Hope on Hopkins Distillery: the beginnings

Of course it’s not just the premises and distilling and distilling equipment we’ve had to get to grips with.  The last few weeks have seen us dealing with plumbers putting in plumbing and drainage for the distillery; flooring guys laying the epoxy floor; and painters ensuring that the distillery area looks as good as new. Look at the separate “Hopkins Street: the renovations” page for an idea of what we’ve been up to. Unfortunately the painters reversed into our electric roller door on their last day on the job, which meant we also had people fixing that on site and had to delay the equipment delivery while it was fixed.  Stage two sees the new roof go on and then we may be able to start thinking about doing up our own living area and getting some hot water in!

Newsflash: we have a name and a logo!

We’ve been working with wonderful branding strategist and publicist Hannerie Visser and Fred and Gideon from new graphic design studio The Kinsmen Collective on our corporate logo and branding.  The corporate logo has been agreed and business cards on their way.  A lot of thought has gone in to labeling and the first few label designs will be presented to us in the coming weeks.

The logo

The logo

In addition to the branding side, we’ve also been hard at work sourcing ingredients.  It’s taken a while (we realize that farmers are not particularly easy to source using the internet: having a presence on the world wide web is certainly not key to their business!) but we have made some great contacts and even have a farmer in the Northern Cape growing produce for us to experiment with!

We’ve also picked up our first batch of wheat and barley: 1.5 tons of it!  We struggled to find anyone who was willing to pick it up and deliver it to us (the volume was considered far too tiny!) so we hired a huge trailer and Leigh drove first to Caledon and then on to Swellendam to pick up the malted barley and wheat we’d ordered: a 6 hour round trip!   He arrived back in Salt River at 5pm and we had to get the trailer back by 6pm.  Of course this was the week when the roller door was out of action, so no easy access to the warehouse and no access to our pallet stacker.  Leigh and I had to lug 30 enormous 50kg bags of wheat and barley through the front, up a few steps, down a narrow passage and into the warehouse.  It was back-breaking work; but we managed it by 5.45 and got the trailer back to the hire place in time and then rushed to Antonia’s for a hot shower, as the bags were filthy and we had both worked up a sweat!

Road Trip 2: Cape Town to Johannesburg and back – 2,800 km

Going back to June and our second road trip: this was a bit of a rushed one, mainly because we had lots of work to do on the warehouse so couldn’t spend too much time on the road after all.  We needed to get up to Johannesburg to do a distilling course and although initially planned to turn it in to a few days on the road each way, with plumbers and electricians and builders working on the warehouse we instead asked the wonderful Brenda to drive up from Grahamstown to babysit them all while we rushed up to Jo’burg and back again, taking 2 days on the road each way.

The driving was good: empty roads (we realize how we are now so used to busy European highways!) and beautiful countryside.  We left at the crack of dawn, so missed the beauty of the Hex River valley on the way up as it was still dark, and instead the whole of the first day seemed dominated by the semi-desert of the Karoo.  We stopped in “Book Town” Richmond for tea and, with Cali parked in the High Street still bearing her UK number plates, promptly became the talk of the town.  We were not quite sure what to expect – and anyone who’d been to Hay-on-Wye (with its two dozen book shops) would be disappointed – but it is a charming little place, boasting all of two bookshops (perhaps there were more, but we weren’t able to find them) as well as a library and a horse museum!  We were made to feel very welcome and the tea shop stayed open late for us (it was nearly 2 o’clock on a Saturday after all, well past closing time!).

The highlight of the day was rescuing a young lamb, lost on the highway, which we took in to a nearby town and handed over to a local farmer.  If we’d found him on our homeward journey, he would definitely have been brought back to live in the distillery!

That night we stayed on the banks of the Tierpoort Dam in what would have qualified close to the awfulness of the sites we stayed at in Essaouira and Sidi Ifni!  The location was beautiful, but the campsite itself not so much – we should have realized when, on checking in, we saw a long list printed out on A4 sheets in BIG letters listing all those that had been banned from the campsite along with their transgressions (including breaking down doors and fighting).  But beggars can’t be choosers, and we enjoyed sundowners on the lake before feeding the local cat population on the remains of our dinner and having an early night: being winter in the Northern Cape the temperature plummets as soon as the sun goes down!

We didn’t have all that far to go the next day, and got to Jo’burg in time to enjoy lunch with Leigh’s dad up before meeting up with Stevie who we were staying with.

Making gin!

The week was a really good one: an action packed course on distilling, comprising both theory and practice.  It was good to put all the theory we’d accumulated so far into practice finally … and we even flavoured our first gin (I have to boast that mine tasted far better than Leigh’s) and really got to grips with the fermentation side, which we hadn’t had any experience of as the distilleries we’d visited in Europe all started from neutral spirit rather than the grain itself.

It was also wonderful catching up with friends in Jo’burg, some of whom we hadn’t seen for years, and we enjoyed the amazing Highveld winter: cold nights (suffered without central heating and in badly insulated houses designed for summer!) and glorious warm, sunny days.

The trip home was equally good: again empty roads, glorious sunshine and a real reminder of our year on the road.  Cali really enjoyed being used to her full potential again and positively zipped along (and of course was happy not to have Bambi in tow!).

We overnighted in Colesberg, which competed with Santander for our coldest night in Cali: luckily we’d stocked up on blankets and were extremely cosy despite the temperature falling to -5 degrees!

The highlight of the trip home was driving through the Hex River Valley.  A cold front had come in during the week away and the mountains (the 2nd highest range in the Cape) were blanketed in snow, with the valley filled with vineyards ranging in colour from red to orange to green: truly magical.

What’s been happening so far …

We’re now settled in Salt River in Cape Town – an area that used to be the industrial heart of the city and now a bit down at heel.  We have bought a warehouse with a set of offices attached, that used to be used by a scrapbooking and material trimmings factory, and are in the process of converting the warehouse into a city gin distillery and the offices into living accommodation.  It is quite a daunting task, but is slowly starting to come together.

Yes, it looks a bit like a prison, but it's ours!

Yes, it looks a bit like a prison, but it’s ours!

Salt River was the centre of the textile industry here in Cape Town, and is slowly being redeveloped as many of the textile factories are relocating or closing down.  Just between the two main roads of Cape Town, Albert Road and Victoria Road, we’re a stones throw from the famous Neighbourgoods Market at the Biscuit Mill and not far from Devil’s Peak Brewery … so hoping that the area is on the up!  Victoria Road does remind us of Kingsland Road, back before it got taken over by all the hipsters!

We’ve now done several distilling courses and will soon be well on our way to launching one of Cape Town’s first gin distilleries.  The craft beer market has boomed here (Devil’s Peak Brewery up the road being one of the more highly regarded of many, many craft breweries) and having watched the rise of craft gin and vodka in Europe and the US, which came hot on the heels of the craft beer craze there, we hope we’re on to a good thing!

Exciting news is that our distillery equipment arrives this week and we should be set up by the end of the week.  The warehouse is just about ready to receive it – a new epoxy floor has been poured; the walls and beams painted; and we nearly had a new roof as well, but unfortunately the various strikes meant that had to be delayed, but hopefully will be installed shortly.

Road Trip 1: Grahamstown to Durban and back … and then on to Cape Town – 2,600km

We set off on a road trip in convoy with Leigh’s mum Brenda, up to Durban via Ugie, then back to Grahamstown and on to Plett where we stayed a few days with the Matthews family and finally to Cape Town, stopping to drop Bambi off at a safe and shaded caravan storage park near Somerset West.

The journey was lovely, despite a breakdown in Brenda’s car on the N2 leaving us needing to navigate the potholed roads of the northern Transkei at night: not quite as bad as driving in Morocco at night (something we did once and swore never to repeat again, as the roads were filled with animals, cyclists without lights and riders wearing black, cars with faulty lights and pedestrians in the middle of the road) as at least the road was quiet – but it certainly made us realize we were back in Africa!

Bambi’s first African adventure

It was wonderful driving through the Eastern Cape: troupes of baboons, flowering Eastern Cape Christmas trees, and lots of vervet monkeys and then on to the magnificent Maluti mountains where the butterflies were out in full force in the foothills of the Drakensburg.

We passed through Elliot, land of rolling hills and emptiness. We followed one of the new Heritage Routes, following in the footsteps of the Elliot 5 and seeing various safe houses and other key sites which shaped the history of the ANC along the way.

We stayed over in Ugie, just near Maclear. Ugie itself is a bit of a one horse town so we explored the surrounding area, driving to the nearby Tsitsa Falls. There had been a lot of rain in the area, leaving the dirt roads in a rather appalling state and we were very impressed by Brenda’s 2-wheel drive, handling terrain far more suited to a 4×4 (we hope that this was not what caused the later breakdown …)! Maclear is set in amongst boulder strewn hills which are quite magical, with fields carved up by barbed wire and stone boulder fencing.

North of Maclear, we turned off the main road (to avoid the rather notorious Umtata stretch through the Transkei) and entered a wonderful rural world of gorgeous green fields and lots of goats, cattle, sheep, horses and donkeys (unfortunately often on the road rather than in the green fields) and RDP housing.

Taking the road north, we eventually rejoined the national road, but before this wound through gorgeous forested areas, interspersed with more green fields populated by magnificent crested cranes. The further north we headed, the more luxuriant it became. We stopped in Pietermaritzburg to catch up with Hayley (Damon was up in Ethiopia) and then headed on to Durban the next day, getting back on the road as quickly as we could after trying to repack our ransacked vehicles.