03 Apr 2020 Global gin award for SA beverage entrepreneur
There’s no keeping talented entrepreneurs down! The team who created Frankie’s Olde Style Soda are now gin makers extraordinaire – and recently won a global award after but a short time in the game.
Mike Schmidt and his wife Paula opened Hout Bay Harbour Distillery two years ago, and have produced a navy-strength gin which was voted Best Navy Gin in the world, (very strong at 57% alcohol content) at the World Gin Awards 2020 in the UK in February.
They were up against about 40 other gins from around the world in the category, while the awards as a whole attracted about 450 gins — the most entries in the awards’ seven-year history.
Schmidt is the gin’s founder and master distiller but the couple started Frankie’s Olde Soft Drinks in 2006. The stylishly packaged and popular craft soda made national headlines when it took on Woolworths in a “David and Goliath” battle after Woolworths copied its packaging a few years ago — they won, forcing the large listed retailer to can that range.
The couple subsequently sold the business to Clover in 2015, and moved from KwaZulu Natal to Cape Town.
Creating brands drives innovation
It may seem they have a keen interest in liquids but, to Schmidt, it’s about creating brands. “The Frankie’s thing was about looking around the marketplace and realising there were no craft soft drinks in SA. After the sale of Frankie’s to Clover SA we looked around for another opportunity and decided to get in on the worldwide popularity of craft gin.”
So how did they make the change to booze? They went on a few courses to learn the basics of distillation.
“We’re a pretty creative family but it’s really about selecting ingredients that you are familiar with,” he says. Coming from KwaZulu Natal, Schmidt is understandably a big curry fan and this manifests in the ingredients used in their gins — including cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, orange, lemon and angelica root. Above and beyond the all-important juniper, of course.
Schmidt says the gin market is overplayed. “The craft gin market isn’t as craft as everybody is led to believe.”
Many gins are produced from existing gin, with a few additional ingredients blended in and then portrayed as craft gin, he says.
“There’s so much competition and for a small business like ours, winning an award of this size is hopefully the best way to get the traction we need in a crowded market. Without it, it’s hard to get noticed.”….
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