The South African craft gin scene is booming. And for someone as curious and passionate about gin as Sasha Naidoo, it’s only natural that she created her very own brand: Salacia Gin.
It is an Old Tom style gin (slightly sweeter and less juniper-heavy than London Dry style) and is infused with fresh pineapples, green apple skins, lime zest and mint, combined with a blend of juniper berries and exotic spices.
Interestingly, the Durbanite is actually a qualified fashion designer and she also owns a cake business, Sugar Coated Cakes. So how on earth did she start making gin? It seems her interest in flavours had something to do with it. “I’ve always been a food and flavour explorer. My confectionery background has been a great creative outlet for me in terms of design and baking. Finding balance of flavour and texture is so satisfying when I’m developing new recipes,” Sasha says.
After she graduated, she explains that she started baking cakes for small weddings and birthdays as a creative outlet. During that time she contemplated whether she wanted to do a pastry course, start a clothing design business, or get a job. However, her cake business took off and the decision was made for her. “I had a steady flow of incredible baking escapades, and the satisfaction of creating edible works of art couldn’t compare with anything else. I remember the day that I donated my sewing machines and started doing renovations and redesigning my work space to include an industrial cake mixer and ovens. Bittersweet, but it was the best decision I ever made. The cake life definitely chose me and snowballed into the brand that it is today. We are a small team of me and my two awesome assistants.”
Sasha is a huge gin fan and started collecting gin seven years ago. She loves all things royal and regal, and when she discovered that Queen Elizabeth drank gin, the deal was done. Her creativity that showed up in her cake business also came into play when she experimented flavouring gin with fruit and herbs. “[The science around the] varieties of flavours that simple alcohol could take on by adding different botanicals and fruit intrigued me. I experimented with flavouring basic London Dry gins and vodka with spices, fruit and juniper berries. The fridge was filled with bottles of coloured gin (pink from raspberries and strawberries) and bottles filled with herbs and spices. No one was brave enough to taste my concoctions, so I had to be my own guinea pig. Let’s just say that many experiments ended down the drain!”
It was a conversation with a gin distiller that sparked the idea of making her own gin. “While on holiday in Cape Town, a ‘ginventure’ led us to a gin tasting at one of my favourite distilleries. While chatting with the distiller, I mentioned my @thegincollector Instagram account. He chuckled and said, ‘You have more gin than I do, and I make gin! Why don’t you create your own brand?’.”
“A few weeks later, my husband brought up the topic, and said that if he does it, he’s going to be just another guy in this industry, but if I do it, I will be the only Indian female in the world that created and owns a brand of alcohol – and make history.”
Sasha decided to go for it, contacted that distiller and sent him a few flavour combination ideas and started the tasting and experimentation process. “I will never forget the day that our test samples arrived. It was a feeling that can only be compared with holding a newborn baby for the first time.”
She funded her project with her savings and decided that contract distilling was the most cost-effective way to go. “One of the conditions I had, was that I wanted to be a part of the manufacturing process every step of the way. So once I was happy with the final sample, I flew to Cape Town to assist with making the final product. From cutting and peeling the fruit, weighing out our spices, adding it into the still; filling, labelling and packing boxes – I did it all. It was a real labour of love.”
In addition, Sasha and her husband handle the marketing and distribution from Durban. All they had to do was obtain a distribution licence. They built up their client base by taking part in gin festivals and tasting events, with mobile gin bars at weddings and private events, as well as by supplying a few restaurants and via corporate gifting.
Sasha said that she knew no one in the industry and exploring unknown territory was a lonely process at the beginning. Luckily her suppliers and distillery contacts introduced her to others players. “They were always obliging to answer questions and offer advice. Everyone has been so helpful and understanding of the timelines and deadlines, behind-the-scenes hiccups, and just reassuring that all will be well in the end – especially the other craft brand owners. They have all been down the same unknown road and knew what the lonely process felt like.”
Not all gins are created equal. Sasha says she was shocked to learn that there are quite a few artificially coloured and flavoured gins on the market. She hopes to see more stories being written about the real people behind the local craft brands – not only to show the manufacturing process behind craft spirit, but also to educate people about what they’re drinking. “People need to know the difference between a hand-crafted small batch spirit versus a mass produced, factory made alcohol.”
We look forward to seeing what’s next for this serial entrepreneur. A little bird told us it could involve another gin, rum or even vodka!
Keep up with the brand on Instagram.
Author: Leanne Feris