This Gin Is Distilled With Both Juniper and Fruit From the Baobab Tree in Africa

Chris Frederick and Damola Timeyin are recognized in this year's "Food & Wine" Drinks Innovators of the Year.

Chris Frederick and Damola Timeyin

Kadir Gold

Ever had a gin flavored with baobab fruit? If not, seek out a bottle of Chris Frederick and Damola Timeyin’s Bayab gin. The two London-based friends are the cofounders of Spearhead Spirits, whose aim is, as Frederick says, “to put Africa on every back bar in the world.”

The genesis for the brand was their realization that there were virtually no Black-owned African spirits for sale around the world. “The ones that get exported from Africa aren’t usually a true expression of the African diaspora,” Frederick says.

Their first inspiration was to distill a gin not just with juniper, but also with fruit from the baobab tree. “It’s a kind of subtly sweet citrus flavor that I personally love,” Timeyin says. “We wanted to create spirits that we wanted to drink ourselves, but the baobab tree also has a great story. It’s known as the tree of life; it has a central place in many African cultures. We wanted to shine a light on the things that make this continent so great.”

See all of Food & Wine Drinks Innovators of the Year 2023

The company has taken off rapidly, first in the U.K. and, as of 2022, in the U.S. as well. And they’re working on more products, in what the two refer to as a kind of “African spirits lab.” Their distillery is in South Africa, but they use ingredients from around the continent.

“This continent is so rich with possibilities, it’s insane that people haven’t seen the potential,” Frederick says. “The African drinks lab is about experimenting. Can we make a vodka from yams? Or cassava? We’ve been experimenting with palm sap for a while — we’re working with organic farmers in Nigeria and in Ghana. We have a Senegalese gin coming out next year that uses hibiscus.” Frederick and Timeyin are also reinvesting in local communities, partly by creating jobs in the township where they distill and also through a reeducation program that helps people without work learn employable skills.

Timeyin and Frederick have been friends for over 20 years, and their camaraderie is quite clear when you talk to them. “I’ve always loved the idea of building something that had something to do with my heritage as an African, as a Nigerian,” Timeyin says. “I couldn’t have picked this specifically, but it does seem like it was leading up to this.”

“What was leading up to this?” Frederick asks, amused. “The two of us spending multiple nights in pubs and bars?”

“OK, yes, that may be true,” Timeyin admits with a laugh.

Bottles to Buy

Vusa Vodka ($23)

This ultra-smooth vodka is distilled from African sugarcane. “Sugarcane gives us incredible quality and also authenticity at the same time,” says Frederick.

Bayab Gin ($35)

This brisk, citrus-forward gin uses fruit from the baobab tree, which is found in more than 30 countries across the African continent.

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