The discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand in 1852 lead to one of the largest ever gold rushes in world history. The little hamlet that was up to then, just a stop over on the way to the Barberton goldfields, suddenly showed promise of riches. That little hamlet would never be the same again. Soon thousands of people descended on it. Cecil John Rhodes from Kimberley made the trek to the mining camp and purchased the first batch of gold for £3000. This little hamlet was the start of Johannesburg, the City of Gold.
Many British miners came down from Barberton and brought gin with them. Their favorite tipple. In Barberton, gin was used to “christen” a new shaft, as champagne was not available. This tradition probably continued in the early day’s of Johannesburg’s mining.
The city expended from the Randjieslaagte triangle towards Braamfontein and outwards. With beautiful views, the Westcliff and Parktown areas attracted the elite and became “the Posh suburbs”. Rocks from local quarries was used to build magnificent houses. Later the beautiful Westcliff hotel was built on the hills, overlooking the biggest suburban forest.
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Today Johannesburg is the pulse of South Africa. It has a unique rhythm that is very different from the rest of the country. In this pulsating and exciting city, craft gin is making a come back. I was fortunate to visit the Angel Hart Distillery in Frankenwald, Johannesburg last week, to learn more about gin distilling on the Highveld.
Jacqueline Grobler has an amazing passion for gin. A jewelry designing by trade, she is a distiller by heart. The Angel Heart Distillery is making not only Angel Heart Liqueur, but wonderful gin using Highveld botanicals. This makes her gin a great homage to the wonderful city we live in.
Down in Cape Town, there is fynbos and coastal botanicals. Up on the Witwatersrand Highveld, there are thorn trees, sunsets and Highveld botanicals. In downtown Johannesburg, not far from the site of one of the first shafts, Jacqueline discovered the Faraday Muthi market. Here she sources indigenous bark, leaves and roots for her gin.
Using the Highveld botanicals together with the more traditional juniper berry, coriander seed and angelica root, she incorporates care and kindness into her distilling process. She uses a traditional African pot to gently open up the botanicals. Thought and quality go into every step of the process. From naming the still (Juliette) to the rich and luxurious bottles the gin is packaged in. Everything is done with a purpose. Angel Heart Distillery is also installing a solar still to ensure their processes are as modern and forward thinking as possible.
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Angel Heart currently manufacture 3 different gins:
Inspired by the beautiful suburb and the rich gold history of the city, this is a sipping gin. Westcliff pays homage to the suburban forest with soft green and floral notes, hints of vanilla, passionfruit and African ginger. It is the perfect gin for a G&T.
A small batch, dry gin, the Ginifer is flavored with 13 different botanicals. This is a big and bold gin, that vibrates with Johannesburg energy. Modern notes of pepper, citrus and pine trees. This gin represents the fast pace of the city and is perfect for cocktails.
Jacqueline carefully ages a chilli essence in oak barrels for 18 months before infusing her Ginifer gin with it. The oak notes allow for more vanilla notes and the chilli adds a kick of heat that is perfect with pineapple and fresh coriander leaves.
Angel Heart Distillery – The Future
It was wonderful to walk through the Angel Heart distillery, smell all the botanicals and follow the process from the start. I also nosed a few of the new products that they are working on and all I can say is … WOW. It is going to be amazing.
The Angel Heart Distillery plans for the future include a broader range of spirits and they are currently testing their process and mash bill for their own small batch whisky. When their rigorous testing is done and they fire up the stills for the first batch of whisky, I will be visiting again. It will be a momentous occasion for this liquid gold to be manufactured right in the City of Gold.
I have been playing around with cocktails based on Ginifer and food pairing ideas that will probably make it to a blog post in April / May. So expect to hear a lot more of this vibrant and amazing distillery in future.