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Fynbos-infused Gin

Going.Local
Published on May 22nd 2021
3

by Going.Local. All rights reserved

fynbos fragrant scent gin
Fynbos is one of the worlds most diverse biomes with a multitude of scents and flavours. These fragrant botanicals are so unique that it has inspired many creators to employ them in everything from perfumes to soaps and liquor. The attraction of fynbos gin has crossed the world's oceans, with brands such as Inverroche and Cape Fynbos Gin scraping up awards.
In this article, we take a look at the process behind the use of sustainably grown, local fynbos as the inspiration for an industry maverick.
A close up of a flower

Fragrant botanicals

In a recent article, we explored the role plants play in perfumes and scents with a nod to some fragrant fynbos species. These might not be edible, but they contain compounds responsible for the scent, flavouring or infusion we desire. Think of it as a spice that can enhance both food and liquor.
There are thousands of plant species to choose from. The difficulty lies in the mixing and matching. Our noses are limited after all. So which fynbos species inspired the great South African gin masters?
Here is a list of some noted performers:

Tortoise Berry

Muraltia spinosa

Carpobrotus acinaciformis

Carpobrotus acinaciformis

Mountain Anise Buchu

Agathosma ciliaris

A close up of a yellow Cyclopia genistoides flower and some green leaves

Honeybush Tea

Cyclopia genistoides

Imphepho

Helichrysum odoratissimum

Straw daisy

Helichrysum spp.

Of course, most proprietors keep the exact recipe close to their heart, so it is up to your own imagination to fill in the missing pieces.
pelargonium fragrant

Picking or harvesting

Remember that if you can smell a compound, it is no longer inside the plant. Many fragrances are subject to temperature, which means picking in the cooler hours of the day will give you better results (they will not have evaporated).
If you opt to use berries or roots, a similar principle applies. Tuberous roots will change with the seasons. It provides nourishment to the plant during flowering or stores energy during the growing season. In the case of berries, the timing can be extremely important. A good example is in the case of Nightshade. The green unripe berries are poisonous, while the black berries make for flavourful jams and infusions.
Recap tips:
  • Harvest early morning.
  • Select young leaves.
  • Check that you harvest in the right season.
  • Apply for a flora permit if you want to forage outside your property.
A close up of a bowl

Creating your own fynbos gin

One of the key pleasures of being South African is the opportunity to learn from the local masters. Inverroche offers just such an experience at their distillery in Still Bay (at the entrance to the Garden Route). The gin school provides novices with the know-how on the process of infusing gin with their own recipe. If you find yourself too far away, do not despair, as they have partners scattered around the globe.
I would encourage enthusiasts to start slow and explore the various scents on offer. Learning the basics of scent and taste will make the journey so much more enjoyable. You can do this at scent gardens such as the one at Kirstenbosch or the Spice Garden at Babylonstoren.
Here is a list of my top fragrant choices:
A close up of a glass cup

Extracting compounds

There are several methods one can utilise for extracting compounds from bark, resin, flowers, and leaves. Most rudimentary procedures use water, oil or alcohol to dissolve the compounds. These crude extracts will contain a range of compounds (not just scented) that may include irritants or allergens. As a result, most enterprises will opt to use successive purifications. One such purification process makes use of steam distillation.
Steam Distillation: A process whereby volatile (scented) compounds are separated from impurities (their original tincture) through captured vapour.
Tincture vs Infusion: A tincture is a mixture of alcohol with additives, while an infusion is a water-based mixture.
Steam distillation takes an infusion and heats it to release the smell in the form of a vapour. The vapour is then cooled and the droplets condensed for further use. It might sound difficult, but the process is actually fairly easy and can be used to separate a range of essential oils. It is well worth the effort to visit a local workshop and get some hands-on experience. You will be cooking up a storm in no time.
A close up of a flower

Which fynbos species is your favourite natural perfume?

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