The gin craze shows no sign of abating. Deeply embedded in the cocktail culture, where pop-up gin bars are on the rise along with new creations by mixologists, the biggest problem G&T lovers have is selecting the gin they want and the best mixer for it.
And given the wide selection, it is often a difficult decision. At the recent launch of Autograph Gin, held at Luce at Hyde Park, Sandton, I bumped into Matt Beech. This 21-year-old is trained mixologist, mentored by the godfather of craft gin – Roger Jorgensen.
When asked to share more about himself, he says: “Most refer to me as Matty, I’ve got a taste for those older weird eccentric things, like film cameras and old Zippos, I never stray to far away from the dirt path/road.
And consider yourself lucky if you ever see me in a suit.” As for his interest in gin distilling: “I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to study and, after travels through North America, I found myself in Cape Town.
“The need to eat drove me to find a job in the cocktail industry, from there it was rather easy to fall in love with the complexities and art of bartending. Time spent behind the bar allowed me to taste everything I came into contact with, helping grow my palate and passion for spirits.
“So I got into it with a little bit of skill, a lot of luck and some family guidance. When my dad’s partner mentioned something about making gin, I jumped at the opportunity (what barman wouldn’t want their own spirit?) and I met the directors of Autograph Gin.
“Soon after that, I found myself working with and being mentored by Roger Jorgensen. Made in Bosman’s Crossing, Stellenbosch, the botanicals used are grown in the yard. There is also a bar and lounge area for guests to enjoy a tour and tastings.
On being celebrated as the youngest gin distiller in South Africa, Beech admits: “Well, it’s an awesome title and I am really humbled by it. It came with a lot of hard work and some very good luck.
“I really enjoy being this young mad scientist behind the beakers and boilers. And as for the pressure of being so young, I believe it’s actually the complete opposite – I started much younger than most will so I’ve essentially got more time to make mistakes and perfect my art.”
What is the criteria to hack it in this field? “To be a gin distiller, I’d say you need: a reasonable palate, a damn fine nose, far too much time on your hands and a good sense of humour (the hours are horrendous and all everyone else wants to do is drink).
“Beyond that, it’s a mix of science and art as one of my mentors told me when I was starting out, so using your creativity to find a recipe and the science to run the pot still.”
That creativity spilled over into the drinks that were paired with the food at the launch. The recipes can be found on this page. Before he had to scuttle off, he clarifies: “We aren’t trying to break out of the mould, were are not trying to be the shiniest or the newest colour. Were are just trying to make a damn good London dry-style gin, that highlights some of the best home-grown Cape Fynbos and citrus at our disposal.”
In a shaker add:
Dash cayenne pepper
Small slice ginger
Muddle all ingredients
1 bar spoon apricot jam
50ml apple juice 50ml Gin Stir ingredients to mix in the jam.
Once mixed, add ice to the shaker and shake. Double strain over ice into stemless glass or tumbler.
In a separate metal jug, heat 40ml of Pinotage. Pour warm wine over drink. Garnish with a slice of ginger and a dash of cayenne pepper.
In a shaker add:
2 Bar spoons honey ¼
50ml Gin ¼ lemon (squeezed not added to shaker)
Give it stir to mix the honey. Add ice and shake.
Double strain over 2 blocks of ice, into a smoked martini or short glass.
Squash one juniper berry and use to rim the glass.
Garnish with a slice of apple.
50ml Autograph Gin
25ml fresh lime juice
1 bar spoon castor sugar shaken and strained, either on the rocks or straight up.
Garnish with a half salted rim.