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Deep South Distillery

The long road to 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 and the long and slow application and approval processes to become a legal business in South Africa make it doubly so.   

It started with a dream and a vision of what the distillery would do, what its products and services might be, and how it might operate.  And of course this meant visiting other distilleries to learn about what craft distilling actually is, doing some market research, and talking to the many different people, from lawyers to brand ambassadors for advice and suggestions.  Many, many people kindly shared their knowledge and passion for free; others were paid!

The dream became a business plan – a long to-do list of things that needed to happen to make the dream a reality. And then we started the process of ticking these items off, one by one. 

The distillery needed an identity.  We chose the slightly risky name of Deep South because we wanted a name that paid tribute to the location of the distillery at the tip of Africa, and residents of the Cape Peninsula were starting to identify this beautiful area as the ‘far south’ or the ‘deep south’.    The company name was registered, internet domains secured, social media platforms colonised, trademark searches and registration completed and the identity began to take shape.

But the road to obtaining 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 our business as 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.

But a distillery is so much more than a legal entity:  it needs products, it needs a brand, and it needs to evolve a cu;ture and a set of values.   And despite some early experiments in home distillingwe still knew very little about distilling. 

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. We collaborated for a time to establish a distillery in the valley and bring gin and rum to the market, before James would leave to establish his own distillery, having successfully brought his first rum to the market.

Eighteen months of hard work ensued as the factory was gutted and rebuilt almost from 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.

One high point, and perhaps a sign of things to come, was the success of our first gin in its first competition. Yes – our Cape Dry Fynbos Gin won a double-gold medal at the MichelAngelo International Wine and Spirits Competition before we even received our licence.  How frustrating it was not to be able to sell it at the time!

But finally the great day came when we were advised of our provisional approval, followed by the regulatory site visits and final approval and we could begin to trade.   

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 who were interested in listing us, but until we could actually make spirits legally, not much could be done in this area.  But at least we were now fully legal and, at last, licenced.

Repairs and Renovations

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