Master Distiller Nic Janeke on the Gin Scene in Cape Town

Master Distiller Nic Janeke on the Gin Scene in Cape Town

The artisanal alchemist, 30, on where to eat and drink in Cape Town, and the rise of the juniper berry.

I was born in Cape Town and raised in Pretoria… I guess I found my way back to my roots.

The idea to start New Harbour Distillery with my wife (then girlfriend) came about in 2015, as the craft distilling revival had just started out. It’s an experimental micro-distillery that pursues artisanal small-b is made up of individuals who combine botany, science and alchemy to create handcrafted spirits.

I believe the gin scene is more concentrated in Cape Town than the rest of SA, since the Western Cape is the centre of the wine and spirit industry here.

The global rise in gin could be due to the fact it’s a very versatile spirit, and is not as protected as other classes of spirits, namely brandy and whiskey. As such, we can manipulate its flavour so easily by adding different kinds of botanicals to provide different layers of complexity and totally different gins.

All gins start life as a neutral spirit (i.e. a high-strength vodka) and are then flavoured with juniper and various seeds, berries, roots, fruits and herbs.

There has been new legislation regarding gin. You can now add sugar to it, so I expect to see some Old Tom Craft Gin* on the shelves in the next few months. You can also age gin now, so I expect to see some unique barrel-aged sipping gins doing the rounds.
*editor’s note Old Tom Gin was popular in 18th-century England, and has recently experienced a resurgence in the craft cocktail movement. It is slightly sweeter than the London Dry that is more commonly drunk today.

Gin or whisky? Which would win? It’s a difficult one. At the moment probably gin; it’s still one of the fastest-growing spirits in the US, where whiskey is already king. Gin is also very popular with male and female demographics.

I wish I could share a bottle of gin with Dutch physician Franciscus Sylvius, who is credited with the invention of genever and so, by extension, gin. I would really like to know why he decided to mix juniper and all these other crazy botanicals together. Like all new inventions gin has a mysterious past; it would be interesting to know how the tough process started out.

What I love most about living in Cape Town is having access to Nature, hundreds of wine farms, and world-class beaches. Living and working in a global city while most people have to come here on vacation is a privilege.

My best bar in Cape Town used to be Outrage of Modesty, but since it’s closed, I am on the hunt for a new favourite.

Ed: Have you checked out our best bars, Nic?

My best coffee spot in Cape Town is Haas Collective definitely!

When out-of-towners come to town, we take them sightseeing, usually to wine farms with views or amazing atmospheres: Krone, Uva Mira and Babylonstoren are favourites.

I took my wife to La Colombe for our anniversary – there was a salmon tartare dish that really stood out. But, in general I love a good burger, every time.

My best walk in Cape Town is the Pipe Track: amazing views of the Twelve Apostles on one side and Camps Bay on the other.

My best weekend getaway is Tulbagh: rich history, and an amazing wine route. I recommend doing the Drostdy-Hof wine tasting in the prison of the actual Drostdy-Hof.

One day I hope to live in Iceland.

When I wake up in the middle of the night I make a snack.

Nic’s recipe for a gin fizz

This mid-19th-century classic is best enjoyed in a highball glass.


  • 2 shots New Harbour Maroela Gin
  • 1 shot lemon juice
  • Half a shot of sugar syrup (2 parts sugar to 1 part water)
  • Soda, to top up

Shake the gin, lemon juice and syrup with ice, and strain into chilled glass (without ice). Top with soda. Garnish with lemon slice, and some fynbos. #Ginning!

Keen to try your hand at gin-making? New Harbour Distillery offers artisanal gin-making courses led by Nic Janeke, where you’ll gain insight into the history and different types of gin, and then make your own version of the quintessential British tipple – from scratch.

Find out about other artisanal courses in and around Cape Town: subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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Time of publication: 13 February 2019