Gin Spin – March
March was a month of proper news. All filler, no thriller, big juicy stories with big, slobbering consequences. As always with Gin Spin, we’ve taken the slow journalism approach of not just reporting what happens as it happens, but of waiting until the month is out to share our insight into what it actually means (and why it matters…).
SIPSMITH MARK A DECADE
Let’s start with some glorious celebrations. Sipsmith celebrated its 10th birthday in style in March (can you remember that old garage?), with competitions for fans on social media, intimate dinners at their distillery and their first ever above the line advertising campaign – Mr Swan.
The advert is worth taking a moment to look, and so too is the making of, especially for those who have a penchant for the crazy level of detail that goes into stop frame animations. It is genuinely brilliant, funny and expensive as hell, with Wes Anderson’s stop motion team and Jeff Lowe at the helm. Apart from echoing the brand’s ultra British philosophy very well, the video also showcases, very boldly, the truth of the finance behind the Sipsmith juggernaut these days and how far they have gone in a decade.
That’s not all either, the team has a new gin, Orange and Cacao, due to hit stores imminently and we are loving it. Sceptics of coloured and infused gins (which we… well, we’re not exactly shy about our usual disdain, are we?) can pipe down, as this is solid juniper juice but with a caramelised orange twang and a rich cacao finish. We had a chance to try it and admit that we went in expecting to spit it half way across the room, but instead we savoured it. With its iridescent orange label, Lemon Drizzle Gin mark two, here we go.
It’s worth just taking pause for a second and fully appreciating the significance of the trio of headline activities from Sipsmith. Often considered the milestone moment for the craft distilling movement in the UK, it’s hard not to be totally impressed with the journey they have undertaken and the entire industry that has flourished along side them. It’s also worth noting that it’s been same old same old for the brand since the Suntory acquisition, and while much has been underway behind the scenes to consolidate on the growth of Gin in various countries – only now are we seeing the first signs of that addition financial muscle and bigger brand mentality coming to fruition. Given the tone of voice in the advert, with their Britishness being celebrated in a positive, self effacing way it, seems that they have transitioned quite nicely to say the least.
FOUR PILLARS JOIN’S THE JAPANESE TRAIN…
In a very similar vein to Sipsmith, flagship Australian Gin distillery Four Pillars celebrated a 50% buyout by Japanese brewing behemoth Lion.
Rumours had been swirling around for some time – there was just something big in the air for the team. For many industry commentators though, it was actually surprising that it took this long to happen, simply due to the industrial sums of cash it takes to sustain growth when the seemingly punitive tax liabilities for spirits are so high in Australia.
Four Pillars exports to 25 countries, with a reported 75% of sales generated in Australia. Their distillery, with a cellar door and bar in Healesville attracts 90,000 visitors annually, and the brand is on track to produce half a million bottles each year.
To survive being a brand that size (again, where the weekly ATO bill is extraordinary), growing domestically and competing internationally involves some deep pockets. But what does it mean for the wider Australian producers and the existing Four Pillars fans? Fantastic times ahead!
The original team are still core to the business and they are still the same pioneering brand helping to place Australian Spirits on the map. They are the only ones to have managed to transition into the international market and flourish, they are the only ones to really show the potential of what can happen and just like Sipsmith, they are setting markers for others to follow. The better they do, the better it is for Australia’s craft distilling community as a whole.
For fans worried about corporate takeovers affecting liquid – this isn’t the beer industry, so buy yourself a step ladder if you need to and get over it. The reason it’s reached this scale as a business is because of the authenticity that underpins it. All three founders are core to the team and have remained, so too will that core truth.
A final word on the business of booze down under… Theirs is actually a second acquisition in the Australian market this year following Halewood’s purchase of IronBark Distillery.
This, combined with the massive investment in infrastructure from the team at Archie Rose and Distilled Ventures’ turbo-charged growth of Starward, no doubt there will be optimism amongst those who were early in the wave, and a desperately high valuations going in from those now looking to flip their business…
Warner lose the Edwards.
Unveiling a fresh brand identity, the newly shortened Warner’s announced its new look and identity. Discussing the move, co-founder Tom Warner said: “The change of name to Warner’s feels like a natural evolution for us. It also better represents our current team and, combined with our new look and feel, should give us better stand-out on shelf and increased brand recall, so it’s a no-brainer”.
The team also launched the new Raspberry Gin this month. Made with fresh fruit and elderflower hand-picked from hedgerows in Northamptonshire, a third of each bottle includes natural juice made from a mix of fresh raspberries and blackberries. Continuing on their sustainability work, the gin was launched in partnership with People’s Trust for Endangered Species (PTES). Warner’s Raspberry Gin aims to support the hedgerow landscape, an essential habitat for some of Britain’s most loved wildlife.
This isn’t the first time you’ve heard of the team delving down such paths and it won’t be the last, Warner’s (we’re still getting used to typing that) has a huge passion for the outdoor and a great sense of giving back. What they take from the land they’ll replicate ten, twenty, a hundred times over…
How could we not discuss Hyke? This is the first gin we’ve seen do a full media sweep across an entire month (can we have your PR team’s contacts, please?). It could be that it’s merely the Tesco machine leveraging its purchasing power to get the commercial teams talking to editorial departments, but the blanket coverage has been impressive!
Hyke Gin is a brand new product made in collaboration between distiller Foxhole Spirits and Tescos. It is a hard product to ignore, such is the sustainable nature of it. Each year, Foxhole Spirits will take 1.4m tonnes of unsellable, headed-for-the-scrapheap grapes from Tesco and transform them into gin. While Foxhole’s flagship gin features a roster of common botanicals, Hyke benefits from the addition of some truly underused ingredients, like myrrh and nigella seeds.
Grape spirits (based / infused / tasting) are undoubtedly delicious – sure, vodka is supposed to have complete neutrality but more often than not the fruit leaves a small, crisp, trace, acting as the gin’s first botanical. We’ve got no doubt that this is going to be completely brilliant, although we do wonder if it might cannibalise sales of the flagship, given that Foxhole Gin comes in at £40 a bottle, and Hyke at £33…
Our only bugbear is the brand’s insistence on blurring the boundary between made ‘from’ table grapes as opposed to made ‘with’. They are very open about it when asked, but that small change would go a long way in avoiding the idea that the grapes are what the base spirit is made from. It’s made from a grain base, and the grapes are distilled separately before hand and used as a “liquid” botanical. The idea is cool and innovative, so no need for blurred lines.
We’d like to think the reason it capture the imagination is because there is still room for a good story to actually get some air time, with the need for something with genuine interest to hit newspapers clambering its way to the top of the desk sometimes. Maybe not though, gin infused in actual Elephant turd was the other news sweepstake this month…
Lesser spotted from the local & international news
Bombay Sapphire launched a new gin, while Hendrick’s Gin set their Midsummer’s Night edition (along with accompanying, lightly catastrophic events) loose on the world. Given that Gin Foundry seems to be barred from receiving any comms or contact with those at William Grant (we really don’t know what we did to get backlisted by their agencies…), we can’t comment as to what any of that is about, but we’ll spare a thought for their Australian team, to whom we should all raise a glass for some fleet of foot thinking.
Hendrick’s launched a giant cucumber in Sydney harbour, which, within a day, toppled, burst, and disappeared into the depths. It was a mighty cock up, with the team then scrambling to salvage the day with some self effacing humour as they launched a new, on-the-spot campaign for a disappeared cucumber in the river… Not as planned, but arguably a much better idea. Well done for the reactive nature of it all and kudos for having the bravery to pursue it.
Elsewhere, Indian Gin was again making the papers – we are telling you it’s on the boil! The first craft Hungarian Gin launched in March too, more on that soon.
NEW ARRIVALS APLENTY IN THE UK
A new equally fluo-hued bottle of G12 Gin was added to the Mason’s Distillery portfolio, whilst Poetic licence continued their rarity range. Trinity, so named for its almost religious dedication to three Gin botanicals, was launched by Pothecary.
Hidden Curiosity unveiled their Navy strength, while Manx based Fynoderee launched a collaborative edition, unbelievably-beautiful looking limited gin, the first ever (according to them, though we can think of three…) gin designed to go with Indian food. The Kerala Chai Edition was created in collaboration with Kumar Menon of Leela’s Kitchen and features a wealth of exotic botanicals.
Newcomers to the Gin scene, The Highland Liquor Company has released their Seven Crofts Gin, which has followed the lead of Harris and Lind & Leith and gone down the crimped glass, painfully good looking bottle route. You’ll love it before you even get a chance to try it.
Another collaboration came forth, this time between Portobello Road and former Dire Straits singer Mark Knopfler. His wasn’t the only pop culture intervention – Graham Norton has finally released his gin, made by West Cork Distillers.
There have been more – so, so many more – and while we’re thrilled that the industry shows no signs of slowing (still!), our fingers simply cannot handle any more new names at this moment in time. Like we said, it’s been a big month…
No, we can’t tell the future, but we do know that next month we’re going to be talking about the headline figures from the WSTA. They’re already out, but we like to save them a little, as it often takes quite some time for the full story behind the digits to emerge.
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