Danielle Schoeman, Master Distiller – Women Talking meets Danielle Schoeman, Master Distiller, and co-founder of Mahala Botanical.
We recently had the pleasure to not only meet this renowned South African Master Distiller but also try the delicious award-winning, non-alcoholic spirit in a variety of tempting styles.
In 2020, Danielle began trailing various alcohol-free distilled spirits in her Dona craft distillery in Cape Town. Foraging botanicals from her family farm in the Cape she experimented with various blends until eventually discovering the perfect recipe. Using nine different botanicals (some of which are uniquely indigenous to the Western Cape) she created Mahala Botanical – a flavoursome, premium, non-alcoholic spirit.
The all-natural botanicals undergo a triple-distillation process in her custom-built vacuum stills. This ensures the abundant flavour and results in a complex, layered finish. The product is a beautiful premium drink that delivers a sophisticated alternative to alcoholic beverages.
We talk to Danielle about the making of Mahala Botanical:
Have you always been interested in the drinks industry?
“Ever since I can remember I have been fascinated by the drinks industry, particularly the production process, and in understanding how you go from raw material to a beautiful liquid. I also enjoy experimenting with different botanicals and flavour profiles; so being a distiller is my absolute passion and my genuine dream job.”
Where did the inspiration come from regarding your path as a Master Distiller?
“A lot was self-taught, through research and by trial and error. I also learned from industry experts on the job, and local farmers about harvesting and growing local botanicals (and how to drive a tractor!). I learned from winemakers about different yeasts and fermentation; from other distillers, I learned about the distillation process; and from engineers, about building the stills and programming the equipment.”
Are there many female distillers in the industry?
“Distilling is definitely a male-dominated industry, but I can see that it is changing, and we are slowly bridging the gap. Some days can be frustrating when I feel like I must prove myself before someone will take me seriously or if someone walks into the distillery and automatically talk to the male staff, but overall, the industry is extremely supportive of women and there are some incredible trailblazing females changing the way that we look at distillers – and the industry as a whole.”
Why did you use custom-built vacuum stills, and what are they called?
“Yes, Delilah and Eve are our custom-built vacuum stills. They were designed and built by engineers in Cape Town. Vacuum distillation is a more technical way of distilling, but yields a premium spirit, with a much fresher profile. We would not be able to distil our new, alcohol-free spirit Mahala Botanical in a conventional still because with our stills we lower the boiling point of alcohol from 79 degrees to 18 degrees.
Mahala is triple distilled, which is unique, and which creates a truly exceptional quality and depth of taste that is particularly hard to create within an alcohol-free profile. We also own the complete ‘farm to glass’ process at our distillery in Cape Town, South Africa, which affords us an incredible opportunity to ensure incomparable quality at every step of the process”.
What inspired you to develop a non-alcoholic drink?
“I created Mahala out of a desire to create a premium, healthy and distinctive alcohol-free spirit in a category that currently offers little choice for consumers seeking quality, sugar-free and alcohol-free alternatives. When I was developing Mahala in South Africa, there were very few alcohol-free options, but there was a growing demand for more choices in this category and I wanted to meet this need. I wanted to create an outstanding spirit that was designed to be enjoyed mindfully.
No, and Low alcohol spirits are growing rapidly, driven by a combination of growing consumer awareness of our personal health and wellness, and Mahala expands the choice now available, providing a delicious offering with an unrivalled depth of flavour for those seeking quality alcohol and sugar-free alternative”.
“Mahala is a Zulu word that is used as a slang term in South Africa, and which means “free”. Mahala is just that: free from alcohol, free from sugar, free from artificial flavours and free from colourants.”
Did you grow up on the family farm, surrounded by natural botanicals?
“I didn’t grow up on our family farm, but I spent a lot of time there. I also spent a lot of time outdoors in nature, hiking, and camping, and that established my love for the South African floral kingdom and our beautiful indigenous flora. I harvest some of my botanicals from our land in Stilbaai where the farm is situated.
Our love of the South African landscape is something that is at the heart of our Mahala brand, right down to the partnership that we have established with The Botanical Society of South Africa, which champions biodiversity conservation in South Africa to protect the extraordinary plant diversity and ecosystems, and who receive a percentage of our profits in South Africa. We also collaborate with local workers in South Africa, such as The Sparrow Society, which empowers local township ladies to produce recyclable bags that we use within our marketing activity”.
From farm to glass, Danielle and her team are involved in every step of the process. Each bottle of Mahala Botanical has been distilled, bottled and hand-labelled on-site at Dona distillery in Cape Town.
Free from sugar, alcohol, colourants, and artificial flavours. Mahala is also gluten and vegan friendly. It offers health-conscious and mindful consumers a great tasting premium drink – free from alcohol, full of spirit.