The Australian distiller putting African gin in the world's best bars

WEND FOOD: Procera African juniper gin bottle and finished martini at Maybe Sammy. December 10, 2020. Photo by Anna Kucera
WEND FOOD: Procera African juniper gin bottle and finished martini at Maybe Sammy. December 10, 2020. Photo by Anna Kucera Photo: Anna Kucera

For a continent home to thousands of botanicals it's astonishing there isn't more African-made gin, says Guy Brennan, who calls himself an "Australian immigrant in Kenya". 

Rather than keep whinging about the lack of African spirits, the former Sydneysider has taken things into his own hands.

"My wife and I were drinking Bombay Sapphire with a few mates in the backyard, and we noticed how many botanicals from Africa were listed on the gin's label," he says.

Australian-born founder of Kenya's Procera gin distillery, Guy Brennan.
Australian-born founder of Kenya's Procera gin distillery, Guy Brennan. Photo: Supplied

"I said 'Why the hell are we sending these ingredients to London for some bloke to make gin and sell it back to Africa at a premium? Why don't we start making our own spirits instead?'."

So he did. Distilled in Nairobi with fresh native juniper, Brennan's Procera gin launched in 2018 and became available in Australia for the first time this week. 

Before reaching Australian shores, Procera took home consecutive gold medals at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, and could be found at London's most acclaimed bars such as The Savoy, Connaught and Scarfes.

WEND FOOD:  Bartender at Maybe Sammy making a martini with the Procera African juniper gin. December 10, 2020. Photo by ...
WEND FOOD: Bartender at Maybe Sammy making a martini with the Procera African juniper gin. December 10, 2020. Photo by Anna Kucera Photo: Anna Kucera

"We were the first African spirit to be poured at all those top London bars," Brennan says.

At Mayfair's Duke's Bar, where Ian Fleming is said to have invented James Bond's Vesper cocktail, Procera has become the favourite gin of bartending legend Alessandro Palazzi.

"Alessandro tastes thousands of gins, but I think he was blown away by ours because of the fresh, green juniper," Brennan says.

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"Almost all gins use dried juniper, because that's how it's able to be transported around the world. But we can distill at the source using fresh juniperus procera, native to Kenya's high plateaus. People aren't used to the brightness fresh juniper gives to gin."

Procera is also distilled with African botanicals including Madagascan pink pepper, Moroccan orris root, Swahili lime, Somalian acacia honey and selim pepper from Nigeria. 

A 500ml mouth-blown bottle retails for $160 and can be shipped nationally through online store Shorty's Liquor. 

Sydney CBD bars Maybe Sammy and The Barbershop are the only Australian venues pouring Procera to date, however Melbourne stockists are expected to be announced soon.

"It has a super delicate flavour profile with pine needle freshness, loads of citrus up front and gentle pepperiness," Maybe Sammy operations manager Will Oxenham says. 

"I can't imagine using it in a gin and tonic, but with the smallest splash of vermouth, a bone-dry martini is the way to go. It's pretty much a martini in a bottle already."

Brennan grew up in Balmain and sold booze at Rozelle before heading to London for a career in finance. 

He moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2006 for a job with global microfinance company FINCA, and worked in countries such as Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan until the idea for Procera came about.

The distillery founder is developing a new product called Africa 55, which he hopes will help change people's perception of his adopted continent as a place of "disease and corruption".

"I want people to see that Africa can make products that are among the best in the world," he says. 

"Africa 55 will showcase one botanical from each African country while giving money back to local communities. It will mean every country in Africa can be represented at the world's top bars."

New Australian spirits for summer

While Procera gin is impressing drinkers in New York and London, Australia's spirits industry continues to go from strength to strength. Here's five new domestic releases for the home bar cart.

Four Pillars Australian Christmas Gin 700ml, $100

The Yarra Valley distillery's annual holiday gin is back, heady with juniper and cinnamon and hint of muscat. Sold out online, but still available in select bottle shops.

Best for: a Christmas Eve negroni before the neighbours rock up.

Pacific Moonshine 700ml, $90

A cheeky little hooch collaboration between Cape Byron Distillery and Stone & Wood Brewery. Bursting with lychee, pineapple and citrus.

Best for: drinking with ginger beer on a verandah while a storm comes in.

Starward Dolce Single Malt Whisky 500ml, $119

Dessert whisky from the pioneering Melbourne distillery, featuring aromas of dried fruit and marshmallow with cola on the palate, but too enjoyable to mix with Coke.

Best for: sipping with ice-cream and regifted panettone.

Grainshaker Wheat Vodka 750ml, $60

A silo-to-shotglass spirit handmade in Melbourne with citrus notes and a pleasant whack of vanilla. Smooth enough for a straight pour, but with great spritz potential too.

Best for: Boxing Day Bloody Mary in front of the cricket.

Ester Strong Gin 700ml, $114

At 57 per cent ABV, this new Sydney gin should be used sparingly. Finger lime and cardamom are dominant botanicals, and an eucalyptus freshness makes for killer martinis.

Best for: getting the party started on New Year's Eve.