At the Gin Festival this past weekend we had the opportunity to speak with Johnny Neill, Founder and Managing Director of award-winning gin, Whitley Neill. Johnny found the inspiration for his botanicals in Africa in part because his wife is South African. Arguably the most innovative ingredient in Johnny’s gin recipe is the fruit of the baobab tree - the tree of life. It turns out, it’s also the tree of libation.
In the Limpopo Province of South Africa towards Kruger Park sits what by some measures is the world’s largest baobab. At 47 metres in circumference and 22 metres high, the Sunland Baobab as it is known, has been growing in what is now the town of Modjajiskloof for at least 1,000 years old with another estimate placing its age at 6,000 years old. The results differ so much because carbon dating is the only way to date a baobab tree and since the Sunland Baobab is still living, carbon dating is not at accurate.
But that does not deter the tree’s visitors from enjoying their time.
The proprietors of the land on which the tree grows, the van Heerden family, discovered a hollow inside to the tree with “caverns and caves” reaching up to four metres high. So what did they do? They turned those caverns into a bar! Today, the over 7,000 visitors that stop by the van Heerden’s ranch can stop in for a pint on tap while playing a game of darts and learning about the history of the tree which includes artifacts from Bushmen as well as 19th Century Dutch colonists.
The Baobab Bar is also a wine cellar. One of its naturally-formed chambers keeps a constant temperature of 22 degrees while also being ventilated, allowing for the perfect place to store some of that fabulous South African wine.
We here at the Craft Gin Club are certainly fans of the multitude of speakeasies popping up in cities around the world. But no matter how clever their theme and authentic their decoration and atmosphere, none can compete with nature’s largest tree which houses the ultimate speakeasy.