The gin craze is most definitely in full swing and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Interest from consumers, the licenced trade and the media all seem to reflect the rediscovery of the versatility and sophistication of this adaptable spirit.
The creation of the Gin Guild, set up in 2012 by the Worshipful Company of Distillers, was extremely timely – it was just before the recent explosion in new gin brands, both in the UK and beyond. The member-funded industry brings together gin distillers and industry leaders and there are now over 170 members from all over the world representing not only the big four distillers Bacardi, Chivas Brothers, Diageo, William Grant & Sons, but also brands from Adnams to Warner Edwards. The main aim of the Guild is to promote and encourage excellence as well as playing a key role in both consumer and trade education. It has become the go-to place for information on gin for both trade and non-trade press.With interest in gin growing by the day, it is now consumers who are fuelling the boom. They are often surprisingly well-informed and curious, seeking out something new and exciting, or a gin that brings intrigue through its production, botanicals or back-story. Consumers are actively interested in authenticity, its history and even the individuals who make their product – they love what is often quirky artisan crafted gin and the personal stories behind them. Whilst craft brands are remarkably buoyant both in the on-and off-trade, mainstream brands have also worked hard to build interest leading to almost a billion pounds of UK gin sales last year. There hasn’t been a spirit industry conference recently that does not feature – with envy and amazement – gin and its rapid rise to the top.
CGA Strategy reported that smaller gin brands have grown in value by an incredible 135% over the last five years bringing with them a number of style variants. The US has some particularly imaginative ‘New Western’ interpretations and several German and Swiss gins have very distinctive multi-botanical gins (such as Monkey 47), reflecting the region’s taste for very botanical fruit spirit production. These may be a shock to UK palates. The great thing about the gin category is that it is loose enough to allow a wide range of flavours, providing that as required juniper, the key botanical, is predominant.
So – which gin to go for? There is no quick answer here as individual palates vary. It is a case of try (in a bar) before you buy (a bottle). There are the big five, Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s, Plymouth and Tanqueray. The super premium, Beefeater 24, Star of Bombay and Tanqueray No.Ten, leading on to an almost limitless range of other gins to try, most of which are listed on the Guild website. Traditional juniper led (including the very juniper Sipsmith VJOP), through to contemporary citrus style (such as Tanqueray No. 10) and those with les common botanicals such as honeysuckle (Bloom), red kale (Thomas Dakin), hibiscus (Adnams), lavender (Cotswold’s), spiced (Ophir), sweeter old style ‘Old Tom’ gins (Hayman’s or Jensen’s), Scottish botanicals (Caorunn), rhubarb (one of the Warner Edwards range), and even seaweed (one of the Edinburgh Gin range) or even a gin made from grape based spirit (G’Vine) as opposed to the usual grain base. So many gins… So little time…
A key element in the gin revival has been the advent of quality premium tonics. These enable the individual flavours of gin to shine through. New premium mixer products have become a vital supporting act. Many are also playing an important role in encouraging imaginative and attractive on-trade gin serves, whether an interesting and well-presented gin and tonic or an exclusive range of gin based cocktails. I can’t see this renewed interest in gin disappearing with consumers becoming ever more sophisticated and demanding.
Key to gin enjoyment is the quality of ‘the serve’. Avoid tepid G&T’s, with warm, over flavoured tonic and a microscopic lemon slice and minimal ice. Take a glass, preferably out of the freezer, add lots of ice (and then more ice), mix with a quality tonic and some fresh garnish – orange, cucumber, lime, grapefruit, pomelo, grapes and even liquorice – then sit back and enjoy.
Hats off to all of the gin brands which succeed. Success will depend on the key elements of product, packaging, provenance, promotion, price, premium, panache, profile and presence. Let’s raise an appreciative glass to them all – subject of course to recommended daily intake levels!
By Nicholas Cook, Director General of The Gin Guild