Gin Spin – January 2019
Welcome to our monthly news round-up, covering all the comings and goings of the Gin category. We’ll start with a confession: it’s been a while. Too long to call it bi-monthly even, but the Gin scene works at such a rapid pace that we’re often swept up in the doing rather than the reporting.
With a bit more time for reflection we’ve been taking the slow journalism approach to this month’s Gin shenanigans to make sense of it all for you and to point out the moments that really mattered.
For those of us here in the UK, the new year kicked off with the same ritual as ever – an ungraceful disposal of our Christmas trees in the rain sodden gutter (with our New Years resolutions set to follow suit almost immediately). According to almost every news outlet though, it seems that also being washed away was any remaining hope of anything but the bleakest of futures for the sinking Brexit ship that is the ‘United’ Kingdom. As such, Dry January quickly became London Dry Ginuary.
Those countries not burdened with an existential crisis that puts at risk both their job and their home had much brighter ideas for what to do with their festive casualties. For example, the Estonian town of Kuressaare, capital of Saaremaa island, fully recycled its 55-foot-tall Christmas tree this year. After serving its two-month duty in the town’s central square, its needles and branches were used for local Lahhentagge tonic water.
The company launched their spruce-tasting tonic water last summer but all of the 2019 production will likely be coming from that one massive tree, with the segments accounting for well over 100,000 bottles. For those curious as to just how this is even possible, the tree in question is particularly massive.
You can see the story of the tree HERE, although, getting hold of the tonic water may well be much harder given the distribution hasn’t quite gone as far as the UK yet.
Elsewhere in the world, The Telegraph (India) named Gin as the spirit to watch in their 2019 trends forecast, showing that it’s not only our eyes eagerly watching the region to see how it fares. We’ll just say it once more for prosperity and in the hope that if we do it’ll really happen, but if the market wakes up to gin the shear volume and scale across the region would mean both the start of some new, local superstar distilleries as well as a second wind for those in a strong position to export. It’s early days still, so best not ahead of ourselves…
If all this aggressive talk of growth had you wondering if anything had changed in the the mass medias opinion of just how big the category could become, it’s a no. The same “Have We Reached Peak Gin?” commentary remains prevalent in newspapers. In fact, it’s all go across the industry, too, with The Worshipful Company of Distillers set to argue that “the boom has reached its peak” at their debate in May.
It’s an impossible thing to measure, and even more difficult to bet on, but we think there’s a few miles in this donkey yet. New markets are constantly emerging, and those that have been building up steam are only just pulling into the station. Take Ireland, for example; in and amongst the champions and the naysayers, the Irish Times revealed a little nugget that’s been widely overlooked: the country reached sales of 150,000 nine-litre case sales last year, rising by a third since 2015. That’s an impressive feat for any country, and testament to the well considered, complex brand ideas being released over there.
Onto smaller news (mini, if you will)… G&J Greenall’s new expansion of their miniatures bottling line is a sign of faith in growth if ever we saw one.
The Warrington based distillery announced that its new miniature bottles production line has the capability to produce 200,000 units (20cl bottles) per week, enabling G&J Distillers to capitalise on the buoyant market for miniature bottles of spirits. The thirst for minis is real, with growth aheads of the total spirits category at 31% year on year. Curious consumers are increasingly taking advantage of the affordability of miniatures to try out new products.
Between their Still House and Bottling Hall, up to 160,000 bottles of gin can be produced each day, making their ‘handcrafted’ claims seem a particularly farfetched concept on which to base full PR campaigns. Nevertheless, messaging conflicts aside 2018 was a particularly positive year for G&J Distillers’ flagship brand, Greenall’s, which achieved its biggest-ever sales success, selling over 400,000 nine-litre cases in a year for the first time ever.
Northerners, presumably hardier than we London folk and therefore able to just crack on with life during winter as opposed to just shrivelling up and moaning about it all, have dominated the news agenda recently. Yorkshire based Mason’s Gin named their new distiller, former frontman and mastermind of Poetic Licence, Luke Smith, while Didsbury Gin featured on Dragon’s Den and secured £75,000 worth of investments. Perhaps more interesting were Peter Jones’ comments around why he didn’t invest, essentially stating (and we paraphrase here) that not having a distillery meant that in his eyes it had lost authenticity. In doing so, he put his finger on one of the critical challenges facing contract brands in 2019.
Talking of which – new distillery builds are moving on at pace but none so much as Thomas Dakin Gin, which finally unveiled their new distillery is being built in the heart of Manchester. Showing blueprints and details about their experientially driven visitor centre, the team are confident to be open for the summer trade.
It wasn’t complete anonymity for the rest of the UK though – the WSTA announced there are now more distilleries in England than in Scotland. In 2017 Scotland had a total of 149 distilleries compared to 135 in England, but in 2018 HMRC issued 31 new distillery licences in England and 11 in Scotland, tipping the odds to the south. While it’s good news overall to see more distilleries set up everywhere, what it hasn’t clarified is how many rectifiers licences were also granted, which would be a far better indication on the amount of new Gin makers there were last year.
Far more astonishing (we thought), was the data reguarding Gin’s importance to the on trade (bars / restaurants) last year. Gin accounted for 66% of all spirits’ yearly value added and 61% of total alcohol sales growth. According to the WSTA, without Gin, total alcohol yearly value sales growth would have been an entire 1% lower and spirit’s growth would have been 3.9% lower.
Was it really Gin that triggered the growth in the UK’s pubs, bars and restaurants though? Or was it an entire new category altogether – Pink Gin. Flavoured gin sales grew 751% in the year ending in November, driving half the category’s growth… It seems Pink is very much in, but before everyone gets up in arms about how authentic this style is to the true heart of Gin, just mull over that statistic for a second. Spirit’s growth would have been 3.9% lower. It seems like a small number but in real terms and real money, that’s huge. Bars need Gin at the moment and clearly there’s nothing in the wings that’s delivering results and presenting itself as a viable alternative to take on the mantle of the nation’s favourite.
Lastly for January, the good, the average and the downright ugly have made their way to headlines of new gins.
Horror show concepts aside (Haggis Gin, M&S Gin And Tonic Lemon sauce for pancake day) and the usual nonsense from the big supermarkets who launched GLITTERY Raspberry Gin Liqueur where GLITTERY has to be spelled in CAPS in all subsequent coverage as if putting it in the bottle wasn’t enough, it’s been a slow start for good new arrivals to kick off the year.
Most ‘new’ gin on the UK shores have been in existence elsewhere already or actually launched just ahead of Christmas. For example Sydney based Manly Spirits Australian Gin made their Uk debut, while the brilliant newcomers, Herefordshire made Penrhos Gin are gaining some attention. The word is also finally getting out about iconic whisky maker Kavalan’s new gin, as well as Brazilian made McQueen and the Violet Fog Gin who broke through into international media following months of local speculation and buzz building.
Hin Gin (the one that likes to reference cannabis on the label but is made without the THC or CBD cannabis compounds and just infused with hemp) sounds an awful lot like an attempt to jump onto two bandwagons. A limited run of Loch Ness Gin (pink) was announced, Nelson’s Valentine’s Gin was released using blend of floral notes from the rose and fruity aroma from the raspberry, proving that occasion based releases are still as popular as ever (also see Lassies Toast Gin by Rock Rose made for Burns night this month on that theme).
The annual Lassies Toast wasn’t the only release for Rock Rose though, who added a Pink Grapefruit Old Tom to their roster too. Meanwhile Yorkshire based Ginsmiths Slingsby quietly released their Gooseberry Edition into the world (more on that soon!).
Surprisingly, William Kerr’s Borders Gin (made by Border’s distillery who opened in May last year) was in the news as a new gin this January. It has quite a traditional botanical line up but uses entirely its own base spirit, which is distilled on what can only be described as a spectacular looking Carter Head still. Unfortunately, it is far from new. A quick scroll on Twitter shows the gin’s been around since at least July even if the press teams want you to think otherwise, making us wonder – is it just easier PR to bank on ‘new’ to get coverage, or has grain to glass really got zero sex appeal and not considered enough of a story nowadays? There’s something a little disheartening either way you look at that one…
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