AN INDEPENDENT SPIRIT
Like most craft alcohol brewers and distillers around the country, those in Magoebaskloof and environs are colourful characters with a great passion for their products. An independent spirit epitomises the eclectic bunch of farmers, rebels, rogues, artists and, entrepreneurs here in Magoebaskloof. And storytellers. That’s the thing about the craft drinking business, isn’t it? There’s always a story. A back story, a side story, a wide story.
Take Rhino Beetle Gin for instance.
"We came up with the idea for a gin when we had to look after two endangered rhinos”, says Yana Mockford, who co-founded Rhino Beetle Gin along with her friend Bonnita Becker. She says it quite casually, as if looking after a rhino or two is something most people do in the course of their lives. Plainly neither Yana nor Bonnita are your average common or garden personality. And neither are their gins. They have seven bouquets, as they’re called - Turkish Delight, Cotton Candy, Honey, Strawberry & Mango, Raspberry & Indigenous Flowers, Blueberry, and Naartjie.
“Two rhinos named Moomin and Meimei inspired us to enter into this undertaking”, says Yana, “and we decided to name our product in their honour. At the time, we couldn’t realistically compare ourselves to one of the Big Five so we decided to annex one of the Little Five - Dynastinae, popularly known as the Rhinoceros beetle”.
These beetles have two horns, she explains, hence their name. They’re exceedingly strong – and are able to lift more than 800 times their own weight. At 43% proof, Rhino Beetle gins also punch above their weight. Their handcrafted gin is bottled in the misty mountains of Haenertsburg, using crystal clear spring water. Check out www.rhinobeetle.co.za
Most people in the craft alcohol industry have a touch of that ole bootleggin’ rebel inside of them. Let’s face it, it takes a certain fighting spirit to go up against the mainstream commercial guys. And a definite feistiness to start brewing your own beer during the booze ban in lockdown - which was the case with End Street Brewery. What a great story.
Founders David and Corene Alexander, who run a dental lab in Tzaneen, started out brewing beer in buckets in their garage at home. “Beer is something we’ve always loved and always wanted to make”, says David. “We had lots of time to experiment and we were amazed at how good our beer was. Seriously. Our friends also started raving about it, and so we decided once the ban was lifted, to go commercial and start a small brewery.”
It has taken time, dedication and money to buy the equipment, assemble everything and get it to the point of brewing 300 litres a weekend. Both David and Corene still work at the dental lab, but spend their weekends brewing and now produce light lager, ale, and stout.
“Basically we’re now doing something we love and offering people delicious and affordable craft beer and the chance to connect with each other”, says David. “It’s the real craft beer ethos, and we’re staying away from plastics too, so our beer comes in a cardboard box of four, and a bigger box of twenty four”. End Street recently started canning their beer as well. Check out www.endstreetcraftbeer.co.za
Many will remember those giddy days when the gin revolution first hit South Africa roundabout 2016. Suddenly there was an astonishing range of locally produced craft gins and everyone started tarting up their G&Ts with cucumber, black pepper, strawberries, blueberries, and just about anything from the herb garden… rosemary, thyme, mint, artemisia, tiny flowers, whatever. Botanicals, darling, botanicals.
“It was my wife Sheena who saw a gap for us to become soldiers of the gin revolution”, says Mark Dando, who started the Old Packhouse Distillery (OPD) in Politisi in 2016 at the bottom of the Magoebaskloof Pass. OPD has gone on to become pretty famous, and their gins have garnered innumerable awards.
Their blueberry gin is their flagship, and they use 100g of locally produced blueberries in each bottle and it’s four times distilled for smoothness and purity. My personal favourite however, is their Moringa, distilled with the “miracle tree”, famed for its immune boosting qualities and my second best, the Crystal which is a classic London dry. OPD also does a Valencia, a Mandarin and one of their delicious new editions is the Dragon Fruit gin which is glorious in colour and taste.
There’s delicious alchemy at The Old Packhouse, which is literally an old farm packhouse that’s been renovated into a distillery with tasting rooms, tables and an art gallery. Book a gin tasting at the Old Packhouse where you’ll get to try all their gins and hear the stories of how they came about. Check out www.theoldpackhousedistillery.com
OPD is also producing a new range of truly excellent handcrafted brandy and rum under the Spirit of Limpopo label. “Every batch produced is personally tested, blended and distilled to bring you the absolute best of the connoisseur’s choice”, says Dando.
The Spirit of Limpopo also has a range of merchandise designed by talented artist Karen Obkovitz (also from the legendary Dando clan). Check out their rum and brandy and their funky men and women’s t-shirts and decorated shot glasses on www.spiritoflimpopo.com. They’re also doing a kickass tequila called Tranquila Reposado.
It takes a village to raise a beer. That’s pretty much the story of Zwakala Brewery, Limpopo’s first craft brewery, which flung open its doors in 2016, much to the delight of everyone around the mountain and beyond. Their name means ‘come closer’ which everyone did, and Zwakala is one of the most popular drinking holes on the mountain, with gorgeous mountain and forest views and a really friendly vibe.
“Late one night we came up with the idea to create a mountain brewery”, says Rob Tooley, “then a year or two later we secured a brewing licence. Then a year or two after that, we finally managed to get the brewing equipment from China”. Rob’s son Luca learned about craft brewing when he lived in the Cape, and together they started Zwakala. In 2019 their Limpopo Lager won the best light lager award, and in 2021 their Weekend Special won the best beer award.
It’s a fairly wild ride to Zwakala and its adjoining farm venue Minas, about 6km from Haenertsburg village along the infamous Cheerio Road (leads to beauty and pleasure) which is bouncy and rutted – serious Sports Bra territory – and just about everyone has a story about getting there, getting stuck, getting out, getting down.
“A key ingredient in our beer is the sweet and pure mountain water we brew with,” says Luca, who is head brewer. “It really comes out in the flavour. And yes”, he chuckles, “It is an adventure getting here”. Check out www.zwakalabrewery.com.
Experience Limpopo’s funky and feisty spirit for yourself when you travel to Magoebaskloof. Look out for the great article about the colourful new-gin-on-the-block, Very Tsonga in the Spring edition of Mountain Getaways Magazine.