Riana Macdougall: South Africa’s dynamic Woman Distiller of the Year

Distiller/owner of  The Noble Experiment distillery in Gauteng, innovative Riana Macdougall is not only the only distiller in South Africa who produces vodka from rice and whose unique rhubarb gin is the first in the country, but she also holds the inaugural title of  Woman Distiller of the Year at the 2020 Women’s Wine & Spirit Awards.

The Noble Experiment is a young artisanal distillery in Kyalami, Gauteng  – says Riana,  “we received our license shortly before lockdown, and so much has happened since then!” The entire distillery was built by Riana and her husband, Darryl, who has stood behind her vision and dream.

She currently produces several handcrafted gins, a vodka and a rum, and distills on a contract basis. In the first year of being operational, Riana has produced South Africa’s rhubarb infused gin – “especially for the South African gin connoisseurs”. She has also become the first distiller to produce small batch vodka from fermented rice.

“The best thing about my job is the sniffing and tasting, sticking my nose into everything!,” she says. I love sharing my story and my passion. To stay on top of the game you constantly need to research international trends and adding your own unique spin on them,” she says.

Riana stresses that her biggest challenge in producing exceptional craft spirits is putting together the recipe and balancing all aspects into a harmonious whole: “Being able to blend the natural ingredients and create top notes, heart and base notes is a skill and a challenge. After you have created a great product, there is the challenge of maintaining consistency of quality – as a small distillery this is tricky, as many of the botanicals used are seasonal.”

  • Riana grew up in Kimberley and says the mysteries and the art of distillation has been a passion over many years: “I have dreamed of owning my own distillery for a long time – in a way it just kind of turned from a hobby into a career.”

Her next goal is to work towards seeing the products of The Noble Experiment on shelves all over South Africa and the rest of the spirits-loving world.

Patience is not a virtue – it is a necessity, she says. “A successful distiller must be patient and of course a well-developed palate is crucial!  The old cliché must be used here – success only comes with hard work and passion. I think it is important to have a vision of where one wants to go and – very importantly – that you have loads of fun on this journey.

Combine all of this with the view that there are no limits, and anything can be achieved!”

  • SA Women’s Wine & Spirit Awards is judged solely by women and is the brainchild of Michelle Grimbeek.

Contact Riana