Joanne Moore, master distiller at G&J Distillers and Quintessential Brands, is celebrating 25 years in distilling. She tells Drinks Retailing what’s changed, what’s around the corner – and what she likes to drink.

What are the biggest changes you’ve witnessed over the past 25 years?

When I think back to 1996 when I joined G&J Distillers, it feels like a completely different world in many ways – back then we were still using fax machines to communicate and there was no such thing as social media, which is hard to believe now given how prevalent it is in today’s world.

So, the biggest change for me in that time has to be the impact of digitalisation – it’s had a huge impact on how we work, but even more so on consumer behaviour and the impact that change has had on our industry and the gin category in particular can’t be understated. For example, I think social media has been a big driver of the premiumisation trend in spirits we’ve seen emerge over the last decade or so. People want to be seen enjoying their best lives on social media so when it comes to spirits, that’s meant giving consumers something new, exciting, and visually appealing that they can enjoy and share the experience on the various platforms. 

For me as a master distiller, the quality of the liquid will always be of paramount importance, but consumers’ expectations of premium quality across the board are so much higher today than they were even 10 years ago, so it can’t just be about providing great taste anymore. The result of this is that from bottle design to serve presentation, as well as flavours and taste, the spirits category today – and especially the gin category – is full of wonderous, aesthetically-pleasing, great quality products that would never have been conceived of 25 years ago.

While I may be biased, I do think the gin category has responded the best to this consumer trend and that’s reflected in the strong performance of the category in the last 10-15 years. The meteoric rise in gin’s popularity in that time has been driven by continuous innovation, with flavoured gin perhaps the biggest innovation success story in spirits in the last decade. I’m very proud of the part we at Quintessential Brands have played in that success.

The other change that can’t be underestimated nor fully appreciated right now is Covid. While the full impact of the pandemic remains to be seen, the at-home-cocktail trend and the growth in spirits sales online look set to continue the longer the pandemic continues, as they become the norm for many consumers.

Did you ever imagine gin would take off in the way that it did?

I’ve been passionate about gin ever since I started at G&J Distillers, learning about the botanicals and how they work together but as I started to experiment with them to create different recipes that remained true to gin’s intrinsic character, it became more and more apparent to me just how versatile gin can be, so I knew it had the potential to really take off. We just needed to show consumers how versatile it could be, so that’s what I set out to do.

I truly believe there is a gin for everyone – the more juniper forward gins are off-putting for some, and it’s for this reason I created Bloom gin, with its softer, smoother taste profile as I wanted to create a gin even the most ardent juniper haters loved. With Opihr, I wanted to recreate the sensory experience from spice markets, such as the souks in Marrakesh, to create a gin with subtle spices that would add a totally different dimension to the flavours of a classic London Dry Gin.

The fact these two brands are now sold throughout the world shows that gin really does have global appeal and its versatility is a huge part of that. As both a gin master distiller and a gin fangirl, I’m just thrilled to see the category, and especially our gin brands, resonating with so many people. Long may it continue.

Which piece of NPD have you enjoyed working on the most?

It’s hard to call out the NPD I have enjoyed working on the most as they have all allowed me to indulge my creative side and experiment with different flavours and botanicals, while also ensuring the intrinsic gin character remains in the final product. It can be a delicate balancing act, but I love the challenge.

I created Bloom, with its floral, light and citrus character, to cater to those who preferred a smoother taste, and with Opihr, I wanted to create something truly original that still remained true to the essence of gin.

With Thomas Dakin Gin, I wanted to tap into the flavours of the past when Thomas Dakin himself was distilling gin. When we came across an old English red cole and orange cordial recipe which was traditionally used to revive the spirits of weary travellers at the time, I set to work seeing how we could incorporate this into the gin. It was difficult and took a lot of time and patience, but the result was worth all the effort.

What are your predictions for spirits over the next five years?

One thing Covid has taught us is that you can’t predict with any certainty what’s going to happen as you never know what surprises or global pandemics might arise, but that said, there are some things that I think are going to impact the spirits industry enormously over the next five years.

2021 feels like the year the world has really woken up to the climate challenge crisis with increasing numbers of natural disasters, and COP, dominating the headlines. In our industry, many businesses, including Quintessential Brands, are now giving much more consideration to the impact their business has on the environment than they previously did and with many of the big retailers actively encouraging suppliers to make sustainability their number one priority, I think we’ll see this influence spirits significantly in the next five years.

I think the importance of health and wellbeing is unlikely to diminish in the next five years, so I would expect to see the no and low category to continue to grow.  Whilst the beer category is the area that’s seen most success in low and no to date, there’s a clear opportunity for quality lower alcohol and no alcohol products in spirits and wine, so I think the spirits industry will continue to focus on unlocking this opportunity in the coming years.

How will you and QB ensure you meet these predictions?

Insight-driven innovation is at the very heart of what we do at Quintessential Brands as we know how important it is for maintaining consumers’ interest in spirits and attracting consumers to the category in the first place. This means it’s of vital importance for our customers, so in recognition of this, we have expanded our innovation team this year and we are investing significantly in our innovation capabilities, across insights, liquid and packaging development and manufacturing to make sure we’re bringing to market products that excite and delight consumers.

What’s your go-to drink of choice?

My go-to has to be a French 75, made with Bloom gin… it’s a classic for any occasion.