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Tessa & Robin Gerlach - ELEPHANT GIN

Tessa Gerlach Elephant Gin Interview
Written by Gin Foundry

2017 saw the release of your Elephant Strength – could you tell us a little about that?

Robin Gerlach: The biggest goal was to successfully launch our Elephant Strength Gin last year. We took over a year to develop the idea. Just like with the Elephant London Dry back in 2013, we first gathered feedback from the bars to understand what was missing in the market or what would interest them. Only then did we decide to introduce a Navy Strength - one that was specifically designed for the bartender community. Many elements played a role in the launch of the Elephant Strength, but ensuring the same quality standards as our London Dry and Sloe Gin were met, plus getting it out to the market at a fair price to give bars versatility for cocktail-making, were key success factors. We are thrilled to see bars working with it.

What made you decide to make something higher proof?

RG: Gin has traditionally always been high proof, but we learned that from the bartenders’ perspective, the closer the spirit is to the resemblance of the liquid that comes straight off the still, the more honest it seems. Classic drinks, much like classic food recipes, survive through time because of the nature of the ingredients used when the recipe was brought to life. Last but not least, a gin with a powerful strength and gentle soul also much resembles our favourite gentle giants, which is also why we called this overproof “Elephant Strength Gin.” All Elephant Strength bottles also carry the names of the so-called Magnificent Seven: the strongest and most impressive elephants known to Kruger National Park, South Africa. We want these legends to live on by telling their tale in commemoration. As with all Elephant Gin products we donate 15% of bottle profits to our two partner foundations.

The profile is very different to that of the flagship. Were you deliberately looking for a certain flavour?

RG: We knew that the mix of 14 botanicals in our London Dry Gin, including the many African ingredients, had a lot to off er and were definitely not exhausted in terms of combination and intensities. For the Elephant Strength, we were keen to develop a new recipe with the same botanicals. In the end, we used nearly twice the quantity of them.

Talking of change, the 2016 Sloe Gin was one of our favourite releases. How do you feel the 2017 came out?

Tessa Gerlach: We used the same approach and resting time as we did in the year before, but last year was a tough season for sloe as the berries didn’t ripe as beautifully. The result was a higher cloudiness and lighter colour of spirit in all naturally produced sloe gins in Europe. Despite that, our Elephant Sloe Gin 2016 received high acclaim, winning awards such as gold at the World Spirits Awards, which for us was a good sign despite the challenges. This year, in turn, was a good year for sloe berries; the batch has a darker colour as the berries ripened better, so Elephant Sloe Gin 2017 unfolds with a richly rounded and slightly heightened fruit bouquet. As with last year, half of the bottles come with a set of charming Maasai-made colourful beads tied around the neck that can be unfurled to use as a necklace or bracelet. Th e beaded loops are hand-tied especially for Elephant Gin by three Kenyan Maasai tribe members based near Nairobi.

What has been your personal highlight over the past twelve months? It must be so satisfying to see the continued effects of your work with the foundations.

TG: We have been able to grow our involvement and make a real difference in the elephant conservation projects we have set out to support. I have also found a way to start supporting another elephant foundation from the end of 2017 as we are due to launch our 50ml miniature bottles. In fact, with the launch of our minis, we were keen to support a third organisation that is close to our hearts, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust - one of the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation program in the world.

Its elephant orphanage near Nairobi nurtures baby elephants who have been found in the wild, often left behind when their mothers die due to poaching or other human intervention. Each baby elephant has a dedicated team member to nurse them back to strength and rear them to join their own herd of ex-orphans. Fifteen percent of the profits from our new miniature bottles will go to DSWT to support these initiatives. Mini bottle, maximum effort! The mini-bottles are a shrunk down version of our 500ml bottle and feature additional design details like a baby elephant on the label. Each bottle bears the name of one of the 15 elephants that Elephant Gin is currently a foster- parent of.

How big is the Elephant team now?

RG: While we have seen growth in our focus-countries, we are keeping the team lean; making sure we work effectively and don’t expand over our own capacity. In other words, we focus on growing without compromising on our products’ quality. George Stevens and I still look after the UK. We have been fortunate enough to work closely with a select few bars and individuals that act as our Brand Ambassadors, such as Miran Chauhan from the Bon Vivant in Edinburgh.

What is the next milestone you’re working towards as a brand?

RG: We are looking to open our own distillery with a focus of being able to show our passion and craft in action. It is another beast of a project, but one that we have been dreaming about for a long time - and with very little space at our current production site, we are thrilled for this to take full fruition.

We’re seeing a lot more charity coming into gin and spirits as a whole. Have you witnessed this trend too? And how have consumers responded to your ecological and ethical stance?

TG: We are excited to see so many brands (and not just in the spirits category) contributing to causes they care about. It is a positive trend and about time we take some responsibility for our planet. The key importance is that a company needs to be transparent about what they do, why they do it and how they contribute to a certain cause. Just giving money away without knowing where it goes won’t make much of a difference and may not seem plausible to the consumer. In fact, customers are able to quickly distinguish between brands that support a cause primarily for marketing or PR purposes and when it is a genuine interest of the people behind it. We have been continuously supported by our followers and are able to share with them where we lay our focus and how we go about trying to make a difference. Our passion is elephants of course, but there is a whole planet out there that needs our protection to make sure that the next generation is also able to experience the world as we know it today. So the more people are following this “trend,” the better.