Distiller’s Workbook exercise 10 of 15

Rooibos & Rye a.k.a. African Rye Whiskey

Many distilleries make simple cocktail-centric infusions and liqueurs to add affordable novelty to their portfolio. In this exercise a novel infusion is taken a step further to explore whether it benefits from distillation. Some times an aroma source will have non-volatile components which contribute negatively in large quantities and thus limit potential aroma intensity. To get sufficient aroma intensity these aroma sources can be distilled rather than only infused.

There are also many aroma sources out there with little or no tradition of inclusion in alcoholic beverages so there aren’t many guidelines for working with them. With Rooibos, relative to the costs, the sensory results have always hit the highest levels of delight. If the recipe feels too simple, feel free to add the aroma of peach using a peach liqueur from a respectable producer like Matilde.

The aroma of Rooibos is often compared to pipe tobacco, but is much safer to use than tobacco and has an aroma that applies itself well to distillation. (We have experimented with distilling tobacco, but never captured enjoyable aromas. Too much of the tobacco aroma is not volatile and therefore does not enter the distillate.) Categorizing the Rooibos aroma is complicated so it is hard to say which gustatory division it converges with. Elusiveness is part of Rooibos’ charm.

Even more of the charm of Rooibos comes from the fact that it used to be cultivated in part by ants. The seeds are hard to collect because of their different ripening times and their size. Harvests used to be tedious and done by hand until one observant woman recognized that ants also collected the seeds and amassed significant quantities. She simply opened an ant hill and plundered the treasure. Today, because of high international demand, most Rooibos is collected by careful sifting of the sandy soil around the plants.


500 ml rye whiskey (we used Old Overholt)

28 g Rooibos tea (we enjoy a local tea company’s that adds vanilla)

250 g water

Mix and re-distill together slowly on low reflux until the thermometer on the still reads 98°C. Going past 98°C may result in a cloudy distillate. The extra water is added to reduce the chances of Rooibos solids scorching on the bottom of the boiler.

If the boiler is heated so much so as to create a rapid boil, loose Rooibos solids have a tendency to fly around the still and even puke into the column which is not desirable. To prevent puking, either place the Rooibos in a bag to contain it or turn down the burner to the minimum required to create a gentle boil.

Optionally, to synthesize the pH and non-volatile characteristics of an aged spirit, de-hydrate a volume of aged Bourbon proportional to the amount you want to fake age then reconstitute the resulting barrel essence.

Using your hydrometer re-cut the distillate to your desired proof (we recommend 80-90).

As an additional option, to finish the distillate like many of the richer Caribbean rums, add up to 30 grams of non-aromatic white sugar. This is best tried in conjunction with fake aging.


Rooibos & Rye Alexander

1.5 oz. Rooibos aromatized rye whiskey

.75 oz. creme de cocoa

.75 oz. cream (go decadent with heavy cream)


The Pipe

.75 oz. Rooibos aromatized rye whiskey

.75 oz. caraway aquavite

.75 oz. rosé vermouth

.75 oz. dry sherry

bar spoonful Benedictine

2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters

float 151 demerara rum


La Perique (named for the famous Louisiana tobacco)

1 oz. Rooibos aromatized rye whiskey

1 oz. cherry Heering

.5 oz. lemon juice

.5 oz. dry vermouth

1 dash of Regan’s orange bitters

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