What did you do before setting up your distillery?
We own a macadamia and litchi farm on the Sabie River, just outside the Kruger National Park, in the Lowveld of South Africa. Over the years we have established a small boutique hotel, spa & restaurants on the property, and thus got very involved in hospitality, and the marketing of our brand, Summerfields Rose Retreat & Spa.
What made you decide to create your distillery and gin?
We have had a rather torrid decade with our litchi exports – they come into season over the Christmas holidays when we typically are very busy in the hospitality sector, and when our farming staff and export agents want to go on leave. We had made a decision to bulldoze the litchi orchards and replace them with macadamia nuts when a good friend suggested we try distilling our litchi fruits into a mampoer, or local vodka. This became the start of a journey of discovery, first to understand the distilling process; getting to know the details about vodka and then gin, and finally to start acquiring the requisite equipment and experimentation to develop our own unique flavour profiles.
Can you tell us about the distillation process and botanicals?
The distillery is an old pack shed on the farm which we revamped and enclosed. We do everything on the estate, a real farm-to-bottle operation. During December and January we harvest the litchi fruits and pack these in our cold rooms. These are pitted and skinned, and the pulp is used to make a very sweet fruit juice. The juice is fermented with champagne yeast and nutrients, which turns it into fruit wines. The wines are then stripped for low ABV alcohol using an alembic pot still. Locally this is called Mampoer.
Once sufficient volumes have been collected, the low ABV is redistilled with a fractional column still into high ABV schnapps or vodka. We reduce the temperature to ensure that we do not lose the litchi flavour. Finally, we add our botanicals in the gin-run. We do a floral/litchi & rose gin and our original Duke Gin, as well as a more traditional London Dry gin, which is much more juniper, coriander and orange peel dominant. All the distillation and bottling takes place on the Summerfields Estate and we yield approx. 5000 litres of gin from our 100 tonne annual harvest;
What can people expect and experience if they visit the distillery for a tour or tasting?
We have a gin bar on one of the dams on the farm and guests are welcome to visit either the distillery or the gin bar. We are open from Tuesdays to Saturdays. Guests may also book a morning session when we teach them to make their own gin – we provide the alcohol and they sample their chosen botanicals for a very personalised experience.
How would you describe Duke Gin in a sentence?
Duke is an exotically fragrant farm-to-bottle gin, triple distilled, smooth & tasty.
What's your favourite way to drink Duke Gin?
With a slice of orange, basil and a dash of quality tonic.
What gins would you always have on your gin shelf (other than your own of course!)?
Hendricks Gin, BOLS, Sipsmith Gin, and Six Dogs Gin.
What's next for Summerfields Distilling Co - any exciting plans?
We are barrel-aging our first batch, to be known as DUKE COPPER, which will be released in mid-2019. Initial experiments are indicative of a sipping gin with both litchi and port flavours.