The past ten years has seen South Africa become hip to artisanal beverages like craft beer and coffee roasteries, and boutique gin is the latest tipple to garner appeal amongst those with a taste for the finer things in life.
Relihan Distillery is reviving a Swartland tradition of distilling on the family farm: in this case, SpesBona. The farm has been in the Relihan family since 1865 and occupied by successive generations of Relihan’s living close to the land, all with a creative flair. We’re talking cart wrights, clockmakers, farmers and distillers!
“I’ve always dreamed of setting forth the legend of Swartand family farm distilling, but also to incorporate something new and unique to it,” says John Relihan, owner of Relihan Distillery. “I envisioned a boutique distillery that focuses on producing fine spirits in small batches. Now, in 2018, the time has arrived!”
SpesBona is tucked away in a quiet corner of the Riebeek Rivier valley against the western slopes of the Kasteelberg and a stone’s throw from Riebeek Kasteel.
“Wherever possible, we try to source ingredients from local farmers and producers so as to ensure that our gin stays unique, and to ensure that every batch is of superior quality,” says Relihan. “The Swartland’s warm, dry climate makes it ideal for cultivating a variety of grape cultivars. We therefore source our base wines from local wineries and winemakers. In our quest to produce quality, we would even source a single tank of wine produced from an interesting grape variety, such as Tinta Barocca, to produce a limited release. Bulk is boring!”
With the farm situated on the slopes of the Kasteelberg, the distillery is fortunate to have both Renosterveld and Fynbos at their disposal. “We cultivate buchu and olives on the farm, and our own lemons, buchu, wild fennel and sour figs go into our Cape Fynbos Gin,” John says. “We are also spoiled with our very own springs deep in the kloofs of the Kasteelberg. The sweet water filters slowly through the sandstone and is absolutely pristine. We filter the water through a seven stage filtration process before it is used in our spirits. We treat our water with the same deep respect as the land. Water is a finite resource and we recycle the water used for cooling our stills.”
The following products from Relihan Distillery are currently available:
Classic Gin (750ml)
The Classic Gin is so-called because of the traditional ingredients used. The base is distilled
from white grapes from the Swartland and the gin is infused with the classic Gin spices such as Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Cassia and Cardamom, and double distilled. It is light on the piney Juniper taste and smell so that the other spices can also be explored. Enjoy with
ice, a hint of lime and tonic water.
Cape Fynbos Gin (750ml)
The aromatic base distilled from local grapes adds to the complexity of this Gin. Apart from the classic Gin ingredients such as Juniper, Coriander and Liquorice, we add local ingredients from the farm such as Buchu, wild Fennel and Rooibos. This is distilled in small 100 litre stills in a potstill configuration to retain all the aromas. This Gin will have seasonal variations when local ingredients such sour figs ripen. Enjoy with lots of ice, a dash of bitters, quality tonic and whichever berries or herbs you like.
Funky pink Gin (500ml)
Who says the world should be drab? Live a little with some pink gin! The base is our Classic dry gin, which we then infuse some interesting (and healthy) flavours. This includes Hibiscus, cranberries, a hint of vanilla, among others, to create a pleasant sundowner. Drink neat on crushed ice or with a sugar free tonic.
Relihan Grape Spirit R220 (500ml)
Distilled as a Grappa de Vino from local white grapes (we have hidden some away in small barrels to emerge as brandy in five years). We use our small 100 litre stills in a pot still configuration to retain the full character of the grapes. Only the heart of each run is retained and briefly exposed to oak to add a subtle aroma. Enjoy after dinner with coffee.
Relihan Grape Spirit (500ml)
This very special spirit has been distilled as an Eau de Vie. A limited number of bottles were produced. Distilled from a single variety – Tinta Barocca – from the Swartland region. The base wine was made with no sulphur and then distilled in a pot still configuration to retain the full aromatic character of the grapes. Treasure this one for after a memorable meal as a digestive. Goes well with dark chocolate and a single espresso.