HOEDSPRUIT, South Africa (Reuters) – One of the joys of artisanal gin-making is sniffing the fragrant botanicals, fruits and seeds used to create the aromatic spirit – but not usually after they’ve passed through the digestive tract of an elephant.
Yet that is exactly what Les Ansley does when, foraging through the South African wilderness, he finds a prime specimen of elephant dung, lifting it to his nose to inhale its complex aroma before bagging it to be made into high-end booze.
Launched in 2018, Indlovu gin – named after the regional Nguni word for elephant – has expanded into the United States, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and Taiwan during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ansley and his wife Paula now export 1,500 bottles a month. Since the start of this year, two of South Africa’s biggest retailers, Woolworths and Pick ‘n’ Pay, stock it.
The elephants effectively do the work, finding the variety of herbs and fruit that give the gin its taste, said Ansley.
“The elephants, because they digest so little … they have a very quick gut in-transit time, low gut bacteria, and very poor absorption,” he told Reuters TV.
“So they are perfect for extracting all the botanicals … they are very selective … they get to choose the best leaves and the best fruits and the best flowers and the best plants.”
As well as the gin staples such as juniper and citrus, the dried and washed botanicals from the elephants change with the season and climate, giving different flavours to different batches. The date and coordinates of the dung collection are given on the bottles produced, the distiller said.
The couple give 15% of the profits to an elephant orphanage, another reason it might appeal to consumers, besides novelty.
But how does gin made from elephant dung taste?
“It is earthy,” bartender Johanna Jones said, squeezing an orange into the gin to make a cocktail. “That’s what makes it different.”
(Reporting by Sisipho Skweyiya; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Alison Williams)