South Africa may be best known for its wine, but that’s not the only libation the country is producing. From just a dozen in 2015, the nation is now home to more than 60 gin distilleries. Nearly half of these are in the Western Cape, where botanicals native to the Cape Floral Region are infusing unique bottles of gin with pure South African flavor.
Whether you prefer it straight up or in a locally inspired cocktail, here’s where to taste the herbaceous spirit around Cape Town.
There are two places to take a tipple at this picturesque hotel in Camp’s Bay: The Leopard Bar, with its live music (nightly except Sunday), and The Conservatory, which has an elegant ambiance and stellar views. Either presents a prime destination to watch the sun melt into the ocean with a drink in hand.
Both bars deliver more than a dozen local craft gins divided up by flavor profile. If you like floral, try Cape Town Pink Lady; for spicy, go for Musgrave 11. Stop by at 5 p.m. Fridays to enjoy a G&T made from gin you created from local botanicals under the tutelage of The Leopard Bar’s resident mixologist.
Cape Town’s original gin bar is a trendy speakeasy hidden behind city-center confectionary Honest Chocolate.
Snag a seat in the bright, tiled courtyard and peruse the mini menu. There are five signature cocktails — like Heart, mixed with Inverroche Amber Gin, Barker & Quin light tonic (also made in Cape Town), rosemary, strawberry, orange and clove — and each is crafted with botanical spirits from local distillers, including Bloedlemoen and Triple Three. True to its name, the bar stocks more than 70 South African gins.
For the purists, the light-filled lounge offers tastings, too. To try three Cape Town gins, make a reservation for a private sipping session, available Thursday through Saturday between 3 and 5 p.m.
Sip the spirits in a cocktail, like the Kalahari Safari (Kalahari-truffle-infused gin from KWV Distillery, rooibos syrup and tonic), or served simply with Western Cape-made tonic (Fitch & Leedes, Barker & Quin).
These Cape Town libations pair nicely with the striking skyline views afforded through the bar’s 18-foot-high windows.
The vista from the Silo Rooftop is even more impressive, particularly as the sun dips behind Table Mountain.
This spirited spot on the other side of the waterfront serves a handful of Western Cape gins in its many cocktails — not to mention more than 60 labels of South African brandy.
Inspired by the region’s unique terroir, carefully crafted concoctions like The Fennel Countdown (Blind Tiger Gin out of Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa; fennel; hibiscus and artemisia bitters; and absinthe) showcase the country’s bounty.
But it’s not all serious business here. Quirky presentations (rum-based cocktail The Rocket is served in a smoking ship) keep you on your toes.
As summer approaches in the Southern Hemisphere, opt for Cause Effect’s simple but smart Cape Negroni, done with locally made Wilderer gin, vermouth and bitters.
If you’re heading to nearby Stellenbosch for wine tasting, make sure to stop by this local gin bar to savor South African botanical spirits and glimpse at some classic cars in the process.
Located inside a vintage auto showroom, this bar stocks a whopping 160-plus varieties of Western Cape-made gin, including its own exclusive Quince. This huge range includes harder-to-find, small-batch producers like Howling Owl, Sugarbird Gin, Monks Gin and the alcohol-free G&T The Dutchess.
And be sure to browse as you taste. The gorgeous cars are museum quality. Classic Cats’ collection includes a 1955 Triumph TR2, a 1958 Volkswagen Beetle and four vintage Jaguars. Note that Classic Cats is closed Mondays and open only until 5 p.m. other days, so plan accordingly.