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Greenall’s

greenall's distillery
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22/10/2013
Written by Gin Foundry

G&J Greenall – also known as G&J Distillers – have been preparing and blending quality gin since 1761. Greenall’s Original London Dry Gin is still made to the original family recipe and its smooth taste is a testament to the exacting standards set by their head distiller, Joanne Moore. Moore is only the seventh Master Distiller in the 250 year history of Greenall’s Gin, and has been in the role since 2006 (having worked in the distillery since 1996).

Containing eight different botanicals including cassia bark and ground almonds, Greenall’s Gin was previously bottled at 40% ABV (UK market). It had a distinct citrus twang on the nose and a long finish. Greenall’s is a classic London Dry, with piney junipercoriander spices and citrus notes at the fore and it delivers exactly what you expect – a decent, robust gin. A premium export expression also existed – Greenall’s Special London Dry. At 48% ABV, it had more prominent juniper and citrus flavours in the mouth but also combined it with a smooth, well-rounded finish. Historically, the general consensus with Greenall’s was that it was decent gin, better than many supermarket brand offerings and worked well in a G&T, but it’s never been considered particularly memorable either. Moreover, despite it being in the same price bracket as Beefeater and Tanqueray, it never quite seem to captivate gin fans in the same way those other classic gins achieved. Having tasted Greenall’s Gin in all sorts of drinks over the years, it often felt a little one dimensional when one ventured into more adventurous cocktails – an area where both Beefeater and Tanqueray really deliver. Despite this, we’d count ourselves as fans of the brand even if we weren’t quite advocates either.

In late 2013 however, the brand moved to a lower ABV of 37.5%. With that, it was diminished in the eyes of many who had either enjoyed its dry flavours or, like us here at Gin Foundry, felt like the reduction was both cynical and had a huge impact on the overall gin. It’s gone from being a little unexceptional but decent to dull, watery and borderline second rate. The core flavours are there but muffled when tasted neat and drowned out when mixed with tonic. Reducing the ABV is no doubt a huge cost saver but as many could appreciate, when you play a numbers game, you also lose the attention of fans who had previous expectations and experiences. It sends a clear “mass commodity” signal.

From its beginnings in 1761, G&J Greenall’s business had built its success on tradition and heritage. When Thomas Dakin opened the Bridge Street distillery, production and distribution were basic with gin sold in bulk jars to publicans and wholesalers. The current G&J Greenall company name was established when in 1860, following Dakin’s death, the distillery was leased to Edward Greenall. The ‘G’ and ‘J’ of the current company name was evolved from the initials of Edward Greenall’s younger brothers — Gilbert and John.

The Chairman of the Greenall Group, Lord Daresbury, who is a direct descendant of Edward Greenall, began leasing the distillery in the 1860’s (later fully acquiring it in 1870). Generation after generation focused on combining quality products with cunning business acumen to develop new market opportunities. The mid-1960′s saw the creation of a new distillery after the original Bridge Street distillery became too small to cope with the enormous demand. Today, G&J Greenall produce a huge proportion (almost 50%) of all home label white spirits consumed in the UK. The legacy of the original owners and the subsequent generations is an element of the distillery and of their eponymous gin that so few other brands could even dream of, let alone have the fortune of presiding over.

When they relaunched the Original Dry Gin in 2009 and attempted to consolidate their place in the current gin boom, new packaging and a huge marketing campaign was devised and centred around Great British Spirit. The original shaped bottle was even altered with a new look logo, a bolder typeface, and a deeper shade of emerald green. By all accounts it was a mixed success, but it rejuvenated the brand and helped build its appeal to a younger audience.

All of these elements is partly why the move to lower their ABV was especially disappointing to us here. Although the original big push may not have delivered the results they were looking for, by late 2013, there were clear signs that premium gin brands were booming. More and more gins were investing in transparency and educating consumers – both about the contents of their bottle and about their history – to great success. Greenall’s Gin had the right idea and didn’t need to opt for the cheaper and bigger approach, instead choosing to achieve growth by building brand equity at the same time. Beefeater invested heavily in creating a visitor experience that’s now come to fruition and that they are now reaping the rewards from. So too are Bombay Sapphire (a gin made partly at Greenall’s even now despite Bombay having relocated), who invested in opening a vertically integrated brand experience-come-distillery and visitor centre. Greenall’s have a history that dates back to the 1760’s, they own all the intellectual property on their original founder Thomas Dakin and have archives (although many were destroyed by fire or lost over the years) of the revolutionary time of post Gin Craze era England. They have a history that spans the Gin palaces of the 1800’s, the Roaring 20’s, Prohibition and so on – yet they choose not to fight to establish better understanding of their legacy and present their heritage with pride. Instead they’ve actually gone in the other direction: they’ve become cheaper by diluting both their liquid and their image in order to cut costs while increasing volume through retailing at a lower price point.

Clearly, their decision has paid off and sales figures are soaring. In 2012 Greenall’s Original London Dry Gin surpassed the 100,000 nine litre case mark for the first time in the UK. The company said it has almost doubled its output over the past three years and the brand has grown 33% in volume over the past year, according to data monitoring agency Nielsen. The gin has a retail sales value of £20 million with more than 1.2 million 70cl bottles sold in the UK on and off trade alone. If one looked at it purely numerically, it’s the success story of 2013/14.

However, one has to wonder in the long line of generations that have developed Greenall’s into the powerhouse distillery it is today and which has earned enough credibility and technical know-how to be sought out by customers the world over, who forgot to balance the distillery’s heritage and credibility against the (again, clearly successful) business move to lower costs and compete at an entry level price bracket? In the long term, will a custodianship that is centered around driving volume and profit be the death of their ability to be taken seriously as one of the earliest pioneers and longest standing names in the gin category? Long gone are the romantic depictions of Dakin and the early years of entrepreneurial spirit, as its seems like there is now a wide gulf to overcome should they ever want to move back in that direction. Much like Gordon’s whose archives are filled with a rich tapestry of stories, the overwhelming sentiment of it being a ubiquitously cheap spirit without much depth is hard to surmount – even when trying to show a precedent from its history as context for new launches.

This is furthered by one of the areas where Greenall’s is really flourishing: the RTD market (Cocktails in a Can), where they have a full portfolio on offer. We feel the most successful is the Gin & Pink Grapefruit as it’s genuinely different to others on the market, although Gin Fizz as well as the Gin & Bitter Lemon make for interesting quick fixes when you have neither the time nor the tools to make one from scratch. Negativity about cheap and omnipresent gin aside,  Greenall’s have expanded their offering with a Wild Berry Gin and a Sloe Gin release in September 2014 and with it, the first line extension they have done for their gin in over 250 years.

While we’ve been especially harsh in this article, it is purely as so few gins have the pedigree that Greenall’s have and so few have the potential to be a powerhouse with integrity. There are signs of changes underway and 2015 could well be the year it all turns around. There are many gins that are considerably worse to taste and at a much higher price point. Greenall’s, although vilified for the best part of a thousand words above, is by no means rubbish, merely undersold, under-loved and over-cut with water. Joanne Moore is one of the most talented distillers in the world, yet Greenall’s Gin does her almost no favours in showcasing her skill. The Sloe and Wild Berry gins are the first time Moore has had the opportunity to develop variants on the Greenall’s brand and work with the liquid in a new and innovative way. With these new additions, she shows just what can be done with the spirit when it’s given the due attention and diligence it requires. The original gin may not change as the recipe is set, but at 40% or higher it would return to being a gin we can all respect. With more done to showcase their history it would be better understood too. It’s unfortunately all too easy to now simply overlook Greenall’s Gin but don’t be fooled – there is a reason it has been around for over 250 years.

Currently, it may well be aimed at a wider entry level market and not a gin intended for special occasions or hardcore gin fans looking to embrace a gin and a team of artisans, but it’s a sleeping giant that will – we certainly hope – wake up to it’s full potential and live up to it’s own tag line of Great British Spirit once more.

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For more information about Greenall’s Gin, visit their website: www.greenallsgin.com

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