Pienaar & Son is a small craft distillery situated in central Cape Town, a mere stone’s throw from Parliament, and is known for its gorgeous packaging and boutique range of delicious gins – and now a vodka. Headed up by chemical engineer Schalk Pienaar, who has more than 40 years of distilling technology experience, and his son Andre Pienaar, a master distiller who is still in his 20s, Pienaar & Son’s state-of-the-art equipment is hand-built locally, and all their processes are, as they put it, based on ‘cutting-edge nerdy engineering principles developed by the chemical engineering brains behind the operation’. In short, this distillery believes in ‘starting traditions, not following them’. We chatted to Andre to find out more.
What inspired you and your father to start Pienaar & Son?
I was looking for a change in career after being in music for 10 years, and my dad has been building massive distilleries across Africa for over 30 years. Thanks to my BSc degree in Chemistry and Biochemistry, the basic principles of distillation come pretty easily to me, so after playing around in my kitchen with a 20-litre pot still, I saw a window of opportunity open up for us to do what we both do best, which would equate to a technically sound, beautifully branded company producing delicious, quality spirit. The best way to describe it is, my dad made the stove and I’m the chef.
What are the advantages of working in a family business? And are there any disadvantages?
I run all the day-to-day operations, so we don’t really butt heads too much. The great advantage is trust. You don’t have to question anyone’s motives and you know a company with both your names on it means more to each of you than just the money. The biggest disadvantage is not being able to push each other too hard. It’s bit difficult to give your dad ultimatums and strict deadlines.
Why did you decide to situate your distillery in the city centre, and what do you most enjoy about its location?
Even though I enjoy the vibe in Salt River and Woodstock, I feel like you can get lost in the noise there. I have always loved finding tiny gems in the middle of the city and everyone who visits us always says, ‘I can’t believe this is right here in the city – you would never have guessed.’
Which of your gins would you recommend to a new gin drinker?
Most people just starting to drink gin are looking for a gateway gin, not something too medicinal or traditional. If they liked that, they would have been drinking gin a long time ago. I would recommend that a new gin drinker should try our Pienaar & Son Orient. It is an ode to the spice trade that influenced Cape Town culture and cuisine alike, and is a beautifully sweet and spicy combination of vanilla, orange, allspice, ginger, rosemary and other herbal and spicy notes, which people find interesting and delicious.
And which one would you suggest for a gin aficionado?
Someone who is more of an old-timer on the gin scene would probably enjoy our Pienaar & Son Empire, which is a dry and refreshing gin representing the British, who brought gin to our shores many moons ago. It’s more of a traditionally styled gin with intriguing notes of grapefruit, cucumber and cardamom.
Find Pienaar & Son at 1 Roeland Terrace, Cape Town. For more information, to purchase Pienaar & Son products and to book distillery tours and tastings, visit pienaarandson.co.za.