The local ANC office asked her to become a councilor and soon she was deputy mayor. Part of her portfolio was to further develop the “green” aspects of the projects she was already working on. So she went back to university at the age of 55 to do an executive course on sustainable development.
“In the process I had the realisation that we have the most incredibly inspiring potential in our region to bring people together and to bring awareness around what we have as a modern SA culture. The core story to tell is sense of place and our ‘brand’, which involves the use of botanicals that have been used by humans for more than 250,000 years, gives us this sense of belonging.
“The idea of making gin was born out of that. Gin is the only spirit that you create by infusing natural botanicals into a neutral spirit. So I could play. I could work with this palate of 9,500 different floras and species of which the majority are aromatic and have a history of medicinal and culinary use.
“When I started seven years ago, nobody would give us the time of day. My son Rohan and I used to mess around with my little pot still. About two years into my journey I realised that we had a second resource in the Stilbaai retirees most of whom are highly educated and bored stiff. So I managed to inspire a couple of them to get involved and support my vision. Among them was a retired Oude Molen master distiller, the late David Ackar. (He also developed the first Booth’s and Gilbey’s gin). The kindest person, who took my hand and helped us refine our recipes. And I had botanists like the late Dr Tol Pienaar. His wife still grows and propagates my fynbos. He’d take me out foraging in the veld and teach me about everything and I’d try out each plant in my pot still.
“I started out working with 9,500 plants — they keep discovering new ones and I think we had about 12,000 last year. Tol helped me select about 150 medicinal plants that were available close by and I worked through one by one and ended up with three little heaps, because they tasted nice together. We also developed an in-house steam procedure because they are all so delicate. You have to boil the juniper in the spirit to bring out the flavor but doing the same thing to fynbos really changes the character. You lose a lot of the soft, delicate flavours.
“I was originally just going to launch the Classic gin and was looking for the local botanicals that would fit the citrus profiles. So we used a lot of buchu, pelargoniums with a natural citrus element, and aniseed notes. But then we found flavours that didn’t fit so I ended up with three. They actually designed themselves because, as Tol noted, the three profiles contained plants that came from three distinct regions mountain, coastal and lime around this area. Classic has limestone fynbos and is refreshing, dry and crisp citrus; Verdant is the mountain fynbos, soft, smooth and floral for summer; Amber with coastal fynbos is rich and aromatic with woody notes, a more winter feel.”
For the base Lorna prefers a neutral spirit. “We now buy in neutral pure cane spirit. It is the best, cleanest pure ethanol basically but it has a lovely sweet character, and is a better vehicle for the kind of florals we use. Most other gins use a grain but it is a bit like a whisky, which has a distinct malt base note that you don’t lose.”
I asked about the rumors of a buy-out and her answer comes fast and clear.
“I’ve been bombarded with offers form some of the big guns who really didn’t grasp my vision. I obviously need a cash injection to grow from what is still very much a garagista operation to something that can keep up with the demand. This group of investors shares my vision to move the company to the next level. They assist with their individual strengths and are great sounding boards.”
With production doubling every six months, Inverroche now produces 10000 to 12000 bottles a month. Despite this growth, they have retained their core identity, remaining authentic and investing in the local communities. They separate the line productions and there is a lot of outsourcing. Fynbos is propagated under controlled situations in various private nurseries but then grown wild and all hand picked. “My vision is to keep every aspect of what I believe our business is about: the story of man being close to the environment and tangible skills we can retain and pass on.”
This is a totally handmade story from start to finish. Even the labels are hand written. “As demand grows we will grow our ‘nodes’ with individual pot stills, but with centralised labeling and boxing. It’s not about taking advantage of economies of scale. We are about empowering people.
Inverroche distributes to 14 countries and the UK just opened up. “Down the road from Sipsmiths there is a bar that doesn’t have any of their gins on its shelves, but it does have Inverroche.”