‘Who’s the new guy?!’… you know what it’s like. At one stage or another we’ve all been that ‘new guy’. There’s a weird sense of nervous energy and palpable anxiety of taking in your new surroundings, just hoping that you don’t trip over your own feet or do anything untoward that’ll land you with a nickname that’ll stick!
In my case, I was 17 years old, and part way through my third shift working as a waiter in my local Italian restaurant. The first couple of evenings had gone without a hitch, and I had been lured in to an early false sense of security. In wanting to make an impression on my new colleagues and customers, I was pulling out all of the stops. As I headed over to my first table of the service, I could have had no idea that the impression I would leave on the gentleman in front of me was 2/3 of a bottle of red wine!…
I had made the bold decision to carry the open vintage on a tray full of glasses (as seen in many classic restaurant based film scenes – it’s textbook stuff really), but in my haste to quench the thirst of my adoring punters, I hadn’t noticed as the bottle of plonk precariously edged its way to the front of the platter laden with delicate cargo. The point at which it tumbled through the air like a fallen acrobat, time kind of stood still for a moment.
As the bottle pirouetted towards the floor, making its inevitable impact, comfort was scarce to come by. The harshly white tiled floor seemed to make the sound effects and over-dramatics louder and more vivid, with the claret of the red wine seemingly made brighter,(only surpassed by the colour in my cheeks!) with barely an inch not covered or attacked by the shrapnel. The fact that the gentleman who bore the brunt of my personal rendition of ‘Niagra Falls’ had chosen to wear beige chinos did little to ease the situation. But, at least his white canvas shoes had helped to soak up some of the damage I helpfully consoled myself.
Crest fallen, I was ushered to the kitchen to sit down with a glass of orange cordial whilst the head chef made dry cleaning compensation arrangements with the man sporting the boozy tie-dyed attire.
I was mortified.
Hoping to make a good first impression of their very own is the subject of my latest tasting and review, making their way from South Africa to the shores of the UK for the very first time! It’s my absolute pleasure to introduce to you Inverroche distillery! And whilst their impact is still alcoholic in nature, they’ll be hoping to make a ‘smashing’ start of a different kind – one to leave a mark, but without a laundry bill…
Inverroche; let’s get the cards on the Table (Mountain)
Hailing from Still Bay, on the Western Cape, Inverroche have become the ‘poster boy’ pioneers of the South African craft gin scene. In 6 short years, the brand have grown from humble beginnings in to an armoury of three distinctive gins that are proudly served across 15 countries around the globe. Led by Lorna Scott, the teams founder, distiller and all round font of local botanical knowledge, that’s an impressive rate of growth in anyone’s books!
With its name paying homage to the Scott family’s Celtic and Gaelic heritage, Inverroche combines both the Scottish word “Inver” (‘a confluence of water’) and the French word “Roche” (‘rock or stone’) to simultaneously honour the landscape of the gins Still Bay homestead.
Whilst plaudits clearly have to go to Lorna, Inverroche is a family affair through to the core. On the brands website, Scott explains how “…my son Rohan helped me experiment with and design the original gins and my daughter Lauren was keenly involved in the design of the packaging as well as styling and taking our product photography; the Scott family fingerprint is on everything that is Inverroche”.
They say that nothing worth having in life comes easy – and the time and sacrifice that went in to the creation of the Inverroche certainly pays testament to that! In fact, rewind to the beginning and these gins were some three years of sitting at the kitchen table with son Rohan tirelessly working through a process of trial and error of creation, taste, rinse, repeat. And all of this alchemy was carried out in a 2 litre copper pot Still that affectionately became known as ‘Mini-Meg’.
Wait. Three years of gin tasting?…That actually doesn’t sound so bad after all!…
‘But why did it take so long to create a few simple gin recipes’ you may be asking yourself? A fair question perhaps if we were talking about a couple of bags of pre-prepared botanicals being delivered to order for a bit of ‘mix n match’ experimentation to tweak ratios of commonly seen ingredients. But in those words you find the answer to your own question; ‘commonly seen ingredients’ aren’t something you’re going to be seeing as much of here!
Inverroche has been created within footsteps of the Cape Floral Kingdom, one of only six such biomes in the World. There are more than 9,000 species of plant, growing in their natural habitat, on the Scott family’s doorstep that are found nowhere else in the world! In fact, there are more species of plant (known as ‘Fynbos’) found on Table Mountain than in all of Great Britain! (Alan Titchmarsh will be gutted!). When seeking to find a botanical mix of locally sourced fynbos to give their gins a unique character and flavour, it now starts to make a little more sense why it wasn’t an overnight process!
And with so many incredible ingredients to choose from, the question ‘where the heck do I start?!’ springs to mind! Luckily for Lorna, during a stint as the Mayor of Still Bay (this inspirational lady has done EVERYTHING!) she was fortunate enough to befriend a local botanist and his wife. During their conversations and foraging trips, Scott inherited a narrowed down list of 300 fynbos that should be considered contenders. It’s still a mammoth list by most peoples standards, but slightly easier to digest!
Three years later the Inverroche gins were born, representing the provenance and locality of the rock, mountain side and coastline from where the fynbos have been grown and handpicked.
Fynbos fun fact; ‘Buchu’ is said to be great for curing hangovers! Does it work if it’s drank as part of an alcoholic drink? I don’t know, but I can’t hurt to try can it?!
Something ‘Meg’a in the making…
As demand outstripped supply, it very quickly became apparent that the 3 years hadn’t been wasted, and that Lorna and co. might just be on to something. Cue the introduction of ‘mini-Megs’ big sister – a 1,000 litre wood-fired copper pot still; Magnanimous Meg!
The use of a wood-fired Still can’t help but bring a huge smile to my face! I’ve only ever seen it up close and personal in the UK once at Cornish powerhouses ‘Tarquin’s Southwestern Distillery’. It just feels authentic and entrenched in tradition. Handy really, as that’s exactly what sits at the heart of Inverroche!
The delicate fynbos botanicals are layered into specially designed steam baskets inside the still, allowing their aromatic oils to be gently extracted by the heated spirit without losing the fresh and vibrant uniqueness of their profiles. The use of mineral rich water, hand pumped from the aquifer beneath the distillery, also helps bring a signature stamp to the character of the final gin.
Home is where the heart is…
But understand that this quest isn’t about profits at all expenses. Make no mistake that Inverroche is a brand with a heart, oozing Lornas ethos and values in every drop.
The team purposely don’t push production to maximum capacity and strip the landscape bare. Instead, they allow nature to be the natural dictator of how much they can create, only ever making “what the environment can naturally sustain” to protect the fynbos species. The team also grow & harvest some of their own crops, as well as re-establishing plants in their natural environment, ensuring that they help to give back to the earth what they have been gifted.
They also very cleverly recycle any wastage from the distilling process by combining it with limestone sand to create bricks and paving for their headquarters! I’m having an extension done in 2021…I must ask if they’re available to quote for the patio…
Whilst we have established that family is a core value of the brand, ‘family’ doesn’t stop at the immediacy of name or bloodline. Inverroche is a distillery that is not only striving to produce spirits that can truly be called ‘world class’, but they are invested in their community to make it happen. Just to keep up with demand, the team now have to employ over 70 staff at the distillery in the high season, with 45 being full time! Once distilled, every bottle of Inverroche is labelled, numbered and boxed by hand.
And it is with an enormous sense of pride that they are able to create jobs for the local community, including a large number of indigenous women from the local area, who’s families now share in the teams success.
Everyday is a school day
Talking about ‘giving back’, 2017 saw the opening of the Inverroche Gin School, or ‘Sensorium’ as they like to call it (great word!).
Here, excited visitors can not only hear the Inverroche story first hand, but they’ll also get to try their hand at creating a bottle of gin to take away with them as a lasting momento (well, ‘lasting’ depending on an individual’s willpower that is!).
And whilst this is a fantastic draw for tourism to the local area, be under no illusion of this being a cheap stunt. You won’t be getting palmed off to a rep or a member of agency staff with a script and a smile. Scott herself personally teaches two classes a day. Every day. All season long. But as Lorna explains, she sees passing on the knowledge (of her foraging learnings) that she has acquired through her time in gin is both a privilege and a duty, “at the end of the experience people walk away having learned something about our link to the land as well as having made something using only their own senses and the natural ingredients provided”.
Message in a bottle
So having soaked in the culture and history of the brand, it’s time to soak in the look and feel of the packaged end product that have been hand labelled and a sent on their way from their South African starting point (before we get soaked in the gin itself that is!).
With family ties firmly in tact, Scott’s daughter taking responsibility for the designs, the link back to Celtic/Gaelic decent feels immediately evident through the symbolism adorned on the front and centre of the bottles.
However, delving a little deeper, and you start to suspect that the tribal-esq logo is also perhaps a homage being paid to the ancestry of Still Bay and the surrounding area. There is evidence to suggest it was the home to some of the earliest human beings, living as one with nature. And in looking to create something to help tell that story, using local and sustainable paints for her canvas, Scott explains how Inverroche is “an echo of our past” and the areas historical significance. Beautifully put.
The 70cl bottles are sleek and elegant, with the glass stopper (an aesthetic touch that has eventually won me over!) and subtle colour scheme offering a clean and refined finish. There’s a touch of class on the eye that immediately suggests quality and finesse.
Each of the three gins in the range then diligently details their relevant areas of expertise;
Using fynbos from the limestone-rich soils of the low lands, the Gin Classic is your ‘flagship’ if you will.
Using fynbos from the coastline, the Amber is the one that perhaps grabs and holds my attention for the longest. Not only because I seem to be developing a love affair with gins that take inspiration from the sea, but also because of the dark and alluring treacle toffee glow that oozes from the bottle. With promises of rich and aromatic sweetness, it takes all of my restraint not to dive straight in!
Using fynbos from the mountains, Gin Verdant promises a floral and soft character, with the bottle offering a translucent golden-green hue.
Inverroche Gin to taste; Taking a seat at the Table (Mountain)…
On Thursday 26th November, I was fortunate enough to be invited to join a live tasting of Inverroche gin, hosted by the legends over at Boutique Bar Brands as part of their ‘Sipping Rooms’ series in collaboration with Spirits Kiosk. And what’s more, the event was attended by Lorna Scott herself, who spoke with such passion and love for her brand that you’d be forgiven for forgetting that she was at a distinct time zone disadvantage!
To facilitate the experience, I was sent an Inverroche sample pack of their three gins, each in a 50ml bottle serve. The package is presented exquisitely and, other than the obvious omission of the glass stoppers, the bottles are a near exact replica of their bigger siblings. They genuinely wouldn’t look out of place on the shelf next to a bottle of Chanel No.5 perfume! The gift packs, costing £14.99 via ‘Spirits Kiosk’ http://www.spiritskiosk.com, would make excellent Christmas gifts, stocking fillers or even (generous) Secret Santa presents. The gins are not only cheaper than Chanel No.5, but you can also drink them! Win, win.
The evening itself was to be focussed on the teams Amber gin, which I would come to learn was distinct not only in its colour, but in its flavour profile too…
Gin Amber to taste
The first thing that you notice, as the spirit comes to rest, are the lusciously long legs that stretch up as if to climb from the glass, indicative of the sheer volume of essential oils that have been crammed in to the liquid.
With your face helplessly enticed forwards, the scent is utterly intoxicating! On the nose, sweet caramelised apples and sticky cinder toffee wait to greet you with a dank sweetness. There’s a resinous oaky wood character to the neat gin, supported by the pine notes of the juniper, helping to give a sophistication to the aromas. The team divulge that the use of ‘Buchu’ is core to the profile, and there is a real floral suggestion to the neat spirit, with rose being the boldest to emerge. A delicate zip of lemon peels rounds off the finish, with a light dusting of sea salt adding a hint of salinity to reflect the coastline inspiration.
To taste neat, and I was immediately struck by the complexity of the gins rich and luxurious profile. There’s a slight medicinal quality coming from the herbal bouquet of the fynbos, complemented by a dusting of sweet cinnamon warmth and a spiced peppery suggestion on the back of the throat. Those caramelised apples delightfully carry across to the palate delivering a liqueur, almost brandy like, feel to the liquid. To round things off, there is woody and dry finish that helps to provide a cask aged character, which gets me in to immediate daydreams of this being a perfect contender for a Negroni…
But before we get ahead of ourselves, it was time to add a splash of tonic to check out the longer credentials of the G&T serve. And it’s fair to say that it doesn’t disappoint. Brighter citrus notes and a zing of sweet orange are pulled forwards, with a bitter lemon zest finish on the back of the throat. The spice of the gin softens amongst the mixer, allowing the ever present toffee apple and softer wood tones to shine through. A delicious and unique take on the household favourite.
Whilst the Inverroche team led demonstrations of a multitude of cocktail serves to make use of the gins distinctive characteristics, each of them sounding delicious, I was mentally pouring myself a (mini) Negroni from the first sniff.
Note to reader: I have detailed the cocktail recipes at the end of the review if you fancy having a go yourself!
The verdict? It’s a dream. The caramelised spiced and sweet toffee apple work hand in hand with the vermouth to perfectly balance against the bitters and the pithiness of the orange and lemon peels. That woody, cask aged, flavour plays directly into the hands of the short serve classic, delivering a Negroni that is ultra smooth and indulgent, and packed to the rafters with aromatics to entertain the tastebuds for weeks. It’s one I have little doubt I’ll return to time and time again (in fact, there’s already another chilling in the freezer!).
Having tried and loved the Amber, I was keen to explore the other two expressions to understand how their respective makeup’s would differ. Without a detailed breakdown of the full botanical listing used, this would be based on blind tasting alone, though sometimes that’s half the fun!
Gin Classic to taste
On the nose, there’s a hit of what feels like a zippy lime and a twist of grapefruit peel, with suggestions of sliced apple providing an upfront fresh sharpness. There are beautiful floral bouquets to be found here, with the balanced sweetness of elderflower and rose petals feeling most prominent. In amongst a summertime vibe of fresh cut grass, there is a light wisp of coriander, complemented by a dusting cinnamon spice, to bring a subtle and well balanced warmth to the vapours.
The nose translates almost directly over to the palate. The lime and grapefruit gives a lively punch of citrus, puffing the cheeks and giving a satisfying longevity on the tongue. There’s a vibrancy to the neat gin, with the suspected apple notes bringing a real energy.
The perfumery of the floral botanicals gives spring morning vibes, with the rose delivering a sweet ‘Turkish Delight’ style finish. There are bold flavours of herbal greenery at play alongside the crunchy pine of the juniper. It all comes together to deliver a spirit that is clean, crisp and classic by both name and nature.
To serve, and this was always screaming out to be a G&T; with a fist full of ice and a slice or peel of fresh orange or grapefruit and it’s about as classic as it gets!
A light tonic pulls forward the citrus and the floral notes seem to sing brighter, with the sweetness of the blossom elevated to provide an almost tangible warm breeze from the glass. The soft juniper becomes bolder and more upfront, supported by a sharp grapefruit zest finish.
Gin Verdant to taste
On first approach to my third and final miniature I turned to my wife (as gin tasting is often a spectator sport) with my eyebrows aloft and said ‘WOW!’.
Chamomile and elderflower are the order of the day on the nose, bringing big and confident aromatics to the fold. The metaphorical steam of chamomile tea rises from the glass, with soft notes of liquorice providing a warming and sweetly spiced background on which to hang the other botanicals. There’s a subtle almond nuttiness to the scent, that softens the impact of the booze and adds a richness to the overall finish.
I could barely wait to taste, and I wasn’t to be disappointed. Sipped neat, the chamomile is BLOODY massive! Musty and pungent, it feels feel rich & indulgent.
There’s a sharper sense of lemon peel citrus that I hadn’t been expecting from the nose. That said, on having found it on the palate, it’s unmistakable on the scent when you return to the glass. The elderflower gives a delicate floral character, bringing a sweetness that works brilliantly well against the earthier notes of liquorice. It feels expertly balanced and very well put together, in a way that suggests there is enough versatility in the spirit to leave a multitude of serves at the drinkers discretion…
There is absolutely no doubting that this is an excellent G&T. The chamomile & elderflower continue to deliver with aplomb – they are suitably huge and somehow seem to stand taller in amongst the mixer. The lemon citrus, much to my delight, also becomes brighter, which works in perfect harmony with the quinine of the tonic. Despite the aforementioned sweetness, there’s something herbal and almost savoury to the finish that makes this feel sophisticated and very ‘grown up’!
But surprise, surprise, I was chomping at the bit to get this bad boy in to a Negroni…The chamomile provides an aromatic base to start proceedings, whilst the elderflower provides a sweetness to cut through the bitters. Those citrus peel notes complement the burnt orange vibes, with the subtle juniper becoming bolder and seeming to grow in confidence.
I have to admit that once you’ve had the pleasure of the Amber Negroni, the Verdant variation assumes a very respectable 2nd place. But drank in isolation and ignorance of the excellence of the Amber, the Verdant is bloody brilliant in the short serve. The thing I would edge towards its favour is that I have a sneaking suspicion, to be ratified imminently, that the Verdant would make a cracking dry Martini – and that is a beautiful thing.
You can now leave the Table (Mountain)
(sorry, the South African pun titles seem to have stuck).
I was wondering how I would draw this review to a close, particularly given the lengthy journey that is required to truly do this brand justice. But as I pondered, and the camera panned back over to Lorna Scott, the inspirational standard barer of the Inverroche name made my job a little easier in a summary of her own.
The first batch of Inverroche gin was sold from Lornas house in 2011. Since then, they have gone on to become a nations favourite, making short shrift of their global expansion. But for Lorna, it’s those family ties that sit at the heart of the success. Inverroche ultimately aims to bring people together, to create a connection between people and to find the commonalities that bind us rather than finding the differences that drive us apart. And in times of global pandemics, Brexit, ‘fake news’ and fraught presidential elections, I think we can all agree that it’s an ethos that should be very much welcomed! It’s certainly one I’m willing to ‘drink in’.
I think that it’s very fair to say that Lorna and the Inverroche team have made an impact through their first impressions. And best of all? There’s not a sign of broken glass or red wine to be seen! Though I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that being left doused in a healthy serving of Amber gin could only ever be a good thing – beige chinos or not!
Make sure to follow Lorna and the team at Inverroche to keep track of their ever evolving and exciting story. I have a sneaking suspicion you’re going to be hearing a lot more about these guys!
Instagram: @inverroche & @inverroche_uk
And if you fancy getting involved in a future virtual tasting/tour evening, check out the latest events from the ‘Boutique Bar Brands’ team across their social media pages, at ‘Sipping Society’ and over on the ‘Design My Night’ website http://www.designmynight.com
If you’d like to give any of the cocktails that we saw on the night a go, all of the recipes are detailed below! And be sure to give Travis Kuhn a follow over at ‘@splashpurist’ across social media.
Amber Apple Warmer
And don’t forget to stop by @theginshelf across all social media platforms for more blogs & event updates. Stop by, say ‘Hi’ & chat gin!