If you think Cape Town and it’s surrounds is just a good-looking city that melds into wine country, you’ll be happy to know that the gin revolution has well and truly hit this region of South Africa. And it’s the same for whiskey, which is enjoying just as much airtime with plenty of swish destinations paying homage to this liquid gold. Where to set your sights when visiting the Mother City and surrounds? Gin and whiskey lovers need look no further than these top ten must-try experiences including a trip to fine jewellers Shimansky and their Rockwell Experience showroom to taste local premium craft gin and whiskey brands in the opulent bar lounge.
About an hour’s drive from Cape Town lies Stellenbosch, a pivotal town in the winelands region. This historic area is also the home to one of the hottest – and award scooping - gins on the local and international scene. At Bosman’s Crossing you’ll find Autograph Gin which last year was honoured with the Distillique Craft Gin Trophy at the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirit Awards for Top Scoring Craft Gin of 2018. And that’s not all; this gin was named the Best in Africa at the 2019 International Gin Guide Award. If you have an eye for aesthetics, spend time casting yours over the label. Telling the story of the history of gin (it’s a long and fascinating one), Autograph’s packaging and branding won them a Loerie Advertising Award in 2018 and a Dieline Award in Chicago in 2019. Bragging rights indeed! As for the gin, its described as a dry African recipe (an ode to an African garden) with the majority of the botanicals grown on-site at the distillery. The lounge too is worth more than just a look in. A beautifully appointed space (by appointments only) offers personal tastings and tours.
Staying in Stellenbosch – and just down the road from Bosman’s Crossing – you’ll discover Asara Wine Estate & Hotel on the Polkedraai Road. Apart from the wines on offer, the Sansibar Gin Lounge, with one of the largest selections of gins in the world, has over 500 local and international tipples to choose from. What sets this gin bar apart from others in Cape Town and surrounds? The arresting views of vineyards and mountains that mean you get a real taste of the legendary Cape winelands and dramatic Simonsberg, famous in this region. While visiting, ask about the annual Pure Gin festival (held in December last year), a day of pure sipping pleasure.
As you leave Stellenbosch and head back to Cape Town, pop into Vredenheim Estate on Baden Powel Drive for a gin experience with a twist. The Classic Cats Gin Tasting Bar is a chance for lovers of vintage cars – and top notch ones at that – to appreciate some marvellous motors while tasting local craft gins. Positioned so that you can sit and enjoy your tipple while checking out the cars, the bar lets gin lovers choose from over 100 brands, most of which are available for purchase too. The showroom is open to the general public for viewings and gin tasting is done on a walk-in basis for groups of up to six people.
For a Cape Town gin journey like no other (and that you won’t have to share with strangers all jostling for space at the bar), book a gin distillery tour, tasting and cocktail making experience with Pienaar & Son through eatsplorer.com. A three-hour gin (and vodka) event, this special visit – guided by the distiller himself - kicks off with a distillery tour. Next, hone your cocktail-making with a course that lets you try your hand at three different cocktails - and you’ll get to taste two hand crafted gins and one vodka. You’ll also get to take home a bottle of your favourite Pienaar & Son spirit made famous by ex-rocker André Pienaar, his chemical engineer dad Schalk.
Love creating your own concoctions. Then the Botanical Bar on Cape Town city’s Longmarket Street will appeal to your inner alchemist. The aim is to design your own tincture (seek out guide Peter Lebese to help you) with a myriad of botanicals (all sustainable), dehydrated fruit, homemade sugars and syrups as well as bitters and shrubs to help you create your own style of drink with local spirits. But if that sounds too much like hard work, alcoholic and non-alcoholic mixes are available on the menu.
Cape Town’s big drawn card is its beaches, one of the best being Camps Bay. After a day on the sand, we suggest strolling over to Umi Restaurant at 201, The Promenade, Victoria Road. A Japanese eatery, Umi boasts an extremely well-stocked whiskey bar (over 100 varieties of whiskey from all over the world await you) in an atmospheric alcove at the rear of the restaurant. This plush setting is perfect for cosy evenings or intimate soirees.
Love your whiskey but want to brush up on your knowledge? Or just enjoy a more interactive experience while doing a private tasting? Join the team at Whiskey Rebels for a personalised whiskey event (for groups of six or more) and get to grips with the insightful world of whiskey. Best bit is that the crew comes to you and imparts all their learning, conversation and know-how including how your brain interprets both flavour and smell.
For a good ‘ol knees up, head off to Hank’s Olde Irish on Cape Town’s fashionable Bree Street where the fun is catching. Almost like an underground pub, Hank’s offers live music (think jazz and super-cool DJs), modern pub fare and of course, a whiskey menu that will make any aficionado happy.
A place to really kick back and enjoy whiskey’s slow sip is Bascule Bar at the Cape Grace Hotel on the V&A Waterfront. Offering whiskey, wine and cocktails, this well-known bar space (where whiskey plays the hero role), is also a chance to enjoy the Waterfront marina at sunset while snacking on delicious tapas. If you love an upscale joint with a real global whiskey experience, Bascule Bar is the ticket.
For lovers of luxury unwrapped, precious trinkets such as diamond jewelry for women, engagement rings, customised diamond jewelry and men’s diamond jewelry mean a wearable memory that will last a lifetime. Combine a visit to the very best of South African jewellers like Shimansky to pick out your take-home piece with another bespoke encounter; a visit to the Rockwell Experience showroom where whiskey and gin are presented in a premium setting. Like diamonds, these fine spirits have been crafted from nature to yield a finished product that is pure art. For a similar experience in New York, visit the Shimansky showroom in Manhattan to peruse gorgeous diamond jewelry or commission an original diamond jewelry piece.