The spirit?of invention

04 March, 2011

These are certainly interesting times for the gin market – whether that can be translated into the sort of sustained long-term growth that vodka saw in the “noughties” is another matter.?The ability to experiment with its flavours through the manipulation of botanicals has made gin – if you’ll pardon the expression – flavour of the month for a generation of would-be artisanal distillers, offering them the opportunity to put their own stamp on the juniper-loaded spirit in a way that’s just not possible with vodka.?Where vodka offers bling and accessible neutrality, gin offers depth and elegance.?Trailblazing modern brands such as Hendrick’s have been followed into the market by boutique, garagiste producers such as Sipsmith and Jensen’s, while major producers have responded with brands such as Diageo’s Tanqueray Rangpur – not officially available in the UK but sold through well-connected retailers such as the Whisky Exchange – and Beefeater’s 24 and its summer and winter editions.?Gin can be an acquired taste and is never likely to have the mass-market appeal of vodka. Recent growth in sales is largely due to born-again gin and tonic drinkers and experimentalist spirit buffs looking to expand their horizons.?As such, it’s a category with as much to offer the new wave of progressive independents as it does the multiples, and growth in sales value of 4.5% in independents in the year to December 25 is consistent with recent trends across the whole of the off-trade.?“Consumers tend to be split between old-school gin drinkers who prefer the classic flavours and the new school, who seem to prefer the more modern interpretations with unusual botanicals,” says Chris Ellis, channel director for off-trade spirits at Pernod Ricard UK, the Beefeater supplier. “In the case of the former, they will be looking for an established name and a gin that has bold flavours of juniper and citrus, whereas for the latter it is the more floral notes that tend to appeal.”?While consumer tastes and expectations of quality partly explain gin’s resurgence, renewed commitment to supporting gin through marketing cash has helped too.?Nielsen Media Research figures show an increase in above-the-line support in the category from £1.6 million in 2009 to £2.9 million last year, a significant lift when many drinks categories were still feeling the pinch on purse strings brought about by the financial crisis.

Just last month G&J Greenall announced it is investing £1.4m behind its Greenall’s gin brand, together with a revamped bottle.?Bacardi’s global There’s Something Inside campaign for Bombay Sapphire captured the zeitgeist of the gin sector by focusing on its botanical ingredients.?You could say Bombay Sapphire was ahead of its time, launching a premium gin with a softer botanical set and a quirky blue bottle back in 1987, when gin was at its most unfashionable.?“We were the first gin to highlight all of our botanicals by listing each of them and their provenance on the bottle,” says John Burke, Bacardi’s global gin category director. “We genuinely spare no expense sourcing the finest botanicals, and by naming the provenance we are guaranteeing we won’t compromise on quality.?“We believe that kind of commitment is important to today’s consumer.”

Bombay Sapphire’s trailblazing opened the door, in part at least, to the legion of smaller brands that have come on to the market, many using the botanical mix to stake a claim for a USP.?Herefordshire vodka producer Chase, the distiller that grew out of the original Tyrrells crisps business, has entered the gin market with its Williams brand, billed as “elegant and crisp”, and made with a vodka base distilled from cider apples, with added botanicals including hops and elderflower.?Founder William Chase says the aim was to create a gin that could be drunk neat and not just “drowned in tonic”.?“If it tastes good naked, then it is good,” says Chase. “Our gin has really surprised us as we haven’t done any promotion and it has sold itself. We are struggling to keep up as it’s complicated to make.”?Not all new gin brands have been built on what could be seen as novelty botanicals, however, and Johnny Neill, founder of Halewood-distributed Whitley Neill gin, says his brand is focused on traditional gin and tonic consumption, with a handful of gooseberries providing the twist in its signature serve.?“For gin to be true to its heritage, it must have juniper as the predominant flavour,” he says. “Some of the newer entries to the market just don’t seem to be adhering to that principle and this could be detrimental to the category, causing an overcrowding of poor quality and poor-tasting gins.?“While innovation is the lifeblood of any category, we also have to make sure we don’t lose sight of gin heritage and what it really is.”?Geranium is another recent entrant to the market, made as the name suggests with geranium as one of its constituent botanicals, in an attempt to extend the consumption of gin into long drinks made with fruit-based mixers.?With an rrp of £24.99, the Coe Vintners-distributed gin is indicative of the lofty ambitions of many modern gin producers.?Founder Henrik Hammer says the emergence of a gin tasting/masterclass circuit, coupled with blogs and other social media by gin buffs, has helped drive consumer interest in the category.?Retailers have a part to play in gin’s growth by giving it the same level of focus they would to wine or malt whisky, argues Hammer.?“On our local high street there are two high-end wine stores, and neither used to sell many spirits,” he says.?“When the first store took in Geranium it asked if we could make a folder about gin including some recipes for gin cocktails.

“It made a nice display in the window, with an ice bucket containing a bottle of Geranium and two Fever Tree tonic bottles, and kept an open bottle for tasting.

“The other asked us to hold a tasting session. It mailed its customer base with invitations for a gin night at which I talked about gin, and served different types of gin and some cocktails.

“Now both stores are selling more gin than any of the other spirit types together, so it has been good business for them.

“They are both providing their customers with an experience by adding knowledge and involvement in the product, which is what the customers want.”?[2??

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