Interview Issue 17 Joe Bates Travel Retail

This Travelling Life: Tessa Gerlach, Elephant Gin

Tessa Gerlach, co-founder of Elephant Gin

Elephant Gin co-founder Tessa Gerlach talks to Joe Bates about her love of Africa, and explains why Madagascar is at the top of her list of countries to visit.

Joe Bates (JB): What have been some of the most memorable and interesting countries and places that your work has taken you?

Tessa Gerlach (TG): Without a doubt, the African bush, visiting the elephant conservation projects we support. More specifically, the Chyulu Hills in Kenya, where the sun sets so beautifully you may want to hold your breath during the course of it. We go there to visit the 55 anti-poaching rangers we support. And then there is Thanda in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, which is home to the so-called Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, rhino and buffalo), zebras, giraffes, hyenas – you name it. For those that stay here for a longer period of time, the days will go by like the scenes of a David Attenborough documentary. While my favourite spot is Ntibane, an old hunting camp nestled amongst the thorn trees in 150 sq km of enchanted bush, we have also built an education centre called The Wildlife Spirit not far from Thanda, which has by far the best sundowner deck in all of KwaZulu-Natal.

JB: What spirits other than gin do you like to buy in duty-free when travelling overseas?

TG: I scout the duty-free aisles for gifts, usually, and seek products with cool, inspiring (and sustainable!) packaging, more often than not in the form of Tequila and whisky.

JB: In normal times, do you spend a lot of time on the road? If so, what travel tips do you want to pass on to our readers?

TG: Yes, I love travelling – near and far. I take a lot of energy and inspiration from my travels, and my tip would be to plan out your route and accommodation, but to allow for some flexibility. The best adventures cannot be planned nor fit into schedules. More often than not, they happen spontaneously.

JB: If your flight was delayed, who would you most like to share a G&T with in an airport bar?

TG: Sir David Attenborough. I’d happily miss the flight to listen to all of his stories!

JB: If you had 24 hours to spare, what city in the world would you most like to explore?

TG: I’m not much of a city person when it comes to travelling, but a country I’m very interested in is Madagascar. Approximately 95 per cent of Madagascar’s reptiles, 89 per cent of its plant life, and 92 per cent of its mammals exist nowhere else on Earth! Incredible. If I had to pick a city, I’d go to Tokyo and explore the big Japanese tradition of handcrafting – beautiful paper, ceramics, and food, of course.  

JB: We have a long 12-hour flight ahead. What book would you recommend we read to while away the time?

TG: The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony.

JB: When we are back travelling again, where can travellers find Elephant Gin, and do you have any plans to enter duty-free? 

TG: Travellers can find Elephant Gin on Eurowings flights! Elephant Gin is also exported to 30-odd countries – which doesn’t mean that we are available everywhere, but we would hope that if you visit the trendy urban cocktail bars and local retail stores with a focus on gin, you will be able to pick up a bottle (or two!). 

JB: Brand loyalty aside, what are some of your favourite gins and gin cocktails?

TG: I like trying local gins on my travels to understand the different flavour trends and interests in different cities. When I crave my favourite Gin Sour (no egg white, please), Tanqueray No. Ten (besides Elephant Gin) is my gin of choice.

JB: Tell us about a funny, strange or unusual thing that happened to you on your travels.

TG: Realising that I had 11 ticks and a scorpion on one leg in Kenya at breakfast time. A Komodo lizard in my tent in Sri Lanka. Unusual and strange, yes. Funny? Only now, looking back at it. 

JB: Once international travel gets back to normal after the pandemic, what destination (international or national) will be top of your list to return to?

TG: I’ll be in Kenya for a month in February – finally, back to the bush after two long years. Fingers crossed it will all go to plan and part of our Elephant Gin team will join as well!  

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