Our location in the Deep South

The Deep South is the name affectionately given, by the people who live there, to that part of the peninsula south of the Old Cape Road (Oukaapseweg) as far as Cape Point Nature Reserve.  This beautiful area, with its fynbos-clad mountains stretching southwards in a jagged spine towards Cape Point, and bordered by white beaches and blue sea, lends its name and identity to the southern-most distillery in Cape Town.

-Although the Deep South was once relatively remote, it now comprises a collection of interconnected, bustling, thriving communities offering the village-like lifestyles of Noordhoek, Kommetjie and Scarborough on the west coast, the small port-feel of Kalk Bay and Simonstown, all ranged around the commercial centre of Fish Hoek.   Burgeoning development in the whole valley has seen widespread human settlement that links the whole valley together.

The people of the Deep South are a diverse and sometimes quirky lot, ranging across the spectrum from artists to zoologists, captains of industry, tradespeople, crafters, fisherfolk, musicians, artisans, restauranteurs, surfers, builders and shopkeepers.

This makes Kommetjie the perfect place to locate a quirky, interesting, versatile, and quite professional little distillery that brings together the art of flavour making, the science of distilling and practice of enjoying great spirits in the company of good friends.

Our distillery is located in a small industrial area on the road that links Kommetjie to the rest of the Cape.   The distillery is artisanal, which means that it manufactures premium spirits in small batches, for discerning lovers of craft spirits.

Being artisanal, many activities such as fermentation and distillation are very hands-on, and bottling and labelling are done by hand. The manufacture, settling and maturation of our spirits is allowed to unfold at an unhurried pace, and even the distillery tour and tasting are conducted at a leisurely pace.

The result is an authentic, personalised craft experience, and exceptional spirits that are made with care and passion.

Deep South Distillery finally opened its doors to the public in December 2017, although it only became fully operational towards the end of 2018.  The spirits it makes are gold medal winners, and it has a growing reputation for much more than making great spirits that pay fitting tribute to the unique flora and surroundings of the Cape Peninsula.

Deep South Distillery is a warm, friendly craft distillery that shares knowledge and fun in equal measure and well on track to fulfilling its mission: to make the world a better place, one sip at a time.

How did we get into distilling?

Steve Erlank settled in Kommetjie more than three decades ago, when he and his wife fell in love with the relative remoteness, natural beauty and creative life style of the valley.   Like many inhabitants, he initially spent his days commuting to a corporate world, which included weekly trips to Gauteng for many years.  Being an IT specialist, a lecturer and having a training company were hardly  good training for becoming a distiller!

But Steve had developed an interest in distilling when his favourite grapefruit schnapps went off the market, and he decided to make his own.  He bought a small copper alembic still, attended a starter training workshop with Distillique, a local supplier of craft distilling equipment and services, and began trying to reverse engineer the recipe in his garage in his spare time.  This was marginally successful as he grappled with new knowledge and skills in physics, chemistry, biology and food science.  The initial results were terrible moonshine, but persistence and practice paid off, and eventually a delicious pamplemousse schnapps resulted.

And so the idea of making craft spirits took root.

By 2016, and having recently sold his successful training business, he retired from corporate life, went into partnership in building a beautiful catamaran, and embarked on a few sailing adventures in the Indian ocean with friends and family, while he contemplated the possibilities of opening a craft distillery, a long-held dream.   Much research into Indian Ocean island rum was conducted on his travels, which continued in South Africa and abroad with visits to distilleries, trade shows, festivals and events, conducting intensive research and just co-incidentally sampling many craft spirits along the way.

In the course of this research, he met many interesting and talented people in the industry. It soon became apparent that craft distilling offered the potential for creativity and innovation, an opportunity for an interesting change of direction, and a great excuse to travel, consume delightful cocktails and continue to meet amazing people.  And so the die were cast:  time to open a little craft distillery as a ‘retirement project’. ….

The long road to establishing a craft distillery

Starting a craft distillery is not for the faint-hearted.  While every country has it challenges, somehow the rafts of legislative frameworks in South Africa make it doubly so.  The distillery needed an identity and Deep South was chosen as a name that paid tribute to the location of the distillery. The name was registered, and internet domains, trademark searches and the concept took shape.

But the road to a licence really starts with finding premises, for without these the licence application cannot even practicably begin.  After several months of looking, we finally found something suitable in a little industrial area near Kommetjie. And so with the factory acquired, the long, arduous process of licensing and registering a craft distillery began.    It was a process that was to take nearly 2 years, during which we could not sell spirits or really generate any income from being a craft distillery.

Among the many interesting people he met along the way, Steve encountered James Copeland, a crafter who had been making rum in his garage and who aspired to opening his own distillery called Copeland Rum. Their shared values in great spirits led to a collaboration for a time to establish a distillery in the valley and bring gins, rums and vodkas to the market, before James  would leave to establish his own distillery, having successfully brought his first rum to the market.

A year of hard work ensued as the factory was gutted and rebuilt for the ground up to comply with the regulations for making spirits, equipment was designed and ordered, and every aspect of a working distillery was dreamed about, discussed, plotted and debated with experts in plumbing, drainage, electrical reticulation, roofing, insulation, heat management, pumps, filtering and of course, distilling.

Recipes for rum, vodka and gin were developed and tested in the emerging lab, and private tasting groups and events were held to test these in the market and refine the flavours and aromas.  Packaging design, bottles and closure selection and the identification of suppliers were important tasks, as was the appointment of suppliers of our ingredients, from chemicals to botanicals, and molasses to neutral spirits.  The paperwork of incorporating the business and licensing it seemed endless.   And the longer it took for the licences to be approved, the more nerve-racking the days become.

Until the great day came when we were advised of our provisional approval, followed by the regulatory site visits and final approval.

But that was only the beginning – for now although we could legitimately make the spirits, we needed to sell them too – and not just in the distillery. We had gained some traction with distributors and sales outlets, but until we could actually make spirits legally, not much could be done in this area.

And so the long and winding road continues, each day filled with triumphs and challenges, growth and fun….

What is behind the logo?

When we kicked off the process of developing a craft distillery in Kommetjie, we wanted to pay tribute to the beautiful place in which we live. So we were pretty sure that Deep South would be the name of the distillery, but we needed a logo. So we went global. For the brand development and logos, we ran a competition on a crowd-design website, where we invited designers from around the world to submit their concepts for a brand that would be a little different, a little fun, and that would link somehow to the Deep South. We got 150 designs and submissions in a week and it was hard work to go through them all. We picked 10 favourites and circulated the designs to a sample audience with one important question: Which of these designs would entice you into buying a bottle, just because of the logo. More than two thirds of respondents said “Pick the Penguin! Pick the Penguin!”. And so we did.

But why is it upside down?

We often invite visitors to give us their own reasons for the inversion of our penguin, and we must say, their reasons are quite a lot more colourful than the real reason.  Well: the penguin as a logo was conceptualised by a young woman who lives in the Ukraine.  Her reasoning was that if you live in the Deep South in the southern hemisphere, then your penguins are going to be  hanging upside down, on the bottom of the world!  If there were penguins in the Arctic, they would of course be upright!

We are not sure if our penguin is male or female, and it does not have a name yet, but there’s a competition in there somewhere to ask our fans and followers to help us complete his/her identity.

African Penguin logo for Deep South Distillery