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Tessa Gerlach - Elephant

Tessa Gerlach Elephant Gin
Tessa Gerlach Elephant Gin Interview
Written by Gin Foundry

Elephant Gin is a German made spirit with a distinctly African heart. The gin was founded by Tessa Gerlach, Robin Gerlach and Henry Palmer in 2013, after the trio took a trip to Africa and fell madly in love with the wildlife there. They founded their distillery with a view to raise funds for two Elephant charities - Big Life Foundation and Space for Elephants. We caught up with Tessa to talk 2016, conservation and gin - namely the brand’s newest release: Elephant Sloe Gin.

It’s been almost exactly a year since our last interview… How have you been and what’s 2016 been like for Elephant Gin?

2016 has been a incredible year so far with lots of fun projects and collaborations with existing partners and also new markets (i.e. South Africa) secured. While the main focus remains on our Elephant Gin, we have just released our 2016 Elephant Sloe Gin and also created a handmade Elephant Gin Leather Travel bag containing all the kit needed for adventurous cocktails on the move. The bag will be sold from 7th November at Selfridges. Lots of development time has also been spent perfecting our Elephant Strength Gin of 57% ABV, which is in the pipeline to be sold from February 2017.

Do you feel like you are growing into a truly international brand, it certainly looks like that from the outside?

Our focus has always been to share the product with people from around the world. It makes sense if you think about the fact that Elephant Gin was inspired through our own travels. A good share of the botanicals we use to make the gin are from our journeys through Africa and the bottle-design features many travel-themes (like the label in form of a stamp as a nod to early days explorers or the map showing parts of South Africa). Our whole brand-feel is travel-themed - as it is what we love and want to share.

That all said, selling a product internationally doesn’t mean you become available everywhere on every shelf. In fact, while a number of companies may focus on one country at a time and trying to fill every (suitable) niche in that very market, Elephant Gin is spread across several markets, though often not as easily accessible as other gin-brands.

Do you feel that consumers engage with your gin more as a result of the wider ecological mission or more because they like the taste?

We don’t believe consumers buy the gin only because of its story or mission. In fact, the most increase in demand we have ever noticed was after winning three highly acclaimed industry awards at the beginning of the year, including the Double-Gold and World Spirit Award medals at the World Spirits Awards as well as winning the Contemporary Gin category (another gold medal) at the World Gin Awards.

The focus really lies on the content of the bottle more than what’s around it.  The mission of course is seen as an additional positive aspect to the brand and we are privileged to benefit from great word-of-mouth communication. However, if the product itself would not be convincing than neither would its story.

And how about the conservation mission – how has that evolved over the past 12 months?

Our work with Big Life and Space For Elephants has developed quickly over the years and it is so motivating to see what we have been able to achieve with and through them. So far we have given over EUR 150,000 through the sales of our products as well as targeted events. In Kenya, we are still funding one outpost with eight rangers, covering anything from logistical support to rangers salaries, rations or equipment. We also contribute to Big Life’s efforts of building a 120km fence which serves as a line of protection for the ecosystem that stretches across community land around the Kilimanjaro foothills. The fence is a necessary step in protecting farmers’ crops from being raided by elephants, and simultaneously helps prevent the farmland from further encroaching upon wildlife habitat.

In South Africa, we have built a school and started to train children about the wildlife around them, and how they can make money from saving wildlife instead of destroying it. The aim is also to re-educate adults; especially those that need guiding in their move from poacher to ranger.

The recent WWF statistics made for some depressing reading. Do you see there being a long term and wide reaching solution to poaching that is plausible to achieve within the next 10 years? 

The long term solution is for Asian countries, especially China, to stop buying ivory. But that’s a long while away - and we are quickly running out of time. Big Life’s anti-poaching activities for example are necessary to save the wildlife on the ground and it is remarkable what they have been able to achieve. The problem, however, is that anti-poaching on the ground will become an endless undertaking if the demand for ivory doesn’t drop. We have been in touch with the incredible Andrea Costa from Elephant League who is attacking the problem from the other side in mainland China, Vietnam and Hong Kong, causing much disruption in the ivory-buying chain, which is key and the ultimate long-term solution.

How do you remain positive about it and what’s the best way for people to get involved?

Absolutely everyone can get involved today, by firstly informing themselves about the topic (watch the film THE IVORY GAME!), follow the foundations’ activities (i.e. Big Life Foundation, Space For Elephants, Elephant League) and spread awareness.

The way we remain positive about it is that we do see a change. Prior to Big Life in Amboseli, the question was not if an elephant would be killed, but when. Since their multiple, fully-equipped teams of rangers have been placed, Big Life has made over 1,030 arrests and experienced “only” a handful (and sometimes none at all) of poaching incidents per month within their area of patrol that spans almost 2,000,000 acres.

In South Africa, and by contributing to Space For Elephant’s Relocation Fund, we have supported the move of a herd of elephants that was threatened to be killed in South Africa to Swaziland, where they are safe for the time being.

China, the U.S. and Hong Kong have also declared widening their ban on ivory imports as the topic is getting more and more attention from the press and politicians.

I cannot stress the importance of spreading awareness of the dangers that are threatening not only the elephants, but our entire planet.

We’ve always loved the idea that a step towards a better future can start by drinking gin. Tell us more about Elephant Sloe Gin – what’s different about it and why should we get excited?

The Elephant Sloe Gin combines the taste of the premium London Dry Gin with the classic flavour of fresh sloe berries. Compared to other sloe gins, Elephant Sloe Gin has a relatively low sugar content paired with a higher alcohol volume of 35%. This makes it ideally suited to mixing in cocktails, as well as enjoying neat.

We exclusively use fresh wild sloes and break the skin of the fruits before the berries are left to macerate in the London Dry Gin for several months. In order to retain the highest amount of aromatic flavour components, Elephant Sloe Gin remains unfiltered and can be identified by a natural cloudiness - and a complex bouquet bursting with flavours.

The other exciting part is that half of the bottles of this year’s sloe gin comes with a Maasai-made charming set of colourful beads around the neck of the bottles that can be unfurled to use as a necklace or bracelet. We wanted to support the beautiful craftsmanship of the Kenyan Maasai tribe, famed the world over for their colourful jewellery, by creating the beads especially for Elephant Gin. Together with the 15% of the sales of the bottles that go to Space For Elephants and Big Life Foundation, we are able to give back to the people and country that inspired the gin in the first place.

Last but not least - what’s your favourite way of drinking it?

Elephant Sloe Gin can be enjoyed perfectly neat. We also love an Elephant Sloe Gin Negroni (25ml Elephant Sloe Gin, 15ml Elephant Gin, 25ml Aperol, 25ml Vermouth Cocchi Rosso) or the Perfect Serve with tonic water and two drops of orange bitters.