original Cape Fynbos Gin is deliciously herbal and just as beautifully crafted as their labeling. Thirty three botanicals, all sustainably hand harvested, are macerated in the alcoholic base prior to distillation, allowing the various aromas and flavour profiles to bind smoothly.

Now add a citrus twist to an already award-winning gin, and you get the Citrus Edition. Bright and deliciously juicy, this is a stunning summer sipper. Serve simply with squidgy wedges of citrus and maybe a mint sprig, this beautiful new citrus edition had me feeling all sorts of summer holiday vibes.

Ginsmith The Stepchild

With multiple awards for all three the gins in their range, I was excited to see Ginsmith as part of this year’s festival. Gorgeous branding, it’s an eye-catching tribute to the Cape Mountain Leopard that forms the foundation of this brand. Their commitment to the conservation of these endangered cats, and their natural environment in the Grootwinterhoek mountains (which happens to be the home of Ginsmith), has resulted in a partnership with the Cape Leopard Trust.

The range includes Navy 57%, Pink and The Stepchild. I enjoyed all three variants, but felt a certain affinity with The Stepchild. A massive fan of herby, aromatic gins, The Stepchild holds a fragrant bouquet of buchu, wild rosemary and african sage, making it the perfect serve with a round of citrus and a sprig of thyme.

In conclusion

Guaranteed to be filled to the rafters with an excellent offering street food, multiple music stages, gorgeous people and stunning craft spirits, the annual Gin & Tonic Festival is really one of my happy places. It’s a great place to start your gin journey or to meet new favourites. This is the place where you get a rare and golden opportunity to chat to the faces behind the brands, and taste your way through a range of spirits until you find your perfect serve.

And a last thought – even though alcohol purchases are still restricted during level 4 #lockdown, order your gin from your favourite brand online and get it delivered when its eventually allowed. There are some amazing #lockdown specials at the moment. 

Cheers to our innovative and creative distillers and ginsmiths, and thank you to the Gin & Tonic Festival for indulging me every year!

Second photographer and photo credit: The Tall Hedonist, aka Timothy P. Gibson

Disclaimer: I was invited to this event in my personal capacity. There was no expectation for platform coverage in the form of a blog, or social media posts. This is my honest and truthful opinion and review thereof. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are solely those of The Little Hedonist, given in good faith and in no way influenced by the company or its affiliates. All images, unless otherwise stated/credited, are also my own.

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