Making award-winning craft gins is not enough for Rachel Smith, who ‘garnishes’ her cocktail of talents with food industry bursaries for talented individuals.
What does it take to be an award-winning craft gin entrepreneur? We chatted to Rachel Smith of Smiths™ Gin/Bursary Spirits to find out more about the ginspiration behind the brand.
Rachel started out as a sales graduate at Brandhouse and, after a few years working in the alcohol industry, she was looking to partner with an existing brand. ‘This wasn’t an option for the brands I engaged with, so decided to develop my own brand from scratch using the experience and industry network I’d developed over the years,’ Rachel says. The result? Three craft gins, all of which walked away winners at the SA Craft Gin Awards of 2019.
Elderflower (a classic, floral dry gin) took double gold as did Spice (a bold marsala-like dry gin reminiscent of a spice emporium) and the third variant, Citrus (a vibrant, fresh mix of grapefruit, lemons and oranges) took gold. ‘The gins were entered into the inaugural South African Craft Gin Awards,’ Rachel explains. ‘Out of 110 individual gin entries, each variant of Smiths™ South African dry gins won at the event. Samples of each variant were blind tasted by a panel of six judges, then scored to discover the top South African craft gins.’
We all know gin is having a serious moment in South Africa (and across the globe). It’s gone from being a drink we associate with our grandmothers to being the fastest-growing category in the South African market. ‘Thanks to gin’s versatility and accessible price, it’s allowed many experimental consumers to enjoy gin in other ways beyond a classic G&T. The flavour spectrum and variations appeal to a much wider demographic group with their different expectations for a product – colourful, aged, blended, neat, shimmery etc.,’ Rachel says.
But the gin boom comes with its own set of challenges. ‘Most retailers are apprehensive about listing new brands, with their gin category being either saturated with many brands, or filled with slow-moving lines,’ Smith explains.
‘Many have undergone category relays which prohibit any new gins being listed for a period in order to let the slow lines sell out, or are allowing only a select number of gins within the category.’
So how can a ‘new kid on the block’ make its mark (besides winning multiple awards, of course)? ‘When I developed Smiths™, I wanted it to be fun-loving, creative and adventurous, which I was not seeing in-store, with most gins having a clear bottle with a white label,’ Rachel says.
‘Using advanced printing technology and the magnification effect of the gin inside the bottle, I was able to accentuate the bright designs by the team at A Love Supreme for each variant to really shine. I’ve also ensured that every type of gin consumer is satisfied by offering a variant with each gin, as specified by many tonic pairing wheels such as the Fever-Tree pairing wheel.’
What really sets Smiths™ apart from the competition is its sense of social responsibility, something of a first in this industry. ‘Understanding that economic growth comes from innovation and education, I decided to take the opportunity to grow the South African economy through funding bursaries in the hospitality industry,’ Rachel says.
‘Through my company, Bursary Spirits, applications will be open bi-annually for talented individuals to apply for funding towards furthering themselves in this vast, multi-level industry. I hope to take people from bartender to front house management or even help talented individuals develop their own brand and hospitality outlets. These bursaries don’t require any return on the Smiths™ brand and equip individuals to progress upwards.’
Details: smithsginza.co.za @smithsginza
Yummy Smiths™ Bramble cocktail recipe
Rachel shares one of her favourite cocktail recipes, Smiths™ Bramble, with us.
50ml of any variant of Smiths™ SA craft dry gin; 15ml blackberry liqueur; 30ml fresh lemon juice; 15ml simple sugar syrup (ratio of sugar to water = 1:1)
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add the selected gin, lemon juice and sugar syrup. Shake and strain over fresh ice into a short tumbler, pour the blackberry liqueur on top and garnish with a blackberry or lemon twist.
The gins are also ideal for the epicurean consumer, with suggested food pairings readily available. ‘Our Spice gin with tonic, on the rocks or with soda water, pairs perfectly with biryani, shrimp or pork dumplings, bobotie, Cape Malay curry or milk tart. It can also be added as an alternative in hot drinks such as a Dom Pedro, Irish coffee or Chai tea,’ Rachel says.
‘Our Elderflower gin with cranberry juice or iced tea is magnificent served with malva pudding, red velvet cake, carrot cake or koe(k)sisters.
Lastly, our Citrus gin with tonic, ginger beer or still/sparkling water, together with vetkoek, braaivleis/shisa nyama, Gatsby, fish and chips or a kota is a match made in heaven.’
That said, Rachel recommends a slice of lemon/lime and a mint leaf as a classic garnish. ‘It cuts through and balances any sweetness from the mixers paired with the gins,’ Rachel advises.