Paul Hickling is a man with a vision. When talks about building an airport on St Helena started, he decided to build a distillery. “The idea came about from a conversation with a friend, to make a drink unique to St Helena, and so ‘Tungi, the Spirit of St Helena’ was born.”
He did his research, went on a course in Germany and then built a well-equipped boutique distillery with the most amazing view of the ocean, right next to his house. No mean feat as every tank, still and pipe had to be imported from all over the world. Delivered on the island by the RMS St Helena, a cargo/passenger ship that makes sure all fresh produce, equipment and other supplies arrive safely on St Helena.
You may ask what Tungi is – we would call it witblits or maybe, at a push, Grappa made from a prickly pear growing on the Island. The prickly pear is an invasive species and might not be available for long if the St Helena Government decides to eradicate all the plants.
This unique drink had to have a unique bottle, so a special bottle was made in Italy, depicting the famous “Jacob’s ladder” in Jamestown. This “ladder” consists of 699 steps up the side of the valley, built in 1829 to connect Jamestown to the former fort on Ladder Hill. The ladder is very popular with tourists, is lit at night, and a timed run takes place there every year, with people coming from all over the world to take part.
“I originally purchased 20 000 bottles from a glass company in Italy, but the cost has risen prohibitively since inception in 2006, so when they are gone, I will revert to a stock bottle, available in pallets of 1 000, which will help with cash flow,” says Paul.
Tungi is best served ice cold and is not for the feint hearted. It is not the only spirit produced here, though. Paul expands:
“We also produce a spiced rum called White Lion, named after the Dutch wreck lying in James’ Bay, the Witte Leeuw. Our coffee liqueur, Midnight Mist, is made from St Helena coffee, and our Jamestown Gin is an infused gin of which one of the ingredients is the rare Bermuda juniper that grows only in Bermuda and here on the island. The latest edition to the product range is Lemon Valley, a lemon liqueur made from lemons that also grow here. In 2009, I had the forethought to make a brandy to commemorate the exile of Napoleon Bonaparte, which meant importing Chenin Blanc grape juice from South Africa, making a white wine, and distilling it to make a very smooth-tasting brandy, keeping it for five years in French Oak barrels. We also sell white and red wines made from imported grape juice.”
Paul and his wife, Sally, are a mean team. Paul runs the distillery and Sally, a very good cook and caterer, is planning a restaurant at the distillery. The airport will be opening on St Helena Island soon, so instead of five days by sea, it will only be five hours by air to visit the remotest distillery on earth, and a very unique island