Lucy Beard, Hope Distillery

Lucy Beard, Hope Distillery

Following their travels over Europe and Morocco, ex-lawyers Lucy Beard and Leigh Lisk left their corporate lives in London and returned home to South Africa to start up Hope on Hopkins.

The Gin Guild talks to Lucy about their exciting journey from Islington to Cape Town and being the proud owners of the city’s first licensed artisanal distillery.

THE GIN GUILD: Before starting up in the gin industry you both worked as lawyers in London, what made you decide on this career change?

Lucy Beard: It was a two-step transition. The weather in London was starting to get us down, so we took a year off in a campervan and travelled around Southern Europe and Morocco. Quite near the start of that year we realised we didn’t want to go back to our corporate lives; and by the end of the year had decided we wanted to set up a gin distillery in Cape Town.

GG: Why did you choose to establish your distillery in Cape Town? 

Lucy: We’re both South African and, although neither of us had ever lived in Cape Town, we always had a dream to live here, anyone who has visited Cape Town will understand why! We had been living in London for a long time, never thinking we would return to South Africa, but the thought of sunshine and being closer to family made the decision for us.

Cape Town makes sense in so many ways, it’s the food and drink capital of South Africa, it’s surrounded by areas where unique and unusual botanicals grow and it’s a supportive place in which to launch one’s own business.

GG: Describe the South African gin scene to us and what makes Hope on Hopkins unique?

Lucy: We set up just over four years ago, when the gin scene was in its early stages and we had no idea that it would boom in quite the way it has.  We were inspired to go on this journey having witnessed the growth of the gin industry in London and then our travels in Spain really opened our eyes to just how interesting and diverse gin could be.

Cape Town was the centre of good coffee and craft beer in South Africa, but no one here was yet distilling gin on a small-scale basis, and with the passionate following of coffee and craft beer, we figured that gin was bound to be next.

GG: In your Salt River Gin you use medicinal herbs native to the Cape such as buchu, kapokbos (wild rosemary) and fynbos (a kind of wild sage). Tell us more about botanicals unique to South Africa and their effect on the flavour profile of your gins. 

Lucy: Fynbos directly translated from Afrikaans is “fine leaved plants” and is in fact a large group of shrubs that grow in the coastal belt around Cape Town and forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom.  There are about 7,000 different species of fynbos, so it is an amazingly varied, diverse group.

In our Salt River Gin we chose to use just two of these fynbos species, kapokbos, which is a wild rosemary and buchu, which is one of the most famous of the fynbos medicinal plants.  Both were used initially just for medicinal purposes, and we chose to use just these two as they are completely different to each other. The kapokbos has a herbal yet menthol note, whereas the species of buchu we use has floral, blackcurrant notes.  They, and other fynbos we use in other gins, are both incredibly pungent, so we use only small quantities.  The oil content is high and even in small quantities can easily dominate the flavour profile of the gin.

GG: Where do you source all the ingredients for your gins? 

Lucy: We source our juniper and angelica root from Europe, but try to source most of our other botanicals locally.  We have good coriander seed, beautiful citrus and a whole range of herbs and fynbos.  We do also import some of the spices.

GG: What is your perfect gin serve after a day in the sun? 

Lucy: A gin and tonic is the perfect end to a day in the sun. My preferred ratio is 1 part gin to 3 parts tonic, just to ensure that the gin shines through.

GG: You are one of the few distilleries in the world that choose to use barley as a base spirit, plus your Mediterranean Gin uses grape as its base – why did you choose these rather than any other grain? 

Lucy: Sourcing grain spirit in South Africa was a real challenge, so we decided to make our own.  The only readily available malted grain is barley, which is grown mainly to supply the beer industry, so we chose the barley after lots of failed experimenting with unmalted wheat and oats too.

We wanted to use a grain as we know it to be smooth – and realised that the barley could actually be used as one of the botanicals. We also wanted to focus on what is grown in the Cape, where barley and grape are both prevalent. Sugar cane is the most commonly used base spirit here but that grows at the other end of the country in the Natal region.

GG: Mampoer – a fiery spirit indigenous only to South Africa – can also be grape-based. Did this spirit provide any inspiration for the development of your gins?

Lucy: Mampoer has a pretty bad reputation in South Africa, so our aim was to be poles apart from it! The actual inspiration came from the fact that we’re surrounded by vineyards and of course South Africa is well known for its wine, so we wanted to use grape.

GG: Your distillery features on Cape Town’s new ‘Gin Route’ – offering locals and tourists alike a full day tasting tour of distilleries in the city. What is your favourite or fantasy place to enjoy a gin in Cape Town?

Lucy: The best is to hike up Table Mountain with friends, carrying one of our 200ml bottles of gin with some cold tonic. You can then get cups and ice from the café at the top and enjoy a refreshing G&T with the best view in town!

GG: South Africa has experienced an explosion in craft gin sales in the last couple of years, and you distil a number of gins for other brands – including G&T Frost Popsicles! Do you see the growth in gin continuing and what do you foresee for the near future?

Lucy: If anyone had said to us when we started that within four years we’d be distilling for six other brands and doing gin for popsicles we wouldn’t have believed them! There has been a complete explosion, and while we were the third craft gin launching into the market, we were quickly followed by another few brands.

This last year, however, has seen a complete explosion, there are now 83 different gin brands in the local market, producing 164 different gins! I think there is still some growth and this summer season (the 2018 Christmas season) will see further growth and new gins launching.

There are also now a range of local tonics available, as that market has expanded to match the growing gin scene. I do expect that it will stabilise over 2019, as the market here is small and quite quickly saturated, but we get enquiries just about every week from people wanting to launch gins!