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Fake Gin

Fake Gin
Herno Gin Competition juniper
juniper-berries gin botanical
Written by Gin Foundry

Calling time on “Fake” Gin may well involve calling time on the idea of Gin as we know it today…

Last month, Hayman’s Gin launched a drive aimed at raising awareness around the increasing number of gins with little to no discernible juniper. With Fake News in the dock, Fake Gin was the moniker the Balham based distillery team chose for their campaign.

The aim of it is two fold. To raise consumer and trade awareness around the shifting landscape of gin and the risk of the spirit losing sight of what has defined it for centuries; juniper. The second is a wider call to action to get trade and everyday drinkers alike, to sign a relatively light hearted petition to see (and eventually display) if there is any appetite to come to some form of consensus around regulating the situation.

Beating the juniper drum is something that needs to happen constantly, it is the very soul of gin, and this idea does it without too much of a combative tone. Okay sure, the “fake” part is provocative but when you are competing against liquid shimmer in gin – you need it to catch the eye somehow.

They don’t accuse anyone, don’t point fingers, nor do they really come up with a proposal for what to do about it. Their campaign is about saying that Gin is defined by its use of juniper and if that matters to you, say so. For those reasons, we support it unequivocally.

As drinkers, we’d urge you to sign up for the very simple reason that it is, at worse, about saying that there is indeed a wide interest to try and ensure that juniper remains central to the idea of gin, as well as create a workable solution for how to do so going forward.

The time is up on just sitting on the sidelines. The time is up for seeing people make a fast buck off the integrity of others. The time is up for watching the good, the bad and the ugly happen and play a game of roulette each time you pick a bottle off the shelf. Will it be Gin? No, bad luck, it’s a tropical fruit mix…

No one can honestly pretend that there are no issues in the Gin category, especially around the perceived flavour of juniper (or lack thereof). There are, and it’s okay to declare that. Saying there is an issue doesn’t need to incite a negative, hate-fueled ball of rage. There are, mostly, only long-term issues with what is happening and therefore there is an opportunity to do better than the current trajectory without the need of mass blood-shed.

So what next?

It is fair to conclude that Fake Gin as a campaign only deals with the tip of the iceberg and that it currently proposes no path beyond gaining support around the acknowledgement of a concern. That’s much of the point of it too, it’s a first step.

Having a serious conversation about what to do regarding self-regulation is overdue by at least 4 years. How much juniper is discernible to taste is a question that’s been at the fore of gin production for at least a decade, but it’s not the only hot potato topic that many are seeking to have some clearer guidelines on. We’ll save those for another day and only deal with the question of juniper here.

Before traditionalists cry out for the need of further regulation or more rules on “juniperiness”, let us point you towards two critical facts. Firstly, there are already very clear rules that are never enforced.

The legally binding, EU ratified treaty that anything carrying the name Gin on its label states a requirement “that the taste is predominantly that of juniper”. It was passed into actual European Law in 2008, not some opt in agreement that only a few subscribe to. Just to illustrate the globally inclusive nature of this need for juniper in Gin, this side of the pond aside, in the US it is also enshrined in Law. It states that Gin “shall derive its main characteristic flavor from juniper berries“. It’s not just something that you can ignore as if it were a trend, or pedalled by those with an agenda, or even as merely being a stylistically British thing…

80% of UK distilleries who make gin didn’t even exist before those laws and it is therefore not the just rulebook that is the issue, it is the lack of policing also. The rule is clear, if in our opinion, fundamentally flawed as the wording that offers up such wide interpretation it would always lead to clashes. There is good cause to question it and to want it changed but it is there, it is evident, and has simply never been enforced.

The second is just how phenomenally boring over regulated categories are. Yes, we consider that a fact, not an opinion. Cognac and Genever are but two examples of categories with immense potential that have been stifled by the amount of limitations on those looking to push the boundaries. Scotch fares better but still moves at a fraction of the pace Gin does, due to some quite restrictive shackles.

We are unashamed in our love for progressive gin profiles. We love juniper and traditional gin but have long championed something that has gone a little off the beaten track. Something that’s “a bit weird” as we often call it in reviews. We are often accused of this being a negative thing, yet remain undimmed in our view that there is room in the category for both.

Despite this, we often find that we hang on to juniper much more prudishly than others whom we’d consider to be connoisseurs too, and just like people are with us, we’re baffled by what they call Gin. It gives us great pleasure when that happens however, as we find it’s a good thing to continuously challenge one’s preconceptions. We accept that when it comes to flavour perception, there is a spectrum that will always have blurred edges, especially when you hear the context as to why someone thinks the way they do.

Gin as we know it today, would never have become as big if it were not for the innovation, the exploration and the adoption of new ideas and flavours. It is because it progressed beyond something that was so narrow that it found a new generation of drinkers. It is because it has so much flexibility (and that so many ignored those rules) that there are thousands of distillers who make Gin and why so many love to drink it all around the world.

These facts must be remembered and nothing about that statement will seem in the least bit controversial to the majority of the people who would like a set of workable criteria for how much juniper a gin should taste of. Because of this, there is a strong case for making a compromise now that would mean creating something that all stakeholders could actually adhere to (and be enforced properly).

No one wants to hamper the innovative distillers, nor stifle newcomers. No one (who is serious about finding a workable solution) is suggesting draconian measures to usurp two thirds of the brands playing a huge role in propelling the category forward today. Most just want there to be a point at which the indefinite expansion of the horizon that we now call gin’s “boundaries”, stops going further and further away.

Pick your metaphor but everyone, either heavy heartedly or with absolute glee, must surely realise that “predominantly that of juniper” being the only set of descriptive words that are used to judge something being a Gin or not (let alone the only acceptable one), will be too hard to get renewed consensus over and then actually enforce. The horse has bolted, the landscape shifted and the moment has passed to keep that rule in check. There are hundreds of spirits labeled as Gin which do not fulfill that criteria, some of which have been on the market for over 8 years already.

In our opinion to call time on Fake Gin may well therefore involve having to call time on Gin as we know it, and try to redefine it for the next few decades.

We don’t have the solution. We don’t have an answer. We don’t have the destination. It has to be reached by broad consensus and through inclusive, insightful and non-confrontational debate.

Whatever is eventually decided, it will need to have mass support to be able to carry enough momentum to get real change over the line and for that to stick. Otherwise, how much juniper is enough juniper will be a debate that will simply resurface, as it has every year for the past decade, time and again.

Take a look for yourself and make an informed decision for what matters and doesn’t matter to you, whatever that may be. You can find out more about the Hayman’s Campaign Here.