The October Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting, hosted by the Haas Collective in their gallery across the road from Haas Coffee, reflected the passion and spirit of Jorgensen Distillery and Honest Chocolates, both artisanal producers.
Dawn introduced Jorgensen Distillery, and has been a loyal attendee of the Food & Bloggers’ Club meetings. Last year she and Roger introduced Primitiv Vodka to the Bloggers’ Club. Dawn told us that from being a winemaker, Roger moved into distilling, being one of three to start distilling spirits locally. It’s a family business, and the website address www.jd7.co.za, reflects the seven members in the Jorgensen family, all involved in the business. The family handles all aspects of the business, being absolutely hands-on. Dawn saw the power of Social Media, and took a one-day course. She registered the Twitter address @PrimitivVodka, which she uses for the whole product range, which has grown to eight, and does not think that she should have a separate account for each brand. She praised Twitter and Blogging, saying that through Social Media they have made friends and built relationships. Roger is the ‘alchemist’, handling the production, and Dawn the Marketing, which she focuses on Social Media, and participation at smaller shows, locally and in Johannesburg. Interested bloggers and journalists have come to see the Jorgensen Distillery in Wellington. Dawn was almost apologetic about her Twitter Follower and Facebook Friends numbers of around 600, but has realised that it is not the number of persons, but the quality of the interaction that is important. Dawn has found Facebook to be very visual, with Friends posting photographs, whilst Twitter helps to spread the word about one’s brand if the users are happy with it. Happy customers become Social Media friends, word of mouth being their most important marketing approach. They value the relationships that they develop at each meeting. Dawn says she only Tweets positively. She likes to promote like-minded people and their brands on Twitter.
Roger has a South African mother and Norwegian father, and grew up in a home in which spirits were drunk regularly and neat, always enjoyed with food. He was one of three producers to help change legislation relating to potstill brandy production, co-founded the Wellington Wine Route, and founded the Brandy Route in Wellington. He said that if one does ‘not make honest, holistically produced material you are just another brand’. Roger said that spirits are drunk neat in the north, and with mixers in hot climate countries, including South Africa. He suggested that they be drunk cold and neat, and not with local mixers, which are far too sweet. We tasted the Primitiv Vodka first, which is made from spelt, the origin of grain, which Roger sources from the Cederberg, being the only region in South Africa where it is grown. Roger distills the spelt with the husks, its oil giving the vodka its special flavour. He could make it at an alcohol level of 96%, but has chosen to reduce it to 90%, to allow the flavour of the essential oils to come to the fore. He was critical of other commercially produced vodka, some of it made from grain not fit for human consumption. Primitiv has a creamy and oily mouth feel, with floral, pepper and aniseed notes. It is well-suited to eat with cheese, and seafood, including oysters. Premium white spirits are difficult to make, Roger said. Lemoncello is a drink they learnt to love on a holiday in Tuscany, there being about thirty kinds in Italy. Roger uses organic Cape lemons, having the perfect aroma in the skin. The top layer of the skin soaks in strong wine spirit for two weeks, and it absorbs the flavour and oils from the lemons. Roger would like to see restaurants serving a complimentary glass of Lemoncello as a thank you to their customers. Limes from the neighbours are used to make Naked Lime liqueur, and bartered for product. Roger loves experimenting, and has made liqueurs from bay leaves and naartjies. The Jorgensen Distillery products can be delivered by courier when ordered off their website, or from www.ebooze.co.za, or found at Wines at the Mill. A range of miniatures is supplied to guest houses and hotels. The Absinthe is the product that is most in demand, and their most expensive product. New products Roger is working on are a South African ‘Tequila’, a local rum, and liqueurs made from indigenous aromatic plants. The Jorgensen’s gin is an African take on this product, Roger said, and again he emphasised that it should be drunk neat. This is the product that is hardest to make, in ensuring consistency, and therefore Roger holds back one third of every batch, to blend with the next batch. A unique mix of herbs is used by Roger to make his gin, including ‘grains of paradise’, ‘Natal wild ginger spice’, and Ohandua spice from Namibia. South Africa’s legislation, driven by the South African Liquor Brand Association, on which the major producers sit, demands that spirits have 43% alcohol, whereas the international norm is 40%. Imported products therefore need to be adapted to increase the alcohol content, and their packaging needs to be amended for imported brands to be sold locally. The Jorgensen’s Savignac potstill brandy was the highlight of the tasting for me, not being a brandy drinker at all. It is made in the style of French cognac, matured for 14 years in French oak barrels. No sugar or caramel is added to the brandy, and the Honest Chocolates we tasted with it was an amazing marriage.
Honest Chocolates’ Anthony Gird told us that he ‘stumbled’ into chocolate-making, not having any culinary background. Using raw cocoa powder he had found in health shops, he experimented with it to make chocolates that his friends loved. Michael de Klerk was living in London at the time, specialising in website design, and he too was experimenting with chocolate-making, having been inspired by a friend in New York to do so. The team call themselves ‘imperfectionists’, learning as they go along. They have started with making moulded and dipped truffles, and sold their first handcrafted chocolates at the Old Biscuit Mill. Their chocolates do not contain dairy or emulsifiers, and they only use natural fructose. The raw organic cocoa beans are sourced from Super Foods, who in turn source them from a co-operative in Ecuador, which is also known to make one of the top chocolates in the world. Their cocoa beans are not roasted, unlike other cocoa producers. The beans have a great aroma, have anti-ageing properties, and are good for the heart. They use agave nectar instead of sugar, which is low GI, and is therefore diabetic-friendly. In addition to truffles, they make small slabs, each new product wrapper designed by a different designer: a rabbit on the 72 % bar, and an illustration of the Kalahari desert on the Salt bar. They also make a chocolate spread.
Honest Chocolate has a website, a Facebook page, and more recently got into Twitter. They have a blog on their website. Two months ago they opened their first outlet on Wale Street, from which they both make and sell the chocolate. They say it is hard to make chocolate and Tweet/Blog. Currently they have about 600 Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Facebook is like an on-line store for Honest Chocolate, with others recommending their products, while Twitter is a tool to network with partners. They have had write-ups on blogs and in magazines, giving them free coverage, and this helps them to build relationships. Every time someone Re-Tweets their Tweet, or Tweets about them, they get more followers, they have found. For them the number of Followers is not as important as the quality of the Tweets and Followers. They say that the personality reflected in Social Media becomes that of your business.
The Haas Collective consists of the coffee shop and restaurant, the Gallery, a decor and design section, and an advertising agency partnered with Draft FCB. Partnerships form the business model for Haas, and so Strictly Coffee from Robertson is the coffee partner. The business is evolving, and their first ‘Underground Supper’ will be held in the Gallery on 29 October.
It was an amazing evening, reflecting with honesty the start-up of both Honest Chocolate and Jorgensen’s Distillery. The passion for their businesses and brands was palpable, inspiring those present to change their spirit and chocolate brands. Both companies have in common that they have stories behind them, making products that people fall in love with when they meet the people making them, and therefore the price of their artisanal products is less important. Their products offer value in a recessionary economy, being anti-capitalist, ‘non-tourism bus’ type products, offering value and purity, taking one back to the days of the ‘tuisnywerheid’, it was said. They are products one can trust, as they are not mass-produced. Both businesses will grow organically, and Social Media plays a role in achieving a slow and steady growth.
Haas Collective: 67 Rose Street, Bo-Kaap, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-4413. www.haascollective.com @HaasCollective @HaasCoffee
Jorgensen’s Distillery: Versailles, Wellington. Tel (021) 864-1777. www.jd7.co.za @PrimitivVodka
Honest Chocolate: 66 Wale Street, Cape Town. Tel 082 829 3877/082 736 3889. www.honestchocolate.co.za @HonestChoc
Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club: Tel (021) 433-2100. firstname.lastname@example.org Facebook @FoodWineBlogClu
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage