{non-alco gin} Drinking consciously with John Ross

Non-alcoholic beverages have never really tickled my fancy before the national lock-down.  John Ross Virgin Distilled Botanicals have opened my mind (and palate) to a much needed addition to our social lives.


The interest in and the move towards non-alcoholic beverages have become a pertinent part of how we choose to socialise recently. The national lock-down and suffocating restrictions on alcohol sales have amplified the need for a glass-in-hand that at least resembles something full-strength, in times when alcohol is not an option. The sale of craft non-alcoholic beer and gin and tonics has skyrocketed during SA’s lockdown as people struggled with the hard bans on liquor.

I’ve never thought much of it, and would rather abstain from drinking at events or social gatherings if I knew I had to drive (rather than opt for something non-alcoholic). Having said that, after a think with a glass of of John Ross Virgin Distilled Botanicals in my hand, I might very well be re-assessing my consumption habits and misplaced aversion to non-alcoholic beverages.


John Ross Virgin Distilled Botanicals is a first of its kind for South Africa and the world. Virgin distilled botanicals are blended together to create a classic non-alcoholic gin, infused with honeybush tannin (https://johnrossvirgin.co.za/johnross-product-page/).

The newest addition to the Barker & Quin family is John Ross – a 750ml bottle of virgin distilled botanicals. by Hanneli vd Merwe and Chris Wium.

Oenologist Hanneli vd Merwe, the founder of Barker & Quin has been experimenting with botanicals for a number of years now with her innovative premium range of tonic waters, which have taken the SA market by storm in the past year. South Africa needed a natural, high-quality tonic water to complement its emerging gin industry –  and Hanneli decided to change this.

And this month, they add John Ross to their family of alcohol free beverages. Hanneli and business partner, Chris Wium used the finest honeybush extract to tie together fragrant botanicals which have been distilled to create a beautiful alcohol free gin with a real South African twist. Marketed as having no calories, no sugar and ideal when served with tonic water and ice as one would a normal G&T (https://theginbox.co.za/blog/non-alcholic-gins-a-new-trend/).

Non alcoholic gin as an alternative

First, we need to look at the main reasons why people would opt for non-alcoholic drinks. A few of the obvious ones include health-related issues, fitness and/or calorie-controlled eating plans, and religious or moral standings.

This still seems like only a small percentage of our alcohol consuming population. I have to ask whether South Africa is ready for conscious drinking. Not a question that I’m ready to answer, but I have seen the surge towards non-alcoholic options grow in strength for a while now, and one can only hope that it will steadily continue upward.

The research

On the flip side, as I sip on my John Ross and tonic, I also have to ask why I’ve personally always had such a strong aversion to it, without ever having explored the options.  After a few more sips and thoughts, I decided it boils down to fear of disappointment. A fear that it won’t taste or “feel” like its full-strength sibling. Fear that the first sip of of my icy (non-alcoholic) G&T after a long day will simply not deliver. That the first glug from my favourite beer leaves me with nothing but a sour taste in the mouth.

Research has shown that drinking non-alcoholic beer indeed gives you the same satisfaction and reward as full-strength beer. Because your mind and taste buds associate the fruity smell and heady flavour with full-strength beer, it goes ahead and produces dopamine, the feel good  chemical. That means you get all the good, without the bad.

But this article is not about the benefits of non-alcoholic beverages. It’s about my quiet encounter with John Ross.

The taste test

I received a bottle of John Ross Virgin Distilled Botanicals and a colourful collection of Barker & Quin tonic waters from my friends at Covert Distributions to taste test.

The packaging and bottle was incredibly beautiful, and echoes the stunning design on the tonic water labels. It also embroiders further on the adventures of pioneer and explorer, John Ross. Deeply amber in colour, it looked incredibly appealing and high-end in its dark-teal embossed box.

The Tall Hedonist and I had a great time taste-testing our way through John Ross and the range of Barker & Quin tonic waters, both settling on our perfect serves.

Serving suggestion

The recommended serving suggestion is on ice, with lemon wedges and Barker & Quin Finest Indian Tonic Water.

My perfect serve was with the Honeybush Orange tonic water, with a wheel of orange on ice. The Tall Hedonist found his comfy spot by adding a dash of Marula tonic with a lemon wedge and garden mint.

Before we knew it, the Saturday afternoon was drawing to a close, and we comfortably made our way through more than a quarter bottle of John Ross without batting an eyelid.

In conclusion

The lockdown, and my acquaintance with John Ross, has certainly made me think about the place of non-alcoholic beverages in my life. It’s a great bottle to take to a braai or social gathering (post-lockdown, of course!) if you need to drive. It’s a great drink if you want to live more healthy but still want feel part of the group. It drinks like a gin, delivers like a gin.

So – is it a gin?

Comparable more to an amber or honeybush infused gin, it’s not your juniper-forward classic dry gin. What I can tell you it is, is a deliciously conscious alternative to alcohol. Filled with only the best quality botanicals, all carefully and locally sourced, beautifully put together by masters of their trade, John Ross will be my go-to alternative drink of choice.

All said and done, I think there is one underscoring thought to remember. Non-alcoholic beverages are not their full-strength equivalents; they are a completely different product, with a well-deserved place in our ever evolving community.

Well done, Barker & Quin, on a stunning gift to South Africans that is tasty, affordable and incredibly easy on the eye. I think it’s a great addition to your range of innovative, premium tonics and definitely paves the way for a change in how we think and interact with the growing concept of conscious drinking.

And thank you, Covert Distributions, for always only bringing the best brands to our doorstep.

Disclaimer: I was given this product(s) as part of a press drop in exchange for 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.

The Little Hedonist endorses responsible drinking.
Don’t drink and drive. Not for persons under 18.

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