When life gives you Juniper berries, make Gin! – Laurie Buchanan

Autograph Gin is all about signature style. And the style it signifies is African Dry – something the brand’s co-owner Anthony Norton and distiller Matt Beech are championing.

Home is where the Gin is

It is no coincidence that the historical area of Bosman’s Crossing ( an old entrance to the town of Stellenbosch that was named in 1881 after Daniel Bosman, who ran a brandy distillery on the site) was chosen to be the home for Autograph Gin. Here, where the ‘De Steenenbrug’, the bridge over the Plankenbrug River ( a tributary of Stellenbosch Eerste Rivier), was built as the first public works project in the area. In this picturesque blend of heritage and an industrial look, at 13 Distillery Road is where the rich history of Gin can be felt as the inspiration for the Autograph brand, telling the story of the evolution and development of Gin over the centuries.

The interior has an old industrial look, and it feels a bit like stepping back in history, right into the 11th and 12th centuries when medieval monks were heating wine in primitive gadgets in an attempt to discover more about these “waters of life. It even makes me think of the period of the so-called Black death plague when doctors wore duckbill masks filled with juniper, hoping that this would ward off the plague!

Let the fun be Gin

The early years

In Wellington, on the farm Versailles, in the Western Cape, the Jorgensen’s Distillery was founded in 1994 by pioneer and master distiller Roger Jorgensen. It became the first private distillery in South Africa, and he was the first to receive a distilling licence. Roger took inspiration from this landscape and its rich heritage to produce an extensive range of truly artisan spirits.

And it was by the hands of this godfather of craft gin that Matt Beech was trained as a distiller. Roger shared his knowledge, new recipes and skills with Matt.

” I enjoy being a young, mad scientist behind the beakers and boilers” – Matt Beech

At age 23 years old, Matt is one of the youngest distillers in South Africa. In his own words, ” I have a taste for those older weird, eccentric things like film cameras and old Zippos.”

He is originally from Johannesburg. In 2017, he took a gap year and travelled to North America. His happy place is right here now, in the heart of the Winelands and close to sea, where he enjoys surfing and the outdoor life.

Upon returning from overseas, he seriously needed a job. It was then that he fell in love with the complexities of bartending. For him, it was not a tedious job. Time spent behind the bar allowed him to taste everything, to grow his palate and passion for spirits. This job was very much like being a therapist as well! Many people come in here after a difficult day at work, and he had learned to recommend a drink according to the mood they reflect. He also needs a good sense of humour to cope with all the different kind of personalities sitting around the bar!

It was here and with a bit of luck and family guidance that he met the directors of Autograph Gin in 2017. He was at the right place and the right time. Anthony Norton has started a gin business, Autograph Distillery. In December 2018, Autograph Gin was officially launched.

Autograph Gin won the Top Scoring Craft Gin of 2018 awards at the Michelangelo Wine & Spirits Award. It also won a Loerie Award in August 2018 for its innovative packaging and design.

And now, in 2021: Autograph Gin won Double gold: Best in Category Contemporary Autograph Signet Gin. This handcrafted contemporary Gin, made here in the distillery in the heart of Stellenbosch, is a product that Matt Beech has exclusively created.

Meet Zoëy: Heads, Hearts & Tails – Drink it!

At the back of the distillery is a 380-litre stainless steel artisanal pot still called Zoëy. ( named after Beech’s sister middle name) Here, he uses his creativity to find a recipe and the science to run the pot still. To be a good distiller, he needs to have a good palate and a “damn fine nose.” He is also willing to make mistakes because imperfection gives you a good gin. But how does the distillery process works?

The distillate’s initial part is called the “heads” ( the foreshot). This contains most of the toxic methanol produced as a fermentation byproduct. The rest of the head constitutes the distillate up to the choice where Matt starts collecting the ethanol. This is known as the “first cut” from the head to the heart. Thus, Matt’s creative option to cut the heads to include as much light aroma while excluding methanol. Therefore he can recycle them.
The heart is the main body of the distillate that Matt keeps. It is the part of the process where most of the ethanol comes through the still and contains pleasant flavour compounds. Again, how much of the distillate to keep as the heart before the “second cut” begins the tail is a creative decision he has to make.

Once the second cut to the distillate has been made, the still is stopped. Tails is made while the still is on and once distillation is done, they purge the still and clean it with cold water. There are not equal amounts of heads, hearts and tails volume. Therefore, Matt will need to pay close attention throughout the distillation run to determine when the heads, hearts and tails cut must be made.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
“Don’t judge a Gin by its Colour” – Matt Beech.

The Autograph Gin is a mix of exciting botanicals and fynbos native to South Africa, including citrus Buchu leaves, ‘naartjies’: Cape rough skin lemons; wild rosemary, overtones fragrant coriander, confetti bush and African wormwood. Beech said: ” We wrote a London Dry recipe based on an African garden” This garden is right outside the distillery’s door. Almost all the botanicals( apart from imported Juniper berries, coriander and Angelica Root) are grown onsite at Autograph Gin’s home at Bosman’s Crossing.

Even the gold Gin colour gets its distinct gold colour from the hibiscus used to make the Gin.

The result is a great spirit that can best be served simply as a double shot, neat on the rocks!

” Success is when your signature becomes your Autograph.”

Master Craftsmen would be proud to attach their signature to this brand. They are producing Gin recipes based on only natural botanicals and underlying base spirits. They don’t use any synthetic products or food colourants in their Gin, nor do they use freeze-dried botanicals and source all of their botanicals from their garden.

It is indeed a signature of approval.

We are proud to celebrate World Gin Day on Saturday, 12 June, with our very own distillery in the heart of Bosman’s Crossing in Stellenbosch. Home is indeed where the Gin is.