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What does an African spirit taste like? That’s the question Spearhead Spirits is hoping to answer. Founded in 2019 but just gaining a foothold in the U.S. market recently, the Black-owned spirits brand is launching here with four products — one vodka (Vusa) and three gins (African Classic Dry, Burnt Orange & Marula and African Rosewater, under the Bayab moniker), all featuring an African provenance.
“We were out having a drink in Central London at a bar that said they had the widest selection of gins in the world. We asked them what they had from Africa, and the answer was nothing,” says Spearhead co-founder Chris Frederick, a former owner of an award-winning pub group (and interestingly, a former international basketball player). “That was kind of a lightbulb moment for us. We realized there were no brands that spoke to us.”
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The “we” here includes Damola Timeyin, a longtime friend of Frederick who had previously worked at drinks giant Pernod Ricard. “It’s really our mission put Africa on every back bar in the world,” says Timeyin, a Spearhead co-founder. “It’s also about asking how can we improve the representation of Black-owned African spirits in the marketplace. We’re looking at this as an opportunity to create an infrastructure that doesn’t just benefit us, but also creates a blueprint for others who want to develop spirits on the continent.”
Spearhead’s vodka utilizes locally-grown sugarcane near the company’s distillery in South Africa; this base adds a unique mouthfeel and flavor (yes, flavor). The gins, meanwhile, are wheat-based and source botanicals from across the continent, including Botswana, Senegal and the baobab fruit from Ghana. “We’re trying to put the best of Africa into our products,” says Frederick. “Sometimes, unfortunately, when you reference African provenance, there is a perception that it’s not good quality. But we’ve already won various awards, most recently a gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition — the only African vodka to win a gold in a spirits competition.”
If you’re looking at Spearhead purely from a drinks perspective, the vodka makes for an excellent espresso martini (or regular martini), while the Bayab Orange & Marula Gin elevates a Negroni. (Side note: If you’re not familiar with Baobab, it’s a tree grown in sub-Saharan Africa; its fruits deliver a sweet and tangy element to the gin. Also, Spearhead’s Vusa vodka uses a unique filtration process that utilizes the shells of the Baobab fruit).
So you have a great and important story behind a memorable (and affordable) line of gins and vodka, with some aged product in the works. But the company is still entering a crowded drinks marketplace; how does Spearhead plan to stand out?
‘We believe once people try our products, they’ll ask for more. People are curious,” says Timeyin. “I think there’s an inherent intellectual curiosity, a gastronomical curiosity that people want to discover new food and drinks. And I don’t think most people have had an opportunity to discover Africa through a spirit before.”
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