Down The Hatch
“I call this my gateway spirit” said Andrew, swirling the amber liquid in his glass. Well, through the gateway, down the hatch and the rabbit hole and colour me impressed, well impressed! Andrew Rall, owner of Durban’s Distillery 031, is a singular man whose small yet burgeoning craft distillery is a portal to some unique, top-notch craft spirits.
He was referring to his D’Urban Barrel Aged Gin- something rather special (see footnote 1). Serve it on ice to guests without telling them what they are drinking, just to gauge reactions. Plenty of surprised expressions no doubt. Gateway? Well, I agree with him that it may change the perceptions of many non gin drinkers.
Gin is trending- has been for a while now- and Rall has been at the forefront of the gin revolution in South Africa. His passion trumps trends however, and Distillery 031 products include a superb tonic cordial, rum (including cachaça), vodka, absinthe and some unique spirit aperitifs- all with a view to putting the country on the map in terms of carefully and beautifully crafted, award winning, spirits.
Rall distilled privately at first, acquired his commercial licenses in 2015 and, in a relatively short time, has made inroads into the international market. The fact that he exports his premium 031 Vodka to a country like Sweden where vodka is not so much trending as entrenched in social culture says a lot.
Distillery 031 is South Africa’s most internationally awarded independent distillery, gaining accolades and medals at the New York and San Francisco international spirit competitions, London Spirit Masters and locally.
Rall is a gentle giant- charming, charismatic, passionate, perceptive, driven and open to ideas and experiences. That’s a great checklist for someone who continually researches and experiments in his quest for excellence. His introduction and taste for spirits was more about quantity than quality (student daze), but a trip to Scotland ignited an interest in- and passion for- distilling.
Fast forward and this once brand manager for multinational Unilever found himself with his own brand, Durban’s first craft distillery and in cahoots with like-minded entrepreneurs in establishing Durban’s first urban renewal district.
What’s In A Name?
Rall is passionate about more than quality hooch. The name, Distillery 031 (031 is the local dialling code), hints at his love of his roots. Hence the distillery being in the city and the many indigenous elements that infuse the business- from bottle labels to botanicals and the raw materials from which the spirits are crafted.
These include sugar cane, baobab fruit, indigenous wormwood and rosehip, coffee cherries (cascara) and imphepho, a medicinal herb used by sangomas (witchdoctors) to summon the ancestors. The gin range bears the name D’Urban- from Sir Benjamin D’Urban, after whom the city of Durban was named in 1835.
Durban: Authentic Africa
Durban, on the subtropical eastern seaboard of South Africa, is often overlooked by international travellers on package deals because of travel logistics, but it- and the province of KwaZulu-Natal- is where many visitors find a true taste of Africa. It is South Africa’s third largest city, covering a total area of over 87 square miles, and is South Africa’s chief seaport. The metro area population is over 3.8 million.
KwaZulu-Natal, “Kingdom of the Zulus”, is greener, wilder and more diverse than most of South Africa, with warm sea, great beaches and world class surf spots, rugged mountains, the oldest game reserve in South Africa (and many more besides) and a colourful, vibrant mix of cultures and influences.
Here, for example, you’ll find the greatest concentration of Indians outside India- with fabulous curries with a local twist, including the “bunnychow”.
Durban is bustling and hustling and “Durbanism” is a thing. I’m not sure if the term stems from Rall, but he’s a glowing example.
If he didn’t have export/import/sales/admin/investors and all the not-so-fun bits about owning a business to attend to, he would be at the still and behind the bar every day, sharing his extraordinary knowledge of all things Durban and walking the talk. And the talk is great.
I’ve attended many, many wine tastings/ pairings etc- even conducted wine tastings and tours in my youth. I’ve also toured distilleries, but I’ve never had such an entertainingly educational occasion as in Distillery 031’s industrial-chic tasting room.
A group of German tourists and I exited the tasting room in a haze- a haze of newly acquired tastes, knowledge about spirits in general and Distillery 031’s products in particular. Like my companions, deciding which were new favourites was top of mind.
The histories and development of gin, tonic and absinthe were especially interesting to me, the whole experience a treat- the complimentary welcome cocktail, tarrying at the bar while eyeing out the gleaming bits and bobs (which I could now identify) in the distillery.
“Local is very lekker (Afrikaans for nice)” I thought. So too the Germans, who were researching how best to acquire 031’s products in Europe.
1. I have only sniffed, not tasted, Distillery 031’s now launching Durban 24K gin, with 24 karat gold flakes and presented in an Italian crystal decanter- South Africa’s most exclusive gin at around $124. It certainly smelled the part!
Meet The Blogger
So, how much did I really like Distillery 031 products? Enough to have been conducting tastings there for a year or so. After the Covid 19 enforced alcohol and tourism shutdown, the distillery is again open for group tastings- I’ll drink to that!