Rivertown was awarded a Gold and two Double Awards at the 2022 awards, and we wanted to find out more about this unique brand.
Please tell us your name, a bit about yourself, and your role in the company.
I am Carl Grossmann. I come from a background in land surveying, having worked in the Land Surveying Department of the University of KwaZulu-Natal for 20 years. Furthermore, I am also the founder and Chair of the African Conservation Trust which is a broad based environmental NPO. As with a number of distillers, I started my journey in my garage as a hobby and passion. I find the distilling equipment works of art! I completed formal training in distillation in 2018 and shortly thereafter became a professional distiller.
Please tell us when your company was founded and some of its history.
There are three of us in the company, and we started the Rivertown brand in January 2022. The name and brand arose from myself and Siphamandla Mthethwa (a highly respected Durban mixologist) entering the first SA Brandy Innovation Challenge in 2021. When debating the name of the product we were pitching, Siphamandla suggested Rivertown. Rivertown is the name of a precinct in Durban that used to house the old municipal beer hall, which at that time was the only legal place in the city centre where only men were allowed to drink traditional beer. This impinged on the traditional beer brewing heritage conducted by women and in the late 1950s they marched on the beer halls across the province and this aided in the promulgation of The Liquor Law Amendment Bill. Read the full story on our website.
What is your most unique product?
Our Rivertwon RUIN Spirit Apéritif. The RUIN is a take on the words RUm gIN and that is exactly what it is. We have taken some of the common spices that you find in a spiced rum and incorporated those into a 15 botanical gin and then blended in a small amount of dark rum. This has produced an absolutely unique taste and aroma that is proving very popular. It is a very versatile drink that can be mixed with traditional Indian Tonic Water or Ginger Ale or Cola.
Are all your spirits fermented and distilled the same way?
Our rum is fermented from molasses and aged in American Oak barrels and finished on French Oak. With the company being based on the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal, we will be looking at the introduction of a rum agricole (sugarcane juice fermentations) range of products in 2023.
What is your philosophy regarding the making of spirits?
Rivertown follows the craft philosophy where every bottle that leaves our premises has been touched by one of the owners and in particular myself. I personally fill every bottle, and we literally label every bottle by hand. Not even a manual labelling machine!
What are the different spirits you have currently, and the differences between them?
The Rivertown range consists of three gins, namely our African Dry Gin which is our standard cocktail pouring gin, probably akin to your Bombay Sapphire. We have our African Sky Blue Gin, which is a herbal gin with our signature Mhlonyane botanical giving it a distinctive African flavour. We have our pink Ruby Grapefruit and Orange Blossom Gin that was panel selected for the SA Gin Box in 2022. As mentioned above, we also have our RUIN Spirit Apéritif, as well as a Dark Rum and a Vodka.
Where are your products available?
Our products are available through our website www.rivertown.co.za with a link to the Hillcrest Tops online shop. We will hopefully be on Takealot early in 2023. The three gins and the RUIN have been taken on by Independent Liquor (https://independentliquor.co.za ) and distribution is growing nationally. Please contact them if you wish to stock any of our products.
Do you perhaps have some innovations in the pipeline?
I have recently become obsessed with the idea of making my own molasses by hand. I have been studying methods from India, Egypt and the USA on hand making molasses (syrup). Not only that, but I then fancy a fermentation blend of sugar cane juice and handmade molasses to produce a very select rum.
A more personal question, recall the most interesting spirits you ever had, the occasion, and the memory.
Well, I wouldn’t say the most interesting but certainly the most catalytic drink I ever had was a Malawi Gin in 1993 during a trans Africa Cape to Cairo overland trip I did. It became an iconic gin for us South Africans before the big gin boom, and set me on the path as a gin lover and ultimately a distiller.