Robin Gerlach came up with a uniquely flavoured gin that also helps to protect Africa's largest land animal from ivory poachers.
I've always been a gin drinker, and I knew if I were ever to take a risk and start my own business, I'd want gin to be the focus. The final push to do it came about after I spent a few months travelling around South Africa, working with elephant foundations that try to protect against ivory poaching. After returning to London a few months later and settling down, I realised that you can either resume your life with those experiences in the back of your mind, or you can continue to do something about it.
Working for a small finance company meant I had come across a lot of startup businesses, and the passion I saw in some of the founders really inspired me. I realised it was possible to create a unique product that was also philanthropic, benefitting the elephant foundations that I wanted to keep on supporting.
Gin is a global spirit; the spices and botanicals come from so many places, although the process of making it is very local and traditional. I wanted to make a London gin, which is typically dry, but one that had a slightly different edge to it. I don't have a background in distilling, so I gathered as much information as I could, asking anyone from chemists and distillers to mixologists for help. I bought hundreds of botanical samples and went on several courses to train my nose, it was important to research thoroughly so I could understand what I wanted the flavour profile to be.
It was through that trial and error that we ended up adding ginger to give it some warmth, and an African herb called buchu, which grows in the mountains of the Western Cape and gives a sweet, almost blackcurrant quality to the gin. It's this, and the addition of thyme and apples, that makes Elephant Gin truly different. I'm originally from Germany, and had a few connections there so I decided to distil and bottle it through a small, family-run schnapps business I knew in Hamburg . Also, because the gin contains fruit, I knew they would be able to use their expertise. It's also a really positive way for me to connect with my home, too.
From the initial idea to producing my first bottle took 18 months; production started in August 2012, and I delivered them myself to the London bars that agreed to carry it on my birthday in September 2013, but I think the only way to get lucky is through hard work.
I get up at 5am, work for two hours on Elephant Gin, then head to my day job. When I get home, I'm back working on the gin until midnight. I haven't had any holidays since I started this, but it's my baby, really, so every spare waking moment is taken up by it.
Each bottle is named after a different elephant that's under the care of the foundation, and each label is handwritten by a calligrapher who just wanted to help the cause. Because of the distillation process, there's a marginal difference between each batch; not everyone could tell that, of course, but I like to think that a subtle uniqueness in character is a little like the elephants themselves.