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Irish Gin leads the way

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Written by Gin Foundry

“Protection” has been a hot topic in the gin world for the past five years. The need to create usable guidelines, or at least better enforce those that exist has been the central issue for those trying to ensure there is a long term future for the category. Without it many (ourselves included) fear that the boom and bust cycle that Vodka underwent in the late 90’s and early naughties will repeat itself. So far, this exact rise, plateau and fall is visible to see from category to category with almost perfect symmetry.

If it’s so obvious – what’s been the hold up? Well, many are concerned that having rules will stifle creativity and that it will restrict innovation. After-all creativity and innovation have been at the heart of gin’s success and resurgence. This is undeniable and even staunch traditionalists must accept it. With such a strong contingent profiteering from the relaxed attitude as to what can be a gin, and with so many products that do not conform to existing rules having never been challenged now in  the  world – any momentum for meaningful action into the excesses has been slow to gather and fast to fizzle out.

It didn’t have to be this way and there’s no need for the broken-natured status quo to remain. Last week, Irish gin producers (over 50 of them now) celebrated the new Food Safety Authority of Ireland guidelines, which made it clear that they are taking the spirit’s long term credibility seriously.

What is the FSAI Gin Labelling Guidance?

The gin guidance encompasses everything from the use of place names in sales terms; to the listing of allergen information; to the packaging material used and it is hoped that it will help producers in complying with the regulations. It sets out an approach to ensure the correct use of marketing materials and terms which do not mislead the consumer when it comes to labelling Irish gin.

The aim is to help food business operators ensure that gin produced in Ireland is labelled correctly – and not just on the bottle either. Statements made on the labels of the products, as well as statements made as part of information on websites, leaflets and/or on other media forms are included in the FSAI guidance. For example if a producer decides to add a list of ingredients, it must include all the ingredients in the gin, in descending order of weight, as recorded at the time of their use in the manufacture of the food. You don’t have to say any of them, but if you do, list them all so that people can see if the ‘star ingredient’ is a token addition or actually a big part of the recipe…

Place of provenance and use of place names in sales / brand names.

One of our great bugbears is addressed – the misleading claims around where something is made. It’s an issue that’s plagued British distilling and one that continues to spiral out of control. For the case of Irish Gin, the FSAI states that “care must be taken with the use of brand names, and company or trading names, which refer to a distillery, to ensure that the consumer is not led to believe that there may be a distillery in a certain location, when there is not”. It goes on to outline how including stating the obvious but the all to often ignored… “Only gins which are distilled and/ or compounded and/or combined in Ireland may be described, presented and labelled as ‘Irish gin’”.

It continues with gins that state a place name (e.g. City One) as their sales name or brand name but that are not made there (and thus confusing) and deals with the Low Alcohol “gin” substitutes. TLDR? It’s not allowed. It states that all marketing information about the gin produced in Ireland, regarding how and where the product was produced, must be accurate. Any information provided must be factual, and evidence will be required to support any claims.

What’s shocking about this document is that it’s really hard to object to any of the guidelines it states. It’s all common sense. It’s all so boringly obvious. If you say something on the label and someone challenges it, you’ll have to prove it. You can’t make outrageous claims that mislead people. It’s really basic.

Why has it been so hard to get something as straightforward as this in the UK? Why have companies objecting to the idea of authentic claims and to not misleading the public been allowed to steer the category for so long…?

Countries like Australia, Brazil, Japan, France with their burgeoning scenes should take note as for them, it is not too late. The vast majority adhere to the rules and that critical mass of fake gin and disingenuous marketing has not amassed yet. Combine this with the collegiate nature of those distilling communities and the opportunity is there to come together and agree to some unobjectionable guidelines and give an industry body the ability to fine those blatantly stepping out of line. It will not stifle innovation as innovation finds ways to be creative within the parameters. It will help with the long term quality control of the category.

What it will snuff out however – is the gimmick driven novelty products. It will finally demonstrate that there is a huge difference between true creativity and innovation going on in the industry and what gets pushed and tagged as such in order to justify uninspired and unoriginal marketeers to profiteer. For the sake of gin fans all over the world, that can only be a good thing.

You can download the full document here: FSAI Gin Labelling Guidance

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