Recently I discovered Stoneflow Wild African Botanicals Gin, a uniquely South African gin available right here in Australia.
After finding out more about how Stoneflow started, and its journey to launch in Australia, I knew I had to share it with all of you.
I chatted to Justin Adams, one of the partners in the business, who shared the Stoneflow gin story with me.
The Birth Of Stoneflow Wild African Botanicals Gin
Justin is originally from Washington (the state not the city) in the United States, but has been living in Victoria with his Aussie wife since 2013. He first visited South Africa in 1999 which is when his love affair with South Africa began. A year later as part of his road to a PhD in palaeontology, Justin was given the opportunity to focus on South Africa, specifically the fossil deposits across the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site.
And it’s here that in 2015 that the idea for a gin distillery using wild African botanicals was hatched:
“Around the time the idea came together to start the distillery, I was leading an excavation at a small fossil cave site called Haasgat. It’s in the northern part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site – you can spot the Hartebeesport Dam from the top of the hill where the cave is at. I had been working there for a few years with my team, trying to figure out why the cave had ended up with a rich record of ancient baboons and colobus monkeys – and along the way discovered the first early human fossils at the site.
A few years prior (around 2012) I’d gotten to know my dear friend (and now business partner) Glyn French, who owns a small farm property in that part of the Cradle. It was a funny start to the relationship – the first time Glyn heard we were starting to do research in the area she was known to proclaim to the other members of the community that she’d shoot us on sight if we ever showed up on her property. A few weeks later, we were having drinks on her porch, wandering her property, and becoming dear friends.”
While staying with Glyn during their fieldwork, Justin’s team was starting to get into craft gins and spent their evenings testing out different garnishes and flavour additions to their evening G&Ts. One of their favourite garnishes turned out to be thin slices of kiwanos (Glyn had some in her small garden plot – the ones that weren’t raided by the eland or baboons).
“We were really impressed by the subtle flavours that the kiwano imparted, and then everything sort of fell into place: Glyn was keen to take a distillation course and change a few things up with her career, I was in a position to provide some capital, and we started to put all the business bits together and ran the first few batches. Glyn mastered the first recipes on a little stove-top still, and we quickly realised we had something unique. We lined up a few other keen friends and family, tested and refined our range, and began to craft our gins into something we could offer the world.”
Where Did The Name Stoneflow Come From?
The name is very much driven by the connection between all of the founders to the South African landscape both modern and ancient.
When the business was originally born, they chose the name ‘Flowstone’.
It’s the type of rock (made up of calcium carbonite) that you find in caves. Stalactites, stalagmites, and other formations that you think of within caves are made up of what’s call flowstone (because it is rock that forms and ‘flows’ like water).
“It’s also what brought all this about, really – miners in the Witwatersrand removed flowstone from the caves around the Cradle of Humankind to reduce it to lime as part of the gold rush (and then later for construction materials). That mining into caves exposed the fossils within deposits across the region which is why people like myself ended up focusing our research in South Africa.”
When they started looking into bringing the brand to Australia, they hit a minor glitch around rules for naming their products, and so they had to make a shift in the name. Hence, they inverted the name to Stoneflow.
It’s the same amazing range of gins, just a slightly different brand name.
Here’s a short feature on BBC News all about Flowstone.
The Range Of Stoneflow Wild African Botanicals Gins
Justin says, “Our distillery is focused on capturing the flavours of wild botanicals that have long been important to humans and animals living in the South African bushveld. Equally, we work hard to ensure our business practices are consistent with our ethics and commitment to the landscape that inspired us – from sustainable gathering of our botanicals to investing in biodegradable and recyclable packaging and shipping materials.”
Here’s how Justin described each of the 3 Stoneflow gins in their current range:
Wild Cucumber Gin
“The first gin we developed, and perhaps unsurprising given how our distillery came about, is Wild Cucumber.
The star of this gin, which is distilled in the traditional London dry style, is the kiwano (or wild cucumber). A native species of sub-Saharan Africa, the kiwano is prized by humans and other animals alike; in fact, our first experiments with kiwanos was a bit tricky because the baboons were constantly raiding our garden plot!
We blend our kiwanos with a mix of traditional gin botanicals and add in a touch of butterfly bush collected from across the landscape. The wild cucumber imparts distinctive melon and kiwi flavours that work well in traditional gin cocktails, and really balance out the bold, traditional London dry gin flavours.”
“We wanted our second gin to be just as unique – and as someone who enjoys a good Islay whisky – we wanted to capture a balance of rich and earthy flavours.
Our Bushwillow gin showcases the nutty flavours of the Combretum, which produces lovely and distinctive finned seed pods (whose rustling is both distinctive and underlies the Afrikaans name for the species – Raasblaar). These seed pods (and other parts of the tree) have long been used as a food, in traditional medicine, and sought out by a range of mammals including kudu.
Our seed pods are gathered from the wild and blended with a specially selected mix of botanicals and spices, including star anise. This gin works equally in cocktails (it makes an amazing martini) as it does neat; the nutty, earthy and spicy tones are very even and smooth across the palate.”
“Our third gin – and the last of our standard range – had to be Marula. How could it not?
We really wanted to pull the iconic flavour of the marula (which goes without explanation to South Africans) into our gins and showcase it for the world.
While the marula is both our primary botanical and the star of the flavour profile, we have added some interesting depth with a truly South African botanical profile: butterfly bush, South African wild pear, and even a touch of sweet-thorn acacia.
The result is mellow, sweet, and smooth gin that can be enjoyed neat or within a delicate cocktail.”
Having tasted them all I can confirm that each one is amazingly unique and delicious. My personal favourite from the Stoneflow Wild African Botanicals gin range is the bushwillow gin, which has clear notes of earthiness and makes it a particularly interesting gin.
I love the packaging and design too – so much thought has gone into the whole experience of their gins. All elements of their packaging is recyclable and sustainable. The bottles are boxed and packaged with wood wool that is FSC certified and fully compostable.
They work with a sustainable printer in Melbourne to make the prettiest recipe cards that accompany your gin, giving you 3 unique cocktail recommendations for each gin. All boxes are recycled, avoid treatment chemicals and even the packing tape is biodegradable – how’s that for sustainable and eco-friendly?
How Have People Reacted To Their Gin Range?
They started offering their range of gins to the public in 2016 and have done exceptionally well when it comes to winning awards as well.
In 2019 they became the only gin brand to ever score three double golds in the same year at the Michelangelo International Wine and Spirits Competition (South Africa’s premier wine and spirits awards).
In 2020, they made their first submission to the International Wine and Spirits Competition and won three medals, and ended up being the highest points scoring South African gin range in the competition.
They then rapidly went from being locally distributed in select boutique liquor and wine shops to being available across South Africa.
This really took off after being picked to be the official Business Class and Lounge gin for South African Airways, and available on Mango Airways flights.
In the last few years they’ve started exporting across the UK, the EU, select parts of Asia and Russia – there’s just nothing like their range on the market.
And now they’ve launched in Australia for 2021. The feedback in Australia has thus far been incredible.
Justin says “we’ve really had amazingly positive reception from folks in the industry to how unique and distinctive our gins are (even in the current boom in the gin market).”
What’s Coming Up At Stoneflow Wild African Botanicals Gin
When I asked Justin this question, he said that while he had stated they had 3 gins in their range, he admitted that there was actually a fourth gin on its way – and a very special one at that.
“We do actually have a fourth gin – our special limited edition gin distilled from the seed pods of the snuffbox tree. Because we collect the seedpods sustainably from wild trees we only produce a small volume of bottles each year, but it did end up taking Bronze at International Wine and Spirits last year.
It’s a lovely gin that is again a very unique flavour profile – think vanilla mixed with coffee and caramel. One of my goals has been to get a slightly larger production run this coming October to bring it out as a limited release in late 2021 in time for the holidays.”
So watch this space for this limited release snuffbox gin from Stoneflow!
Life Outside Of Stoneflow
Because my blog is about sharing not only information about a business, but the people behind them, I asked Justin what he likes to do in his spare time, when he’s not focusing on Stoneflow gin.
” Well, I’ll admit that I think my co-director Rhiannon, my wife and I (who are currently Stoneflow) would say between launching the brand and our current day jobs that’s a hard one to answer. Rhiannon finished her PhD a few years ago and works in heritage management in Victoria, and is currently working with her partner in renovating a lovely little house in Melbourne. My wife, Lea, works in teaching administration at Monash University, and has a very active life as a volunteer at our local wildlife shelter rehabilitating rescued Australian marsupials and birds. She also got an electric guitar for her 40th, so she’s mastering her power chords.
My career is a bit crazy – I run a graduate medical school anatomy program, a 3D printing lab, and I supervise a group of PhD students on projects on South African and Australian fauna. We have been publishing some really cool stuff the last few years in Nature, Science, and made some media waves last year with some work on thylacines (Tasmanian tigers), new species of seals, and really weird Australian megafauna. What free time I have left I spend working on our renovating our house (that’s an Australian universal?), and I’m a woodworker. I reclaim Australian hardwoods to make furniture, boxes, and little things for around the house.”
Justin says that it’s been a strange journey to find himself as a university senior lecturer who teaches medical students, runs several research labs, and also has a liquor license! He firmly believes that starting from outside the liquor industry is really part of what makes the Stoneflow gins so special.
“We started all this to make gins we’d want to drink ourselves, and something that captures the essence of the land that it comes from. It was really amazing to see this idea grow to become as popular as it has in South Africa – and it’s truly a testament to the hard work of Glyn and our entire group that we are here 5 years later being able to share it with the world.”
While he would much prefer having his sundowners on a little farmstead porch outside Broederstroom, he admits that it’s lovely that in 2021 he can raise his glass here in Australia and count the days until he can finally go back to where it all started.
Want to buy a bottle (or 3!) of Stoneflow Wild African Botanicals gin?
Find Stoneflow & buy their gin online here:
Website – https://stoneflow.com.au/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/StoneflowGin
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/stoneflowgin/
Love gin? Read about my walking gin tour of Perth now!
Disclosure: I was gifted the range of Stoneflow Wild African Botanicals gin to try so I could share all about them with you. All opinions are my own.