Duke Gin was started in 2017 in an attempt to save the sunny litchi orchards of Summerfields estate. A tricky and risky fruit to export, the economic viability of litchi farming was on a rapid decline, and the decision to replace them with macadamia trees had all but been made. It was at this point when Andre’s entrepreneurial spirit, and ability to see possibilities where most see none, took flight. As is often the case with visionaries, the transition from initial idea to fully-fledged obsession happened virtually overnight. After a gin course in Johannesburg, Andre was hooked on mastering the distilling process and entered a whole new world of copper stills, litchi fermentation and juniper berries. He has absolutely no desire to look back.
Today Andre and Ilse host guests in their beautifully styled gin foundry where they share, with much humour, entertaining stories about the history of the farm, the many farming activities (including macadamia, rose and organic vegetable farming), and most importantly, they share about the gin making process. The Lowveld’s hot, humid summers with thunderous rainstorms create the ideal climate needed to produce the sweet floral-like flavours characteristic to the litchi fruit. It is Duke’s farm-to-bottle story and exotically fragrant flare that’s been winning hearts, and most guests who taste Duke gin, leave the estate with a bottle in hand.
How Duke Original is Created – from Farm to Bottle.
Duke Gin is truly crafted. And regal alongside its namesake, Duke the Viszla, who roams the Summerfields Estate. It takes patience and time, nothing is rushed.
Duke Gin starts with the annual litchi harvest, 100 tons of fruit which is brought from the orchards in late December. The orchards are carefully cultivated all year – pruned in autumn, allowing the cold of winter to activate the flowering buds, feritilised through spring and then waiting for the fruit to ripen, to grow in size and sugar content.
The fruit is sized and graded, and anything with a sunburn spot, a slight tear or stingmark is earmarked for the distillery. The fruit is carefully skinned and pipped, then juiced. More than half is discarded as pulp (for composting), the sweet juice collected into fermentation tanks. The pH is meticulously monitored, and champagne yeast added to start the fermentation process.
After a week to ten days the yeast turns the sugar into alcohol and Co2. The first distillation run, known as ‘stripping distillation’ is done in a traditional 200l Albemic still over an open flame. The litchi wine is turned into a low volume alcohol.
The second distillation takes place in a fractional still in six stages. Care needs to be taken to remove the ‘heads’ and ‘tails’, and to ensure that the litchi flavour is not lost.
The third distillation adds our precious botanicals – juniper berries, rose geranium and ginger from the farm, orris and angelica to add stability.
The batch is aged in stainless steel for at least three months before being bottled – also on the Estate. From a 100t harvest the yield is no more than 5,000 l of gin.
The nose gets floral notes of rose and litchi. The taste is bold – sweetness of fruit balanced with the bitterness of ground and the dry aftertaste of juniper. Truly unique, best enjoyed with vanilla, sage and a good tonic. Best enjoyed with lemon, ice and basil.