Hope on Hopkins adds more variety to the Cape Town gin scene

The gin floodgates have been opened in Cape Town. Not only do we have at least three dedicated gin bars and at least two locally produced tonic waters, but it’s becoming a popular spirit to distill with new brands emerging into the market all the time.

Hope on Hopkins in Salt River is the enterprise of husband and wife team Leigh Lisk and Lucy Beard who gave up the corporate life as lawyers in London to pursue their dreams. “We had been working in the UK for just over 14 years and had been away from South Africa for 16 and decided to come home,” says Lucy. “We wanted do something for ourselves, so we set up a small craft distillery in Cape Town. We missed the sunshine, outdoor lifestyle and South Africa, and wanted to have a more relaxed lifestyle – this is what brought us home.”

To make a fine gin, first you have to make a great vodka. Leigh and Lucy do this in their tiny distillery, which is part of their home in a converted warehouse. They do plan to release a vodka but for now they are using this base spirit to blend two gins, and are working on a third.

hope on hopkins

The gins are geographical references to Lucy and Leigh’s life. Having spent a lengthy period of time in London, the classic London Dry gin was where they began. “It’s a style of gin which shows you’ve learned your skill as a distiller,” explains Lucy. “You have to add all the ingredients at the same time, so they all go into the still and you’re not allowed to tinker with it afterwards in any way. Some gins aren’t London Drys for very good reason; they don’t use natural ingredients, and oils or essences are added.”

The basis for every gin is juniper and citrus, along with a variety of botanicals which make each one unique. “Our London Dry has coriander which is in 99.9% of gins and it’s amazing how the coriander seed lends almost a citrus feel but complements the juniper really well,” says Lucy. Without giving away too many trade secrets, the Hope London Dry contains angelica root which has a musty forest floor aroma – all the raw ingredients are laid out for examination in the tasting room – as well as rosemary, lemon peel and orange peel, and a twist of lemon verbena.

“We recommend serving the London Dry with zest of lemon and a sprig of rosemary to bring out those botanicals,” says Lucy.

There are no special swirling or nosing tricks when it comes to tasting gin. A little ice or a dash of water is fine to open up the aromatics, after which you can add tonic or the mixer of your choice, sip and savour. When it comes to tonic, they are not all created equal. The big one of course is Schweppes, which is highly carbonated and good if you’re after a long, tall, drink on a hot afternoon, but some find it overpowering. The answer to this is to balance it with a bit of soda water, or investigate the variety of other tonics now available. To keep it local, try Fitch & Leedes which is made in Stellenbosch, or Swaan, which comes from the Swartland.

Hope on Hopkins shaker

Moving on, the next region that is significant to Leigh and Lucy is of course Salt River. The gin bearing this title is similar to the London Dry in that it begins with juniper and citrus but it then departs down a different path with buchu and kapokbos (wild rosemary). “This turns into the most floral, fragrant, completely different-tasting gin,” says Lucy. It’s recommended with grapefruit or lemon, and a sprig of smashed thyme.

The third gin, a work in progress, will be Mediterranean with a grape base rather than barley, and flavoured with olives and lemon thyme.

Tours of the distillery and tastings can be arranged by appointment. Hope On Hopkins is at 7 Hopkins Street, Salt River. For more information call 021 447 1950, email lucy@hopeonhopkins.co.za, or go to www.hopeonhopkins.co.za