Six Dogs Distillery
Six Dogs Distillery draws its inspiration from South Africa’s Karoo – a stunning landscape of spectacular scenery, flora and fauna. As a semi-desert, this area alternates between being a hot and dry or bitterly cold environment. Severe floods and droughts are not uncommon with the latter scorching the earth until it’s blackened. This seemingly inhospitable land is home to some of the most beautiful and rare plants and animals, including the Black Rhino, Cape Mountain Zebra and extremely endangered Riverine Rabbit. Although fiercely cold, the nights afford the perfect opportunity for star-gazing as the pitch-black showcases the millions of stars in all their glory.
It is no wonder the team at Six Dogs Distillery have been captivated by their surroundings and found great inspiration amongst the landscape. The distillery was established in 2013 by Master Distiller and Co-Founder, Charles Bryant along with his brother Glenn and friend Luigi Marucchi. Wishing for a creative outlet, the trio initially contemplated producing wine, but after a few unsuccessful attempts turned their thoughts to gin. The garden shed proved to be an ideal space for setting up a distillery – it was a large shed as it previously housed Charles’ six dogs! The gorgeous canine helpers who gave their name to the distillery are: Obelix, Cloud, Bodrum, Flea, Midget and Blue.
The idea of utilising the fantastic botanicals available on their doorstep led to Charles, Glenn and Luigi delving into the world of distillation and quickly learning how each plant must be approached individually. They created a custom still using an old copper geyser and purchased a glass rotary evaporator for distilling the most delicate botanicals.
The botanicals which form Blue Karoo gin include lemon buchu, Persian limes, naartjie, (mandarin) and Rose Pelargonium which are grown on their own farm. Acacia thorn tree and lavender are harvested from the wild. Juniper, angelica, coriander and chamomile make up the core structure, whilst Blue Pea flowers create the distinctive hue.
The botanicals are steeped in neutral spirit for 24 hours prior to distillation. They are then categorised into being ‘heavy’ or ‘light’. The heavy botanicals are placed directly in the copper still whilst the lighter ones go into the vapour infusion basket. The delicate flowers are kept separate and distilled in the rotary evaporator at room temperature to retain their subtlety of flavour and give a true representation of the taste of the Karoo. This distillate is added to the rest of the gin at blending along with water from the snow-capped mountains which surround the distillery. Each batch produces just 66 bottles.
Blue Karoo gin not only gains its name from the team’s youngest dog, but from the addition of Blue Pea flowers which give the vibrant blue hue in the bottle and subsequently transform the drink into a pastel pink once tonic water is present. The Blue Pea flower, (Clitoria Ternatea, also known as Asian pigeonwings or bluebellvine) has a long association as an antioxidant and aphrodisiac. In Ayurvedic medicine, its properties are believed to include improving cognitive function, strengthening the immune system and lessening stress as well as detoxifying the body. Charles discovered this incredible flower whilst traveling through Indonesia.
The distinctive blue colour is ‘morphogenic’ which means it changes depending on the light source. In natural light it appears vibrant blue, but turns indigo under fluorescent lighting. The addition of tonic water, (an acidic liquid) transforms the colour to pink as the Blue Pea flower reflects the pH. This charming botanical provides a fun, entertaining element to the theatre of preparing a gin and tonic, but I’m not 100% swayed as to its relevance from a flavour perspective.
However, considering another aspect which does not literally affect the flavour, but certainly adds appeal is the intricately designed eye-catching bottle. The stubby square-shaped bottle with its glorious curved edges features a beautiful label showcasing the Blue Pea flower whilst allowing the colour of the liquid to shine through plenty of open space.
It’s wonderful to see the team at Six Dogs Distillery expanding their range and gaining a following across the globe. I especially appreciate that they have formed partnerships with nearby farmers to source the botanicals they can’t grow themselves and are committed to celebrating the diversity and magnificence of the Karoo.
In the glass, Six Dogs Blue Karoo lives up to its name with a beautiful rich purpley blue hue, almost as if a paintbrush has been dipped in.
Lifted aromas are dominant, but elegantly restrained with purple juniper and meadow flowers at the fore followed by a hint of grapefruit and gentle earthy spice. The palate is supple, smooth and rich featuring silky spice and juicy mandarin flavours alongside delicate floral notes and a nuance akin to honeycomb. Fantastic depth and length lead to a hint of pink pepper on the finish.
The addition of tonic water transforms the drink into pastel pink. Zingy citrus characters are lifted and brought forward – delicious grapefruit and chamomile notes appeal on the nose. An elegant, quite subtle gin and tonic on the palate with round green meadow grass notes on the finish.
Written by Cherry Constable.