Gin, a completely neutral spirit, derives all its flavours from unique botanicals used for flavouring. You can dress it up or go simple and classic, but what sets apart one gin from the multitude of crafted gins out there?
Tucked away like a treasure trove, Drunken Horse Gin, a micro distillery, awaits discovery. Marked by a sign at the far corner at Avontuur Wine Estate, pointing towards “Gin Tasting, Art Gallery and Cocktails”, this experience feels like an adventure into the unknown. Currently hailed as the best gin in the world, and rightfully so, a single taste of this gin will make it abundantly clear why the Drunken Horse Gin commands such prestige, standing head and shoulders above its counterparts.
How it all started
The journey of Drunken Horse Gin began with three childhood friends from Antwerp in Belgium: Tom, the former humanitarian turned event promoter; Pieter-Jan, the entrepreneur who became a chocolate maker in Nicaragua; and Benoît, the economist who transitioned into a food & beverage executive. After years of diverse paths across the globe, their collective decision to convert an old horse trailer into a mobile bar marked the birth of The Drunken Horse Bar, following a lively night out in Antwerp City.
Amidst the gin craze sweeping through Belgium, these friends ventured into crafting their own gin, despite having little knowledge of the process, let alone crafting a premium gin. Seeking to learn the fundamentals of producing a London Dry Gin, they visited one of London’s oldest distilleries, Portobello Road Gin. This journey ignited their experimentation and learning process. While searching for a still back in Belgium, they encountered a Dutch engineer who had designed a square stainless steel still, deviating from the traditional round copper ones. This unique still had a distinctive impact on the gin, prompting the trio to acquire it.
They began their experimentation with distillation in order to craft their unique recipe, fueled by the hype surrounding gin and tonic. In Belgium, Genever, known as “juniper” in Dutch, is a clear, malted grain-based spirit rich in botanicals, exclusively produced in Holland or Belgium. The roots of gin can be traced back to medieval Belgium, with trade connections spanning over 500 years and the first recipe dating back centuries.
In keeping with that legacy, the Drunken Horse distillery revived this ancient tradition, blending it with modern techniques to create a fusion of old and new. Recognising gin’s rich history, the goal is to create a gin that upheld its intrinsic value beyond the gin and tonic trend. A gin so neat that it could be enjoyed on the rocks, without relying on tonic.
Their vision led them to focus on citrus flavours, a delightful addition that complements the gin’s smoothness and softness. They started by infusing fresh grapefruit and lime zest, along with dried lemongrass. To introduce earthy undertones, cardamom and coriander seeds were incorporated, which makes up a blend of twelve botanicals.
Through a twist of fate, they came across a pepper known as Timut pepper. This unique pepper flourishes on the slopes of the Himalayas. The Timut pepper, with its lively, grapefruit-like essence, originates from Nepal, used as an ingredient for creating condiments and adding an extra punch to beverages like gin and tonic. The pepper’s intriguing quality extends to numbing the tongue, offering a sensory experience like no other.
For generations, the residents of the Himalayas have incorporated timut pepper into their lives, not only for its flavour but also for its analgesic effect on the mouth and tongue, along with potential medicinal properties. Although many have endeavored to cultivate this pepper in various parts of the world, the result never quite captures the original essence. Depending on its place of origin, the pepper demands manual harvesting and boasts a highly distinctive flavour.
This wonderful pepper is citric and not what you would expect from a pepper, and that was the perfect companion for the Drunken Horse Gin, serving a dual role as a botanical ingredient and a garnish.
The Drunken Horse Gin
Tasting this gin neat, you’re greeted by a citrusy aroma and when you taste you experience the three flavour waves of citrus, earth and peppers without the burning sensation, resulting in a complex taste with a round palate.
As they started experimenting with a citric recipe the Timut Pepper was the perfect addition. Not long thereafter, they participated in competitions and started to clinching gold medals. Remarkably, their accolades included winning a gold medal in the San Francisco World Spirit Awards Competition and a few others followed. An amazing achievement, given that it was the first time crafting a gin, especially a premium gin.
The Drunken Horse trailer had been exclusively selling their gin, and a Michelin star chef from Antwerp was so impressed with the gin’s quality that he wondered why it wasn’t available more widely. He decided to take the gin to his restaurant, The Jane, a place known for its two Michelin stars. This move allowed them to connect with people in the industry, and from that moment on, they found themselves in the international gin business.
Nowadays, they’re present in 15 countries, mostly across Europe, as well as in places like Morocco and Japan, but you’ll find their gin in select spots only such as Michelin star restaurants, upmarket dining places and luxury hotels. Their goal isn’t to be in supermarkets just yet; they’re focused on crafting a high-quality premium brand.
Interestingly, South Africa is an exception, where they’ve managed to get their gin into some really upscale liquor stores in places like Sea Point. Their journey in South Africa began in December 2022, and is still full of excitement and challenges. If the distillery setup works well in South Africa, they’re thinking big wanting to create similar setups in different countries around the world.
The grand vision? Creating a global network of local distilleries, each telling the unique local story of the brand that’s truly international. And along the way, they’re contributing to local economies by generating employment opportunities and providing platforms for local artists and chefs to shine.
The aim around the bottle design wanting a more sophisticated touch, inspired by the renowned surrealistic art scene in Belgium. René François Ghislain Magritte, was a Belgian surrealist artist known for his depictions of familiar objects in unfamiliar, unexpected contexts, played a significant role in their inspiration. This creative journey led them to experiment with optical illusions, which is why the bottle’s shape is intentionally slanted instead of straight. Interestingly, the bottom of the bottle is even crafted to resemble a horse’s hoof.
The label design was carefully thought out to create an alluring visual effect. When observed from within the bottle, it presents a shade of Yves Klein blue. This particular blue was perfected by the French artist Yves Klein, who was known for his pursuit of the “perfect blue.” This captivating blue hue graces the back of the label, adding a distinct touch to the overall presentation.
Their brand is built upon four fundamental pillars: realistic art, gastronomy, craftsmanship and adventure. Their catchy slogan, “Venture into the unknown,” not only appears on their label but can also be seen when you peek through the bottle. It’s displayed prominently on the inside of the label.
The label’s intricate lines mirror the patterns found in biometrics or passports, depicting the journey of exploration into the unknown to discover new horisons. Remarkably, the entire label comprises an impressive 15 layers, forming a work of art in itself. Crafting this label is a highly intricate process, and it’s currently only sourced from Belgium.
The presence of the copper colour serves as a link to the traditional methods of distillation, which many still practice today. The label even holds a touch of optical illusion, adding to its uniqueness. The glasses designed for pouring the gin, made in Belgium, feature diamond-shaped squares, but once the liquid fills the glass, the pattern mysteriously vanishes. This intense attention to detail sets them apart, creating a premium experience that’s truly unparalleled. This is attention to detail on another level!
For two centuries, there had been no innovation in the way spirits were distilled. Recognising the need for innovation, a Dutch engineer introduced something totally unique, a square stainless steel still. The process he introduced was distinct because all twelve botanicals were distilled simultaneously, following the London Dry Gin method. In this stainless steel still, there’s a column containing 2000 tiny springs, creating a continuous reflux that imparts a one-of-a-kind and smooth flavour to the gin.
From the bottling process to the labeling, every step is carried out by hand. This includes adding the fresh zest of grapefruit and lime, ensuring a hands-on approach to crafting their premium product.
Adventure & Art
After falling in love with South Africa, Jelle Jacobs, four years following a holiday and while visiting a friend in the country, started a business here. During his time in South Africa, he witnessed the growing popularity of gin, which eventually led to his full-time involvement in the industry. Jelle assisted the team launching their gin in California, going on sales tours in Switzerland and France. Tom, another key player, also frequently visited South Africa and recognised a thriving gin market, potentially even bigger than what Europe offered.
Thus began their journey of wanting to let people experience the four pillars that form the foundation of the Drunken Horse Gin’s story and brand. Starting from scratch in December 2022, they established the distillery on the serene grounds of Avontuur Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.
Taking their endeavor a step further, they created an art gallery and connected with art curators known as Scary Polony, known for curating art that’s unexpected, unique, bold and beautiful. Their moving art gallery graces restaurants, bars and art galleries, aiming to make art accessible to all. Coincidentally, they crossed paths with these curators at a New Year’s festival. These same art curators also assist local artists, and their work is proudly displayed at the Drunken Horse Distillery. Adding a touch of surprise, even a Rembrandt painting finds its place at the distillery, aligning perfectly with the slogan “Venture into the unknown,” considering the unexpected art gems housed in a little building on a wine farm in Stellenbosch.
Not stopping at art, vintage cars are also on display. They have plans to establish a rally that connects with the Drunken Horse Rally back in Belgium, seamlessly tying in with their brand’s adventurous spirit.
As part of the overall experience, they introduced a four-course meal inspired by recipes from an Italian Michelin star chef. Each dish we sampled featured the Timut pepper, elevating the flavours to an entirely new dimension. The entire experience is designed to provide exclusivity and a memorable encounter. With only one table available, they’ve deliberately kept it small, unique and private, encouraging people from all walks of life to engage in conversations about food, art, taste and more. This cocktail pairing dinner experience is priced at R950 per person.
The culinary journey began with a tantalising first course. Fresh South African Oysters were served and bathed in a luxurious beurre blanc for a rich, velvety texture. The lime zest introduced a zesty, citric punch to the dish. This delicious starter was expertly paired with a Dry Martini Cocktail, a classic with a twist. A single peppercorn danced in the cocktail and to elevate its complexity, a touch of Timut pepper syrup was artfully added. This infusion not only lifted the cocktail’s profile but also harmoniously embraced the citric notes of the oysters. The oysters, perched upon a bed of sea salt, set the tone for the culinary journey.
The second course followed, presenting a Carpaccio of Scallops. Elegantly arranged, the scallops were graced with an orange jus reduction that held a subtle sweetness. Atop the scallops rested fennel adorned with Timut pepper, adding a delicate push to the orange-infused reduction. The salty nuances were heightened by the inclusion of crushed walnuts. Pairing with this masterpiece was a cocktail named “The Horse Goes Cucumbers,” a signature cucumber creation featuring honey syrup as a delightful twist.
Transitioning to the third course, the dining experience ventured into a Warthog Stew Potjie. Belgium Chocolate and Timut Pepper joined the hearty dish, creating a symphony of flavours that danced across the palate. The stew was served with a sweet potato mash on the side and sprinkled with a crunch of walnuts.
Finally, the dessert, a Gin and Tonic Custard Cake, graced the table as the fourth course. This cake was infused with mashed juniper berries and Timut Pepper, yielding a unique blend of flavours. A Gin and Tonic accompanied the cake, served with Timut Pepper and a slice of lime, delivering a dynamic combination that was a fitting finale to this exceptional culinary adventure.
· Full experience (any day): Take a tour on the estate in a classic car + visit the distillery + art gallery + gin tasting (min. 2 pers.)
· Private cocktail dinner (any day): Private dining experience in the distillery/art gallery. Signature cocktails + food pairing (minimum 6 pers.)
Tours And Events:
Fridays from 16h-21h: GindownerSundays from 12h-18h : Gin and tonic picnic at the lawnBook your experience per whatsapp: 0032 476 38 98 32 or by mail: email@example.com
Categories: The Drunken Horse Gin