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A cliché, but very true: Namibia is a country of contrasts. From its people to the environment, the diversity found in this country is quite surprising for a land predominantly made up of desert and with a population that doesn’t even number three million. Yet, this heterogeneous mix of characters and surroundings is the reason why more than a million people visit the country annually.
Text and Photographs Le Roux van Schalkwyk
Swakopmund, the popular coastal town with its rich history and beautiful Wilhelmine architecture, is home to the craft distillery Stillhouse Atlantic which creates gins that embody the Namibian spirit. The distillery uses Namibian ingredients that may seem to contradict each other just as much as Namibia seems to be made up of conflicting elements, but yet produces gins that come together in a perfect balance of flavours.
Established in 2017, Stillhouse is a boutique distillery owned by Sandy and Pierre le Roux. It all began as a hobby for Sandy who is responsible for distilling these delicious juniper spirits. Starting at home with a 20 litre pot still, she experimented with various spirits, but mainly gin. She decided to increase her knowledge of the process by doing a course on gin making in South Africa. This was the catalyst that ignited her passion for distilling and soon afterwards she completed the master distillers course. When she upgraded to a 100 litre still she realised that her hobby was taking up too much space in her house: the seed for starting a small distillery was planted. An opportunity for this dream to become true presented itself soon enough and Sandy decided to leave the world of graphic design and focus on producing spirits.
The name Stillhouse originated in the United States and is an old-fashioned term for a distillery. It means exactly what it says: a place of distillation. Atlantic was added for living at the coast and being a family of surfers and therefore very close to the ocean.
The distillery’s flagship product is the Stillhouse Gin. When developing this gin the focus was on blending traditional botanicals with Namibian botanicals like the !Nara melon, hand-picked sea lettuce and plants endemic to the world’s oldest desert. Of the 14 botanicals contained in the gin, 10 are found locally. While the other botanicals produce the floral and citrus notes, the !Nara adds a cucumber and earthy flavour that brings the gin together nicely. As with the rest of the country’s diverse landscapes, the coast is no different. Famously known as the coastline where dunes meet the ocean, visitors come from all over to experience the visually pleasing contrast of sea and sand (the ‘sand sea’) merging. In the same vein Stillhouse pairs the !Nara, growing on the dunes, with sea lettuce – which is not only symbolic but each of them also adds its own unique characteristics that give Stillhouse Gin its distinct flavour.
The Stillhouse Wild, launched recently, is softer in flavour and not as robust as the Stillhouse Gin variety. Its distinct light pink colour is the result of wild hibiscus being one of the ingredients. Pink-coloured gins are usually infused with rose petals and somewhat overdone, whereas thankfully the Stillhouse Wild is unpretentious and offers a much wider flavour profile than other pink gins. Other ingredients that add to the complexity of this particular Stillhouse include pink pepper, African rosemary and cascara coffee cherries.
The third member of the Stillhouse range is not a gin, but a liqueur and the recent recipient of a gold medal at the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Awards. The Umber Coffee Liqueur is a cold brew liqueur, made by infusing the spirit of Stillhouse Atlantic with rich freshly roasted coffee from fellow Swakopmunders, Two Beards Coffee Roasters. The result is a liqueur with earthy, chocolatey flavours complemented by notes of summer fruit. It is an excellent choice for Dom Pedros or even an addition to milkshakes.