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Potatoes not the correct size? Banana skins too brown? The grain price not even paying the diesel for delivery to the silo? Heart-breaking!
However, there is a way out of this conundrum – beneficiation of crops such as grain and fruit not normally processed on the farm: Distil them!
There is a whole new market for hand-made distilled products which range from a variety of alcoholic aperitifs to essential oils.
Distillique, a Pretoria initiative, teach people how to master this fine art. The company also supply all the required distilling equipment – from a home system to the needs for a proper commercial distillery aimed at producing for the local as well as the export market.
Fritz Steyn of African Distillery ended up with Distillique after a fermentation explosion at home where he and his son were involved in experimentation. Now they do the correct thing in the correct manner. They have already received international acclaim for their Classic Rum. They also concoct a Vanilla Rum and a Classic Gin.
“We have experienced it as an industry that is not only growing locally, but also on the international scene. Our focus is on exporting,” says Fritz. “Embarking on the full-scale distilling industry also helped me to create job opportunities for my children.”
He says people should understand that hand-made – or craft, as it is known in the trade – means that the manufacturer has to distil the alcohol himself and is not allowed to use commercial alcohol and then merely aromatise it.
His advice is that anybody interested in beginning an own distillery first consult Distillique and ensure that he/she is empowered with the necessary knowledge and experience by completing a distilling course.
Distillique offers 17 different courses and in an hour long talk with Distillique’s Gert Bosman an enthusiast will probably learn more regarding the science and art of distilling compared with what one’s grandfather learnt in a lifetime of home distilling.
Gert says the first wrong impression people have is that only certain people may be granted a distilling licence, and that such a licence has to stay in the family. “Anyone can get a licence and Distillique can assist in making the process easier,” says Gert.
Close to 7 000 people have already been trained by Distillique and Gert is of the opinion that there is tremendous growth potential. Nowadays there are liquor with a dedicated area where craft products are displayed and sold.
“There has been a complete change in today’s home visiting culture,” says Gert. “People want to know more about the distilling story and, for instance, experience the different flavours of, say, gin . . . and they don’t mind paying R400 for a bottle for host and guests to sip and then gossip. Distilling is now a conversation piece.”
It is important for craft distillers to plan their labels with great circumspection; also the telling of their story. Gert himself tells many stories about the challenges, the art and the science. He is especially keen on people using indigenous herbs to create unique South African craft liquor flavours.
He says there are 127 methods of distilling gin and the only basic requirement is that juniper berries be included as ingredient in the mixture. For the rest any sugar containing substance or material may be used.
With rum, molasses has to be an ingredient in the mixture, and should you want to sell whisky or brandy, it has to be matured for three years before marketing. Witblits (a strong brandy) is distilled from grapes only, and mampoer from any other fruit.
“Finally it is all about producing an honest product to put on the shelf,” says Gert.
If you want your distillery as a hobby only, you will be able to get out of the starting blocks with approximately R6 000-00 for a basic copper kettle and all the rest you need for your first brew. For a more commercial setup on the farm, you will have to consider an investment of about R800 000 to just more than a million rand. That will give you a decent manufacturing plant that will add value to crops grown on the farm.