“I call this my gateway spirit” said Andrew, swirling the amber liquid in his glass. Well, through the gateway, down the hatch and the rabbit hole and colour me impressed, well impressed! Andrew Rall, owner of Durban’s Distillery 031 is a singular man whose burgeoning craft distillery is a portal to some unique, top-notch craft spirits. He was referring to his D’Urban Barrel Aged Gin- something rather special. Serve it on ice to guests without telling them what they are drinking, just to gauge reactions. Plenty of surprised expressions no doubt. Gateway? Well, I agree with him that it may change the perceptions of many non gin drinkers.
Acquire a taste for the finer things in life
Gin is trending- has been for a while now- and Rall has been at the forefront of the gin revolution in South Africa. His passion trumps trends however, and Distillery 031 products include a superb tonic cordial, rum (including cachaça), vodka, absinthe and some unique spirit aperitifs- all with a view to putting the country on the map in terms of carefully and beautifully crafted, award winning, spirits.
Rall distilled privately at first, acquired his commercial licenses in 2015 and, in a relatively short time, has made inroads into the international market. The fact that he exports his premium 031 Vodka to a country like Sweden where vodka is not so much trending as entrenched in social culture says a lot.
He is a gentle giant- charming, charismatic, passionate, perceptive, driven and open to ideas and experiences. That’s a great checklist for someone who continually researches and experiments in his quest for excellence. His introduction and taste for spirits was more about quantity than quality (student daze), but a trip to Scotland ignited an interest in- and passion for- distilling. Fast forward and this once brand manager for Unilever found himself with his own brand, an urban distillery (Durban’s first craft distillery) and in cahoots with like-minded entrepreneurs in establishing Durban’s first urban renewal district- Station Drive, off Umgeni Rd.
Rall is passionate about more than quality hooch. The name, Distillery 031 (031 is the local dialling code), hints at his love of his roots. Hence the distillery being in the city and the many indigenous elements that infuse the business- from bottle labels to botanicals and the raw materials from which the spirits are crafted. These include sugar cane, baobab fruit, indigenous wormwood and rosehip, coffee cherries (cascara) and imphepho, a medicinal herb used by sangomas to summon the ancestors.
“Durbanism” is a thing- an inclusive thing. An evening at Station Drive’s 1st Thursday monthly happenings would give you a better picture. I’m not sure if Durbanism stems from Rall, but he’s a glowing example. If he didn’t have export/import/sales/admin/investors and all the not-so-fun bits about owning a business to attend to, he would be at the still and behind the bar every day, sharing his extraordinary knowledge of all things Durban and walking the talk. And the talk is great.
I’ve attended many, many wine tastings/ pairings etc- I even conducted tastings and tours in my youth. I’ve also toured impressive distilleries, but I’ve never had such an entertainingly educational occasion as in Distillery 031’s industrial-chic tasting room.
A group of German tourists and I exited the tasting room in a haze- a haze of newly acquired tastes, knowledge about spirits in general and Distillery 031’s products in particular. Like my companions, deciding which were new favourites was top of mind. The histories and development of gin, tonic and absinthe were especially interesting to me, the whole experience a treat- the complimentary welcome cocktail, the tasting and the gourmet burger meal in the bar-cum-eatery while eyeing out the gleaming bits and bobs (which I could now identify) in the distillery.
“Local is very lekker” I thought (Afrikaans for “nice”). So too the Germans, who were researching how best to acquire 031’s products in Europe.