For Daniela Suess and Paul Schneider, creating a gin worthy of world-wide accolades is a bit like raising a child: there’s a lot of effort and energy involved.
But within six years, their small-scale hobby has matured into a fully-grown business, succeeding on the international stage and putting Thames on the map for distilling.
The pair, who own Coromandel Distilling Company in The Depot at Grahamstown, were recently told their Coromandel Dry Gin was named the country winner in the Classic Gin category at the World Gin Awards. As did their Manuka Gin – named New Zealand’s best matured gin.
It was the latter concoction which started Daniela and Paul on the path to distilling.
“Daniela is a hobby beekeeper, and we live 40km up the coast where it’s basically manuka country, so by default, she was making this beautiful manuka honey,” Paul explained.
“And when you make manuka honey on a hobby scale, you have a lot left over.”
It was a “no-brainer” for the pair to ferment the honey and start making mead, but soon enough, the distilling “bug” took hold and their curiosity was piqued.
“We live in the only country in the world where home distilling is legal, so we set up a little home lab… We kept refining and refining and did some blind tasting events with friends and got some awesome feedback, and we thought: ‘If we don’t turn this into an opportunity, it’s an opportunity missed’.”
The award-winning manuka gin, off their Awildian label, has a “warm and spicy” flavour profile which comes from being soaked in manuka wood for three months. It was “absolutely unique” on the world stage, Paul said.
“There are 22 botanicals used in this recipe, and to have them in a fine balance is where art and science come together, and that’s also one of the key things that have fascinated us with distillation… the crossroads of art and science and alchemy,” he said.
“But it’s easy to live here and think, we’ve nailed it, so to submit it to awards in San Francisco, London, and now the World Gin Awards, really shows that this is a flavour profile that is acknowledged by experts around the world.”
Distilling is a 10-hour process which produces around 60L of gin per batch. The pair distil 2-3 times a week, and welcome people to peruse the shelves when the shop is open on Saturdays.
Daniela and Paul will also be waiting with bated breath for the outcome of the supreme award at the World Gin Awards – where their Coromandel Dry Gin and Manuka Gin will face top brews from distilleries around the globe.
“When you set out to do something right, there has to be an alignment of factors, and gin is the one spirit that has excited us most,” Paul said.
“We’ve tried to distil every spirit under the sun, but gin is the one that carries the most sensory excitement. In a way, it’s a drinkable perfume… and we wouldn’t want to miss it for anything in the world.”