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New territory | Esperanza, Hope’s bold agave spirit

Established by Lucy Beard and Leigh Lisk five years ago as a small-batch gin distillery – the first licence of its kind in Cape Town – Hope has grown into a force on the artisanal liquor scene, having mastered the craft of various spirits and grown its repertoire from gin makers to distillers for a multitude of brands.

Beard, the resident gin and spirit maker, steers a team of stillmen in the production and development of various products, ranging from the in-house Hope label – whose products are distilled in an authentic copper pot still that is fondly known as Mad Mary – to contract distillation.

“Every day, we set out to make the absolute best spirits that we can. We’re constantly experimenting and striving for excellence, mixing up new ideas and honing our recipes in our custom-built distillery. For us, it’s about creating something exceptional; something instilled with integrity and passion; something that will become the perfect accompaniment to people’s special moments,” says Beard.

Along with the diversification in their service offering came a widening of the brand’s own range – from the initial Mediterranean, London and Salt River (now called the African Botanical) gins, the brand has ventured into vodka, and most recently an agave spirit named Esperanza (the Spanish word for hope). Using the extensive experience they have gained over the years, Hope had the requisite expertise to venture into this new territory. “Because we initially used to produce our own grain spirit from scratch, we gained experience in fermentation techniques. Although we no longer ferment our own grain for our gins, we have the equipment (fermentation tanks) and knowledge of how to ferment and of course distil,” explains Beard.

HOPE Distillery_Mixology

And Lisk has always been a fan of tequila. “When we found out that agave grew locally, he immediately wanted us to make ‘tequila’. Initially, we were able to source processed agave locally and we started experimenting. It took us a long time to get it right – about nine months,” says Beard.

The process is challenging – a long fermentation is followed by careful distillation and then the distillate is rested in stainless steel tanks for 30 days prior to bottling, making it a very small batch product. The challenges continued. “Unfortunately, our source of local agave is no longer available (although there is lots of agave growing, no-one is processing the piñas any more for a tequila-style spirit), so we now source our agave directly from Mexico,” explains Beard. “We actually found them because they were looking to set up a processing plant in South Africa to process the locally grown agave. This fell through, but we now source from their Mexican operation, and import their organic blue weber agave.”

The Hope version of tequila-style agave spirit (unless it’s produced in Mexico, you’re not legally allowed to call it ‘tequila’) differs from most locally made agave spirits in that most others use agave that has been cooked in wood-fired ovens/pits, which produces a smokier end result (more similar to mezcal than tequila).

Designed to be sipped, the Esperanza from Hope is a smooth agave spirit. With a floral nose and butterscotch notes, it has rich caramel and spice on the palate and a soft vanilla finish.

There are various ways to enjoy it – Hope recommends sipping it in a leisurely fashion on its own or adding tonic in a ‘TnT’ with a slice of lime. If you’re after something more celebratory, enjoy it in a cocktail. Below is a recipe for the signature Paloma:

HOPE Distillery_Mixology_Paloma


50ml Hope Esperanza Agave

20ml fresh lime juice

40ml fresh grapefruit juice

20ml sugar syrup

Pinch of rock salt

70ml soda to serve

Pour the Hope Esperanza, sugar syrup, salt and lime juice into a highball glass filled with ice and stir. Add the grapefruit and soda and stir briefly. Garnish with a wedge of lime or grapefruit.