One morning in South Africa, just over two years ago, Paula Ansley woke up her husband, Les, with an idea that seemed crazy: “Do you think we could make gin out of elephant dung?” That inspiration is today a business that exports gin with hints of African savannah to Germany or Switzerland.
Under the label of “Indlovu Gin”, a term that means “elephant” in several languages of southern Africa, this marriage – the South African, she British – already produces about 1,000 bottles of its original gin and around double its pink version. a month.
It is sold, above all, in its country of origin, South Africa, where the consumption of gin has been experiencing a real “boom” in recent years, to the point that small artisan distilleries went from just a dozen to more than sixty in just five years.
Not suitable for less “adventurous” drinkers
But with its peculiar business card, not suitable for less “adventurous” drinkers, Indlovu has already entered European markets such as Belgium, Germany or Switzerland and, if all goes well, it will soon make the leap to Japan.
«It has a very herbaceous, earthy flavor and is very smooth, almost buttery in the mouth. It has a very nice texture and when you swallow it there is not that rough feeling of alcohol. It has no sugar or anything added, so it does not give you that intense burning when you swallow “, tells Efe Les Ansley about this peculiar product that pairs especially well, according to its creators, with coffee and chocolate.
The secret of this pachydermal gin is in the curious diet of elephants: the gigantic herbivores spend about 18 hours a day gobbling the around 300 kilos of food they need per day to survive and their menu is incredibly varied, made up of multiple types of roots, bushes and leaves of trees of the African savannah.
Still, they only digest 30% of what they gobble up. What happens with the rest? It becomes excrement. Specifically, in 80 kilos of organic waste per adult animal every day.
Those data were just one more curiosity among the many that the Ansleys heard from a guide who accompanied them on the first family safaris they carried out, after moving to South Africa from the United Kingdom, where they had resided for 15 years.
From there, however, the spark arose to create Indlovu.
“We contacted the Botlierskop reserve, which is where we had taken the children, and asked them, ‘Would you mind sending us elephant droppings?’ And they said ‘sure, no problem!’ So they sent it to us and we started to see how to wash and treat it, “explains Les Ansley.
The process resulted in a conglomerate of leaves and herbs that the Ansleys brought to an expert, Roger Jorgensen (considered the father of artisanal gin in South Africa), as they had no experience in the distillery sector.
Without revealing what it was, they gave Jorgensen to taste and smell the extracts obtained from elephant dung and asked him if he believed that gin could be made with infusion of that product.
This guru of South African gin not only said yes, but when he found out what it was, he thought it was a brilliant idea and joined the project to protect the distillation process.
The elephant, a “vulnerable” species
Based in Paarl, a town about 50 kilometers from Cape Town known rather for its wines, the project grew with “word of mouth” and the enthusiasm of specialized critics.
Each bottle comes with a label that tells which elephants the excrement that gave rise to each batch of liquor, a kind of designation of origin similar to that of wine with grapes, since the flavor of gin also varies, for example , depending on the collection site and the seasons.
But for Indlovu to function, it needs wild elephants to feed as it pleases, free from the threat of poaching – primarily targeting the prized ivory of its tusks – that keeps African pachyderms a “vulnerable” species.
Therefore, a part of what you get with Indlovu reverts to nature.
“One of the things we really wanted to add to all of this was also being able to contribute back. So we donate 15% of the profits from gin to African foundations working to conserve wildlife, ”Ansley concludes.