Sales of 
Sugarbird Gin are helping to raise funds for entrepreneurs.
Sales of 
Sugarbird Gin are helping to raise funds for entrepreneurs.

#WomensDay: Meet the women making waves in SA's craft gin movement

By Nathan Adams Time of article published Aug 9, 2018

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Gin has become an unstoppable trend that has many forecasters baffled as it is still as popular at the bar today as it has been for several consecutive summers.

The reason for the sustainability of the gin movement is being pinned to the fact that unlike many other spirits, gin can capture the flavours and florals of any region. In South Africa this is particularly true because of all the botanicals which flourish here.

No one knows this better than the team at Sugarbird Gin, and co-founder Nzeka Biyela. Setting up a gin brand is one thing, but Biyela and her team have gone one step further and leveraged from the sales of their spirit to donate towards grants and bursaries of entrepreneurs - mostly women from previously disadvantaged areas.

Hope on Hopkins’ Lucy Beard checking the still.

The donation kicks in after every 1 000 bottles of gin sold, and their Thundafund crowdfunding campaign also raised over R1 million.

Testament to the fact that they want their gin to be more than just alcohol, Biyela says: “I am beyond thrilled that we have gone over our dream goal. The response and support from our backers has been incredible and we cannot thank them enough.”

It’s a brave move for a young craft gin brand in what is a fast-growing niche industry. But you have to be a brave entrepreneur when you step into the craft gin business and no one knows that better than Lorna Scott.

She launched Inverroche Gin in 2012 with no previous experience distilling spirits.

But she was fearless and blazed a trail when she infused fynbos into gin for the first time. Scott says: “From the start it was never just about the gin. I wanted to create a product that would tell a story and the fynbos was the inspiration.”

Her business in Still Bay is eco friendly and more than 70% of her staff are women.

Today Inverroche has three gins on the shelf and the team uses more than 9000 fynbos botanicals to get the flavour notes just right. Their passion for the perfect serve has not only been successful here at home but overseas and Inverroche is now exported to 15 countries globally.

Passion in the craft gin movement is the fuel at the heart of a successful brand.

At Hope on Hopkins they have an abundance of passion and another secret weapon, owner Lucy Beard. She and her husband quit their jobs as lawyers and created a premium local spirit.

Later this month she will be showcasing her gin at the Women of Wine South Africa Festival, in celebration of Women’s Month, at Candlewoods Boutique Venue in Centurion.

Picture: Retha Ferguson

She says it’s not that surprising that women are making their mark when it comes to producing a good gin: “It’s a scientific fact that women’s palates are often more sophisticated than men’s, so this is a great asset as a distiller. It’s all about nuance of flavour and gin- making is all about playing with those nuances.”

But Beard is not naive about women in gin, she says: “Interestingly two of the other early SA gin distillers are both women (Lorna Scott of Inverroche and Shanna-Rae Wilby of Time Anchor Distillery) and I think we are slowly starting to make waves.

“It’s still a male-dominated industry though and I’m not sure that we’re taken all that seriously yet.”

Local gins have been successful in many respects in shattering the stereotype of gin and helping to re-invigorate the spirit. This is similar to what has happened across the world as gin and the botanicals used to distill the spirit are constantly being reinvented. But here in South Africa it’s the women behind the brands who have added that special touch that has kept the craft gin momentum going strong.

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