In just over twelve months of its launch, Triple Three hand-crafted premium gin made at Blaauwklippen in Stellenbosch has become one of the top three best-selling local gins in our country, and is regarded as a world-class gin. I attended a tasting of the three Triple Three gins at OpenWine on Monday evening, and of their brand new but not yet launched Triple Three Distillers Cut gin last week, at a Blaauwklippen Zinfandel tasting. Rolf Zeitvogel, Cellarmaster of Blaauwklippen and Master Distiller at Triple Three, led the gin tasting at OpenWine. I had suggested to OpenWine owners Marta Gobbo and Raphael Paterniti that they offer a non-wine tasting for their weekly Tuesday tastings, and was delighted that they had connected with Rolf and his Triple Three Marketing colleague Florian Leykauf, and that the tasting was set up for Monday, moved one day earlier due to the public holiday yesterday. It was the most boisterous tasting I have attended since they were launched at OpenWine six months ago.
Rolf shared his background, being a third generation winemaker, originally from the Black Forest in Germany. He was introduced to our country as a student, having spent six months on wine estates in Stellenbosch. He visited the Winelands regularly thereafter, and moved here 15 years ago to take over the management of Blaauwklippen, as well as its winemaking. He gushed about what a wonderful life he and his family have in South Africa. He was exposed to distilling in Germany, where many families distill fermented fruit, and which provides welcome heat in cold winters. Schnapps and Grappa are predominantly made. Five years ago he and two partners set up a distillery on Blaauwklippen, created a company called Gentleman’s Spirits, to complaints of the ladies he shared, where they made Grappa and other spirits.
Two years ago they started making gin, simply branding it as Rolf’s Gin. It took off beyond expectations, and this inspired them to launch Triple Three last year, with three variants: 100% Juniper Berry, African Botanicals, and Citrus Infused. The gins are made in a state of the art copper column-pot, and the brand name chosen reflects the 333rd anniversary of the founding of Blaauwklippen, in 2015. Rolf says that they often get asked what their base alcohol is, the neutral alcohol base options being grain, grapes, or molasses. He said it makes no difference to the gin, as it is the Botanicals which are added which give the unique taste to a gin. Spring water is used to break down the alcohol in the gin to 43% alcohol.
Three water glasses contained a small quantity of each of the three Triple Three variants, two with an ingredient to visibly identify the correct glass to be tasted.
Triple Three 100% Juniper Berry Gin
This glass contained two Juniper berries, and we were challenged to bite into one, even though we were warned that it could be very strong. I liked the taste. Rolf said that they import Juniper berries from Italy, our local berries being too hard to use. A Juniper berry is not a berry, but a cone seed. The crushed Juniper berries emit oil, which is infused into the alcohol. He explained the technicalities of the distillation, and described the resultant gin created due to condensation as ’50 times distilled’. This results in a finer and smoother drink. The distillation process, the ingredients, and the technology used make the resultant gin unique.
As the Juniper berry oil separates, they filter the liquid, to make it co-stabilize, and bottle it immediately.
We were challenged to taste the 100% Juniper Berry gin neat, and then mix it with ice, or with Fitch & Leedes tonic water, made in Stellenbosch. I had tasted gin neat last week, so decided that this is my favorite way to drink it from now onwards – in a previous life I enjoyed drinking gin and bitter lemon. Rolf advised that we give the neat gin a second taste, not judging it on the first sip. It has a smooth sweet aftertaste. He said that they don’t use Schweppes tonic, it being too sweet. He described a gin cocktail as a ‘mood drink‘, or as a ‘happy drink’.
Triple Three African Botanicals Gin
This Triple Three gin is infused with seven Botanicals, being buchu, Rooibos (left), liquorice, almond, galangal root, coriander seed, and Juniper berries. It is a dry spicy smooth gin, and its finesse is created by the Rooibos and buchu ingredients being in balance.
In reply to a question, Rolf said that gin has taken off astronomically, with many distilleries popping up. It is a ‘fabulous‘ trend he said, although it is ‘sometimes wild what is served’. He is not judging what is available, and nothing is good or bad, just different. Bars are creating a vibe around gin, he added.
Triple Three Citrus Infusion Gin
Rolf and his team had already had experience with the production of Lemon Eau de Vie and Citrus Eau de Vie. He described orange and citrus, with lime zestiness, as ‘happy flavours’.
They struggled to find a good orange ingredient, until they found a special Citrus combination of naartjie and lemon, which they used with late ripening oranges, a lucky find. Rolf described this Citrus-infused gin as a ‘convenient‘ drink, one not needing to add any lemon.
One of the OpenWine staff created three cocktails with the Triple Three gins, one each using the three variants: Triple Three African Botanicals gin and tonic with mint; Triple Three Citrus Infusion gin and sparkling lemon; and Triple Three 100% Juniper Berry Negroni. The Triple Three gins are stocked at OpenWine, and cost R420 per bottle.
Triple Three Distillers Cut sipping gin
At the vertical tasting of Blaauwklippen Zinfandel Noble Late Harvest last week, Rolf and Florian introduced invited writers to taste their brand new Triple Three Distillers Cut gin, infused with 40 (!) Botanicals, even though it has not yet been bottled, and will only be launched in winter. I quickly learnt that the gin business is a very competitive one, and hence the sharing of the information of the Botanicals which are infused in a gin is largely kept secret. Florian did reveal that orice root, wild cotton, and wild figs are three of the Botanicals. We received chilled glasses for the tasting, and were encouraged to taste the gin neat, a most delicious taste, a surprise to most of us, who are used to drinking gin with a mixer. The glasses were brought to the tables on a tray with liquid nitrogen, creating smoke when water was added.
To source the 40 Botanicals, Rolf and his team went on a journey around our country, to find the best, and it has become a proudly-South African gin, with excellent Botanicals sourced in Garies in the Northern Cape; in Citrusdal and Clanwilliam for oranges, Rooibos, and Buchu; the shores of Cape Town and the Winelands; and as far east as the Kruger Park, for Marula fruit from the baobab tree. It will be matured for six months. A subsequent trip took Rolf to Namibia, with a future use of Botanicals found there, leading to the creation of the ultimate sub-Sahara African gin. Rolf explained the Distillers Cut as the ‘heart of the heart’ of the distill.
Triple Three Distillers Cut gin is the first to use the ‘cut’ in South Africa. Only a total of 900 bottles will be produced, supplied on allocation order. Rolf described the new Distillers Cut gin as ‘where the magic of gin can go’.
Rolf and Florian provided more details about the superb performance of their Triple Three gin, referring me to a Tri-Nations Gin-Off blind-tasting competition last week by the UK gin interest group Ginsanity, which saw a tasting of English, Scottish, and South African gins. In the Group A tasting, Triple Three was the winner, up against Arbikie from Scotland and Masons Yorkshire Gin from England. The comment received was: ‘There’s something about that gin I just can’t put my finger on, but it’s fab!’ Wilderer Gin won Group D, against The Botanist Gin from Scotland, and Conker Spirit from England. South African gin brands KWV Cruxland and Inverroche Distillery were also included in the tastings, but did not win their rounds.
Triple Three was included in ’50 Gins to try before you turn 50′, a poster developed by Ginsanity.
Disclosure: at the Blaauwklippen Zinfandel Noble Late Harvest tasting held at Cape Grace hotel last week we received a bottle of Triple Three 100% Juniper Berry gin with our media pack.
Triple Three Estate Distillery, Blaauwklippen, Stellenbosch. Tel (021) 880-0133. www.triplethree.co.za Twitter: @distillery333 Instagram: @333distillery
OpenWine Taste Pair Shop, 72 Wale Street, Cape Town. Tel (021) 422-0800. www.openwineza.co.za Instagram: @openwine_za
Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: www.chrisvonulmenstein.com/blog Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: click here Instagram: @Chris_Ulmenstein