THE HISTORY OF GIN

The beautifully designed labels and classic bottles of Cape Town Gin are a tribute to the spirit’s golden age – the roaring 20s – when Gin was decidedly in vogue.

We share our appreciation for this distinctly flavoursome libation with those who discovered it centuries ago…

Although there have been claims that Gin was first produced in Italy, the earliest confirmed recording of commercial production of Gin is in the early 17th century in Holland. Here, it was produced as a medicine and sold in chemists to treat a number of maladies. To make it more palatable, the Dutch began to infuse the alcohol with juniper, which had medicinal properties of its own. 

British troops fighting in the Low Countries during the Thirty Years’ War had their fair share of the warming spirit too, for a shot of ‘Dutch Courage.’ Eventually the soldiers caught on and brought it back home with them – where it was already available in chemists’ shops – but this time to enjoy as a drinking spirit, rather than a cure-all tonic. Before the troops brought Gin back home, small-scale distillation was already underway – however, its popularity meant that production kicked into high gear, and thus Gin became one of Britain’s favourite tipples. 

Gin first appeared in Cape Town in the 1600s as a spirit called Jenever, onboard Dutch ships enroute to the East. Originally used for its medicinal properties, Jenever was a wine spirit flavoured with juniper, a berry known for its therapeutic qualities, which grew abundantly in Europe.

THE HISTORY OF ROOIBOS

More than 300 years ago, the local inhabitants of the mountainous Cederberg region were the first to discover that the Rooibos plant’s needle-like leaves could be used to make a refreshing brew. These ‘Rooibos pioneers’ used axes to harvest the plant and then bruised the leaves with hammers, leaving them to ferment and dry out in the sun. Today the plant is harvested and processed in much the same way, albeit with more sophisticated equipment.

Early Dutch settlers in the Cape began drinking Rooibos as an alternative to the expensive black tea from Europe.  In 1772, Carl Thunberg, a botanist from Europe who visited the Cape, researched and reported on this remarkable plant, but it was only in 1904, when Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian immigrant to South Africa whose family had a long history in the tea industry, recognised the potential of this unique ‘mountain tea’ and started trading with the Rooibos.

In the early 20th Century, Rooibos captured the imagination of medical doctor and nature lover Dr. Le Fras Nortier and he began researching its medicinal value and agricultural potential.

Despite its popularity and medicinal value, the farming of Rooibos as a commercial crop only started in the 1930s.

In 1968, Mrs. Annetjie Theron, published a book on her findings regarding the healing qualities of Rooibos and went on to launch a full range of health and skin care products, all with Rooibos as the key ingredient, and in 1984 Rooibos made headlines in Japan as an anti-ageing product.

In 1995, the Agricultural Research Council (Infruitec) in South Africa developed Green Rooibos.

More than a decade after the development of Green Rooibos, Rooibos Espresso was the next innovation derived from the tea and became the first tea espresso in the world. The espresso-style drink was introduced to coffee shops and retail outlets in 2006.

Inspired by the plant so steeped in heritage and healthful properties, the Cape Town Gin Company first distilled the Cape Town Gin Rooibos Red in Cape Town in 2015.