Having cut their teeth on gin, so to speak, Hope Distillery founders Lucy Beard and Leigh Lisk have successfully branched out into other artisanal liquors in recent years – they distill their own as well as producing products for other brands.

Their newly branded Hope Small Batch Vodka, distilled from a grape base sourced in the Western Cape, is a delicate balance of pot-stilled and rectified spirit. A natural complement to the initial products in the range – the process of making vodka is not unlike that of making gin – the vodka neatly dovetails into their existing production line and long-term vision.

“Gin starts life as vodka – essentially a high-strength neutral alcohol – so it made sense for us to make vodka, considering that we were already making gin,” says Lucy. Where it differs is that, for gin, you simply distill the vodka one more time together with the botanicals, one of which is the juniper berry, and this is what defines it as gin.

Vodka can be produced using a variety of raw materials, but the Hope team initially decided to concentrate on a grape-based spirit for theirs. “We thought about releasing both a grain and a grape vodka (we used to make our own grain base spirit for the London Dry and African Botanical gins), but we decided to go only with the grape, partly inspired by Cape Town’s winelands,” says Lucy.

The vodka distillation process is not without its challenges. Unlike gin, in which the botanicals have a huge impact on flavour and mouthfeel, you only have the distillation process and water to play with. “In vodka, the key element is smoothness and both the distillation process and the blending water used are integral to this,” explains Lucy. “We also only use a small part of the distillation and blend this with water from the Table Mountain aquifer. This ensures that our vodka is smooth enough to be sipped on ice.”

Unlike gin, vodka doesn’t allow for much experimentation, and the technical nature of the distilling means that flavour must be established without the use of botanicals. According to Lucy, it’s far more of a purist process than gin. “You need to extract smoothness, purity and hints of flavour from the underlying alcohol, which is far more difficult,” she asserts.

Whichever spirit they take on, the non-negotiable is quality and producing a product that stands out. Currently playing with the idea of a rum distilled from a sugar-cane base, and considering whisky for the future, Hope continues to strive for artisanal excellence. “For us, it’s about creating something exceptional; something instilled with integrity and passion; something that will become the perfect accompaniment to people’s special moments,” says Lucy.

As far as the vodka goes, the Hope team recommends it be served on the rocks with a lemon twist, or with soda or tonic and a squeeze of lemon or a slice of lime. If something flamboyant is more to your taste, it is equally suited to making a beautiful cocktail (see the Hope Bloody Mary recipe below).

THE HOPE BLOODY MARY

50ml Hope Small Batch Vodka
100ml tomato juice
10-12ml fresh lemon juice (to taste)
A few dashes of Tabasco
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of black pepper

Pour all the ingredients into a mixing glass filled with ice and stir well until chilled. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with a celery stick or some speared olives and fresh herbs of your choice.

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