Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen, in the early 1100s, wrote about the use of hops and barley in brewing, noting that the addition of hops prevented spoilage. Barb-Nicole Ponsardin, better known as the legendary Widow (or “Verve”) Clicquot used astonishing ingenuity to save what is now one of the best-known champagne houses in the world, and also developed the method of riddling used to this day to disgorge the yeast from the bottles.
Women have always been involved in the drinks industry. So, with gin enjoying massive success among female consumers and South African gin sales up 151% in five years before the pandemic, it’s really no surprise to find women active in this sector. As Glyn French of Flowstone Gin says, “The Gin revolution in South Africa was to a large extent pioneered by women. What is really gratifying is seeing talented young black women distillers making their mark and creating exciting brand identities.”
Gin is flavoured with botanicals and it stands to reason that of the 300+ gin brands registered in SA, about 50% are based in the world’s smallest but most diverse floral kingdom, the Cape Floristic Region. French is one of those bucking this trend.
Flowstone is based in no less significant an area than the Cradle of Humankind. And while other gins look to fynbos for their authenticity, Flowstone’s range covers bushveld botanicals like bushwillow seed pods, acacia, wild pear, African sage, wild cucumber, and snuffbox fruit.
With South Africa recording the second-highest number of registered gin companies in the world after the UK, SA spirits brands were hit hard by government bans on the sale of alcohol as part of Covid19-related restrictions. French acknowledges that it’s been a challenging time, but also a learning experience. “It’s been a tough time for all of us. There are many businesses, in both trade and manufacturing, that have folded. And there will be more,” she predicts with concern. “That is dispiriting because so much effort goes into getting a brand out there. But against that it has also been amazing to see the spunk and energy of the industry and the innovation that it creates.”
French credits her team at Flowstone for having “dug deep and delivered – I know a lot of companies describe themselves as being like a family but we really are and that shows. The Flowstone Team are positive, enthusiastic, and we are all there for each other.” She says their strength has always been an ability to adapt and the relationships they have built within the industry.
That ability to adapt lies at the foundation of Flowstone’s founding. In 2016, a visiting paleontologist based himself at her property while exploring the nearby caves. When she didn’t have any cucumber to garnish the gin she was serving, she cut up one of the wild cucumbers growing in her garden. “Someone should make a gin out of this,” came the response, and French had the nous to spot a good idea when she saw one. (The paleontologist, happily, is now an investor in her business.)
Flowstone Wild Cucumber Gin would go on to tie for the highest scoring South African Gin at the International Wine & Spirits Competition. The other medals won at the awards made Flowstone the best performing gin brand in the country. At the Michelangelo International Awards Flowstone was the first gin range to earn three double golds in the same year. The range also includes Bushwillow Gin, Marula Gin and Snuffbox Gin.
But it’s not all about awards and medals. French says her favourite family tradition is sundowners at home and when exploring the continent – she admits to the next dream project being another overlanding, this time to the southern shores of Lake Tanganyika… “Our love of the bush, and remote, untraveled places, means we have often found ourselves where sunsets are enjoyed in awed silence with a G&T in hand and dear friends at our side.”