The local gin that stirred international interest | Fin24

The local gin that stirred international interest

Sep 05 2019 11:28
Timothy Rangongo

The craft gin scene in South Africa and across the globe has grown exponentially over the last few years. One proudly South African gin is Inverroche, made from rich and aromatic botanicals – such as fynbos from the Cape Floral Region. 


finweek first featured Inverroche in 2014. A lot has changed for the company since. Inverroche’s unique sapid taste and burgeoning following across the globe eventually caught the attention of Pernod Ricard, one of the largest producers of distilled beverages in the world; think Jameson Whiskey, Chivas Regal, Martell and G.H. Mumm Champagne. Pernod acquired a majority share in Inverroche, joining forces with the latter’s founder and CEO, Lorna Scott.


Scott has worn several hats before Inverroche. From air hostess to sales and marketing manager at a food services corporation (and later operations director for the same company in Scotland). She’s even been deputy mayor of the Hessequa Municipality, which covers Still Bay, where Inverroche is produced from the local fynbos.


finweek caught up with Scott following the Pernod announcement.


Where did the idea for Inverroche gins come from?

As deputy mayor of the Hessequa Municipality, my portfolio included finances as well as economic and sustainable development. One of my objectives was to develop our region as a tourist destination.


I discovered that there are world-renowned archaeological sites close to my home (now, the Inverroche distillery) with traces from hundreds of thousands of years ago, of how man survived on what the ocean and plant life naturally provided. Still Bay is also in the middle of the Cape Floral Region, where the very plants which sustained us millennia ago still flourish. 


I had also just established a small vineyard at my farm (the first in the region) with the idea of distilling brandy. It dawned on me that I could combine all these assets and meet both personal and community needs by creating a global spirit brand with ingredients that could tell this story. 


How did you get started?

I started experimenting with a small 1.7 litre copper pot still in 2007, christened Mini-Meg, distilling my way through various different fynbos species to develop her recipes.

Distilling is definitely in my blood – even though I never planned to make it a career. My mother used to distil pineapple beer in her pressure cooker! When I discovered the small copper pot still on a trip to Italy, it brought back many fond memories of my mother and I had to take it home.


With the kind assistance of a retired botanist from Still Bay I learned to identify the many edible botanicals in the region. I soon realised that one gin was not going to be enough to showcase the enormous diversity and richness of these unique biomes found nowhere else in the world but here. 


And so, the three gins were born, each with its own distinctive taste and colour profile.


How did you secure funding to get Inverroche off the ground?

I initially took out a second mortgage on my home to buy a bigger pot still, called Meg, but since then I have relied on a positive cash flow to drive all expansion and growth. “If you can’t pay cash for it, you can’t afford it” has always been a guiding principle of mine.


Why gin?

At the beginning, I experimented with many different ideas in which to use fynbos, such as conserves and perfume. But when I recalled the small pot still I had tucked away in my loft, the idea started to take shape. 


I personally enjoy gin and used to distil small batches as gifts for friends. I was able to create a spirit that would capture the essence of the region and become the vehicle through which to drive the story of the unique surroundings through the botanicals used.


Gin is the perfect medium as it is made from a flavourless base spirit which is then infused through various processes with other botanicals, such as juniper, which is where the flavour comes from. Using these rich and aromatic edible botanicals from the Cape Floral Region allowed me to experiment with new and unusual ingredients to create uniquely South African spirits.


How did you determine the need for this specific type of craft gin in the market?

When I started on this journey, there were no gins on the market that retained their colour, for example, but it was an unintended consequence of my experiments with recipes and unusual botanicals.


As luck would have it, I had the good fortune to enlist the palates of friends, relatives and especially a small group of willing local retirees from the Still Bay area who became my sounding board and tasting panels. 


There were no benchmarks or statistics as craft gin in South Africa was a non-existent category. I trusted the simple delight of discovery on the faces of my panel of part-time judges and that was enough for me to take that leap of faith and just do it.

Tell us about the very first bottle of gin you sold.


By December 2011, I had perfected the production process and fynbos-infused flavour profiles. We produced one batch of each of the Inverroche fynbos-infused gins, now known as our Fynbos Collection, and decided to enter the market in the new year. 


My neighbour, who runs a restaurant, persuaded me to “just do it now” and not to wait for the new year to start marketing my gins. They began sending customers from the restaurant across the road to taste the gin. When the first customers tried the gin, they immediately wanted to buy several bottles.


What are some of the challenges of running a business like a craft gin distillery?

How to support the marketing and brand awareness through distribution and expansion, to ensure the brand story remains true. And finding creative ways to communicate our brand stories through intimate, personal experiences for our consumers.


How tough is competition? What differentiates Inverroche gins from counterparts?

Inverroche pioneered the handcrafted, luxury gin offering by being the first in the world to use fynbos as the leading profile in our gins. The other differentiator is that Inverroche is, and always will be, authentic with a strong sense of place – “made in Stilbaai (Still Bay)”. We have remained true to our brand identity and values in terms of sustainability, being female-forward and truly handcrafted.


A bottle of Inverroche passes through 16 pairs of hands during bottling; human hands nurture and harvest our own key fynbos botanicals and we continue to number each bottle by hand. We act local and think global.


How many people do you currently employ?

We currently employ 50 permanent staff, with a strong focus on female upskilling. [Salaries are Inverroche’s biggest overhead, as they handcraft their products and use very limited machinery in the production of their spirits.]


What other markets does Inverroche export to?

We currently export to 17 different countries – the US, UK, Australia, Namibia, Botswana, Nigeria, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, the Netherlands, Seychelles, Mauritius, Canada and Denmark.


What does Inverroche’s new partnership with Pernod Ricard mean for the business?

This acquisition increases Pernod Ricard’s presence in the dynamic sub-Saharan Africa spirits market, where gin growth is accelerating exponentially. It comes just months after the group’s investment in Jumia, a leading e-commerce player in Africa.


The deal is also significant for the local economy as it demonstrates a vote of confidence in SA’s economic prospects and highlights the ability of local female entrepreneurs to create world-class luxury brands that are made in Africa.


Inverroche’s long-term goal is to create a global brand and product range that can sit on-shelf anywhere in the world and tell the story of our common origins and connection to our surrounding environment by starting the conversation about what is in the gin and why it matters. Our gins are meant for sharing.


What is the biggest lesson you have learnt thus far?

You have to let go of the day-to-day operations. My strategy up to now has been to employ talented people with expertise in those areas outside my personal circle of competence for key positions as I focus on building the brand. Build confidence and trust with staff and consumers alike by keeping a firm grip on the values and vision.


And the best business advice you’ve ever received?

Understand every aspect of your business fully and accept that change is inevitable. When things get tough, change the plan, but never the vision.


What has been unexpected since embarking on this journey more than ten years ago?

The value of “word of mouth” and partnerships with like-minded people and organisations, which fully embrace the same values as your own.


How do you stay motivated?

I remain involved and I listen to my consumers by personally hosting select gin schools or tasting experiences. 


I keep my finger on the pulse and hardly a day goes by without receiving a message, a WhatsApp, Facebook post or email from people from all over the world who felt compelled to take the time to sit down and send me a message about their discovery or experience of our products – there is no greater reward or motivation to stay the course than this.


This article originally appeared in the 12 September edition of finweek. Buy and download the magazine here or subscribe to our newsletter here.


south africa  |  fynbos  |  gin  |  alcohol

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