The old brick foundry building sits just above the railway tracks in a commercial and industrial part of Durban. Factory buildings line busy Umgeni Road and the ubiquitous taxis zip around, horns honking as people duck through the heavy traffic. Cars are parked wherever they can find a spot. Informal traders dot the pavement, selling anything from t-shirts to big, juicy mangos and bunches of fresh lichis.
The area literally vibrates with energy.
And this is what distiller Andrew Rall of Distillery 031 is tapping into and enhancing at KwaZulu Natal's first craft distillery.
This tall (very tall) young man exudes enthusiasm equally about his business and Durban and separating the two is next to impossible. The whole mission behind Distillery 031 is the fusion of the Urban Durban vibe into the unique spirits he is creating in the big, old industrial building.
From a surfer boy who "majored in drinking" at university where quantity topped quality, to an accomplished entrepreneur with not just the distillery but a couple of other businesses, which help pay the bills, has been quite a trip.
He discovered craft distilling in Scotland and realized that there is far more to drinking than he knew. That revelation led to his exploration into rum, his favorite spirit, where he tasted Mount Gay, the rum I grew up on while in the Caribbean.
This started him thinking and wondering why South Africa didn't produce rum, with the huge sugar can industry here. On his travels, Andrew visited the United States, collecting rum along the way. On his return to South Africa, he and five friends decided to start distilling, as he recognized rum as an emerging trend in the liquor industry.
What started as AARGH! rum, originally intended as an importing venture, has turned into much more. Once his friends realized how much work is involved in distilling, they quickly fell by the wayside. But Andrew persevered, slowly graduating to bigger stills and taking up more and more space at his home, eventually taking up his garage and carport.
Then he got married and decided to provide the alcohol for the wedding, "to test it out and make sure nobody died!" Needless to say, it proved very popular and that's when it started to get too expensive to remain a home distiller. In South Africa, home distilling is permitted but the liquor cannot be sold. "It's limiting how much gifting you can do before you bankrupt yourself," Andrew declared.
Not long after that, Simone, his wife handed him an ultimatum. He must either stop or "do it properly" as she needed her carport!
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So he started the process of perfecting his recipes and Simone asked him to create a gin as she is not a rum fan. Initially, Andrew was against it as his idea of gin was something his grandparents drank and as he put it, "a horrible juniper forward punch you in the face kind of thing!' Until he tasted a craft gin and was converted.
During this time, he discovered the old foundry building.
“Station Drive was the perfect home for the distillery and complemented my vision for Distillery 031, which is to capture the essence of contemporary Durban in the spirits we produce … Durban Distilled.” Andrew Rall
For Andrew, it's not just about making great spirits; it's about building a community in The Station precinct (Distillery 031 is on Station Drive.) When he took on the building, he knew he would need to create rental spaces within it, to help pay the bills, as it took 18 months to become licensed. On the ground floor now is a thriving brewery, S43 Home to That Brewing Co. Up the concrete stairs on the first floor live the creatives - jewelry and clothing designers. Next floor is the distillery and very trendy restaurant. The top floor, which is reached via either an outside steel stairway or the inside stairs are the offices.
A neighboring building is also experiencing the benefits of urbanization and revitalization with small stores and a cafe.
The Spirits - So Uniquely KZN
When you read the names of the spirits from Distillery 031, they are so unique to this part of the world. And the ingredients included in many are indigenous to this area. All are distilled from local molasses extracted from KZN sugar cane, except the Agua Zulu Cachaca, which is distilled from the juice of freshly crushed local sugar cane.
The Durban Dry Gin, Distillery 031's signature gin, with 10 botanicals includes the indigenous African Rosehip which gives it it's distinct floral character. Pair that with 031's own tonic, created by Andrew from an old Victorian recipe, and you have a G&T like you have never had before. Simply delicious!
The two spirit aperitifs, Vanilla & Baobab, and Naartjie (similar to a tangerine) & Rooibos, both crafted from 10 times distilled 031 Vodka, impart a distinctly African experience!
Absinthe has quite a history and Ancestor Absinthe is adding to it. Using a traditional French recipe but using indigenous botanicals including impepho, which is used by traditional Zulu herbalist. As Andrew says, "In Europe you drink Absinthe and see green fairies. Drink our Absinthe and see your ancestors."
031 Vodka is named for the Durban's telephone area code. You can't get more local than that.
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[box] Distillery 031, 2nd Floor, 43 Station Drive, Durban 4001. 27 87 941 4540[/box]