I love the drinks industry. Not just the spirits made, the cocktails created or the distillation process - but the business of it and how it functions behind the scenes. Strategy, structures, pricing, finance, branding, people. There’s so much to be fascinated by.
It’s hard not to love the swagger involved in a big brand rolling out major campaigns, or the way that micro-distilleries that you’ve never heard of can make exceptional products that blow your socks off. Same with the behind the scenes – to see how certain marketing methods and angles deliver tangible growth, or how that despite getting everything right, without the right business model or knowhow, it can all collapse on the scrap heap of broken dreams.
Sometimes brand building is a blood sport, sometimes it’s a fantasy world with real stories that are crazier than any marketeer could come up with. It’s never straight forward.
Most of all though, I love tracking hot prospects. Watching them grow, evolve, develop, gain traction, and become “overnight” successes despite being years in the making. My brother and I have been involved in a few too, peripherally as media and commentators, actively as event organisers, retailers, brand agency, consultants and even investing in them too. I’ve seen what it’s like to grow a brand from several angles and I haven’t missed calling a big name on the up yet.
When you look at prospects and ask who will make it into household names, there are always tell-tell signs.
With World Gin Day upon us and many looking to the horizon for new and exciting – I thought I’d share some of the brands that have caught the zeitgeist and have the potential to be the next big thing in Europe (while also deliberately avoiding all the usual listicle contenders that are made in the USA or Europe)…
WHO ARE THE NEXT BIG AUSTRALIAN GIN BRANDS?
Australia’s gin scene has been booming over the past five years, with excellent gin after another emerging from producers all over the country. I’ve written about it in detail here, while several international competitions have also validated their quality by frequently awarding golds to producers from the region.
Despite the continued international interest, many remain fixed on their domestic vision for their brands, focusing on local sales and local taste preferences. It’s a shame for drinkers this side of the hemisphere but the same is true anywhere in the world. Not all distilleries aim to be an internationally recognised name. Indeed, that’s a big part of the charm of craft spirits – discovering these gems through travel and experiences.
From a European perspective - we all know and love Four Pillars, Never Never and Manly Spirits as all three have been widely embraced. Four Pillars and Never Never, incidentally, are two of the world's greatest gin makers and are only getting started. Applewood, Seppeltsfield Road and Brookie’s don’t seem far behind but despite being compelling propositions none have ignited in the same way yet.
Recently, I’ve been fixated over Tasmanian newcomers Bright Night Gin and Melbourne based Naught Gin, both of whom have impressive pedigree that set expectations high, but it’ll be years before they establish themselves and become big enough to be contenders. Only time will tell how they take to the brand game too.
So, who has the full package to be a sensation but not yet ventured further than their own borders?
Archie Rose and Adelaide Hills should be high on everyone’s list. To be honest, they are overdue, not up-and-coming. They are huge in Australia and with the teams they have and the offerings they put together, they ought to have been exporting already. Both distilleries combine great design, have stand out bottles, and delicious liquid brimming with regional identity and charisma. They are formidable packages which would make a big impact anywhere they chose to go.
Why haven’t they? Partly financial limitations and re-investing growth into infrastructure before looking at new horizons, but mostly, because they are more than gin makers. They have both wanted to have a full range of spirits to offer. Whisky just can’t be rushed, nor can Brandy.
Now that both have their golden nectar being disgorged from casks on a regular basis, hopefully both New World Whisky drinkers and gin fans may see their bottles on shelves in Europe too. The irony is that if they wait much longer from a gin perspective, they will never become big names and will likely only be known in Europe as great Whisky makers who also have a solid gin range…
WHO ARE THE NEXT SUPERSTAR GIN MAKERS COMING OUT OF ASIA?
Japanese gins dominate the chatter for Asian success stories, but despite the constant quality being launched – it’s unlikely that the next gin icon will come from there. Ki No Bi is now Pernod Ricard and joins the kind of multinational backing enjoyed by the likes of Roku and Nikka, while names like Etsu, Sakurao, 135 East and Komasa all have a growing foothold in Europe already.
Japanese gin gets the attention it deserves – it tends to match western preconceptions of what gin is (predominant juniper) and infuses it with an original local flair for simple elegance and carefully chosen flavour layering.
Yaso103, Yuzu Gin and Masahiro OKINAWA are all worth discovering and I’ll gladly tell you that I loved drinking Togedama Gin and rate it highly for being distinct and unusual - but it’s niche to say the least. Even the likes of Ukiyo’s brace of photogenic gins are niche even if they are popping up in glossy round ups.
Beyond those who have a penchant for a funky base spirit adding its personality to the mix or foodies who can discern the likes of sansho, bamboo, shiso or countless varietals of loose-leaf tea, if you just look at the prices being proposed I just don’t see any breaking into the mainstream anytime soon.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong is buzzing for gin - from adopted gins like Perfume Trees (distilled in the Netherlands), Fragrant Harbour (Sweden) and Bauhinia (UK), or their locally made gins from NIP Distilling and Two Moons. There’s huge potential, especially for the two actually made there, but they are all still very small…
Singapore’s Brass Lion or Tanglin Gin, as well as the Philippines’ ARC Gin are names that are doing well internationally now, mainly due to astute nature of their owners. None have quite clicked as cult brands or have enthralling flavours demanded by discerning drinkers in Europe though. Maybe in time and with tweaks to their offering.
Keep moving along the countries and you’ll discover that Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand all have hot prospects in their nascent stages of growth.
Seekers Spirits, in particular, is building a beautiful gin brand that has huge potential. Their Dry Gin is made from a base spirit derived fromcassava root, distilled with eleven native botanicals foraged from the banks of the Mekong River. I can’t wait to see how they evolve.Sông Cái also has the potential to go far and wide, with a combination of captivating brand identity and a team looking to push around their name out there, as well as gins that are genuinely lovely to drink.
Both distilleries have an original flair and you can taste their ability to convey that through their spirit in addition to the way they present themselves. I’m rooting for both, but they will need more that 18 months to make the leap.
I’ve been outspoken about for this for years – India is the next big market and where the two brands I feel are destined for superstardom are based. Naming NAO Distillery and Third Eye Distillery as the next big thing feels like a cop out though. They are already past the “new” stage, selling over half a million bottles, in multiple export markets have each secured major backing (in different ways) to continue their rate of growth.
NAO’s Greater Than Gin is the London Dry that’s sweeping the nation, while the distillery's sister expression Hapusa Himalayan Gin earns high end listings everywhere it goes further afield – and if you haven’t tasted them already, you’ve missed out. Third Eye’s Stranger & Sons is just as good (classically styled, with a zesty citrus nose and spice to spare) and whose approach to building advocacy in the trade is both highly creative and genuinely positive for both them and the wider category. They are both high calibre teams producing impeccable gins and together, are raising the profile of gin to a new generation of Indian consumers. I’ve got nothing but admiration.
No, for an “up-and-comers” gin guide in 2022 I will not play it safe and back the odds-on favourites!
China is where I have my eye on, and the country most likely to produce the next global superstar. Youyun Distilling Company’s have some good gins (the Rambler Rare Specimen Gin is impressive) but don’t seem to be anywhere with the rest of the brand offering. The opposite is true with Porcelain Gin from the Liaoning province of China and their glorious bottle. It sells itself and will become a frequent sighting if they keep growing at the pace they are. The family story they present, the craft in making the bottles and more – it’s a charming concoction in many ways. Yet no-one ever seems to comment about the contents though… I can't either as i only had snifter in a plastic cup from an already decanted bottle so hardly a fair assessment. Either way, my hot tip money is on Peddlers Gin.
They are building a brand that is engaging, charismatic and polished. It looks cool and they are partnering with people who are cool, and if that's not the definition of zeitgeist i don't know what is. It is also being embraced by bartenders in a major way, while the gin is a strange juxtaposition (Buddha’s hand, Sichuan pepper and lotus flower meets juniper); it's ginny yet approachable to a local audience unfamiliar with the category.
There’s a sense of the trailblazer about them and Peddlers feel as close to the real deal as I’ve seen a long time. Well, since Greater Than, Ki-No-Bi, Four Pillars and Sipsmith to be exact. If they continue their journey, they’ll also be recognised as “the first” craft gin from China and in whose wake the rest launched behind – a status that all those now multinational brands mentioned there have heavily benefited from over the years.
Besides, if China gets a thirst for gin, just like it has been for Indian brands, even if they remain a small player on the international scene, their domestic sales are likely to be over a million bottles a year in a matter of months and make even the big names of Europe look like they are playing in the little leagues.
CAN AFRICA PRODUCE THE NEXT BIG GIN BRAND?
South African ginsmiths have been beleaguered by compounding issues of late. From repeat Covid related prohibitions to drought – it’s a minor miracle so many are still in business. Despite having a depth of quality offerings rich with characterful botanicals such as cape fynbos, when the rug gets pulled from under like that it’s difficult to see how any brand can flourish. My prediction – the status quo remains and there’s no South African breakthrough just yet.
Hailing from Kenya, Procera dominates headlines as the brand “on the up” but the hefty price tag makes it a slow burner and its fortunes are unlikely to flip dramatically from one year to another. It’s on a rise all over Europe and rightly so – it’s delicious, generously juniper rich and in a gorgeous handblown glass that makes it highly collectible - but their success is incremental and not a fast track to the big time.
An African spirit I’d love to see more of and apply itself to gin (as in not the local nickname for hooch, actual junipery gin) is Pedro's, a “premium ogogoro” brand. It launched in 2018 and it’s made from a 100% organic palm spirit. I love the narrative around it and the way it’s intrinsically linked to Nigeria's riverine communities, as well as the way it’s spearheading a new narrative around the nation’s spirit and what it can be.
It may be hyper local in it's story, but it deserves more airtime than it’s received so far. More importantly, it's when distilleries like theirs start releasing gins as line extensions to their ranges that new overnight success stories tend to emerge.
Africa might not hold the next big global name currently, but there are countless producers across the continent making enthralling spirits that are worthy of international acclaim and if they decide to actively pursue gin, it's quite likely you'll see a spark that captures the attention world wide.
With so many quality gins made there, what about South America?
Let it be known that Argentina is a hub for great gin.
Principe De Los Apostoles placed the country in on the map for many gin lovers years ago, but let’s just call it for what it is – really well made but with polarising and intensely vegetal flavours. In particular, the use of fresh yerba mate leaves, eucalyptus and peppermint mean most drinkers just don’t know what to do with it and beyond one drink for curiosity, many don’t seek a second.
There are now quality producers all of Argentina. Bosque Alta Montaña are excellent ginsmiths, B Corp registered and I’ll admit to being a little obsessed with them lately. Not too far away and across the border into Chile, the Last Hope Distillery is a place I wished was open when I visited the region and high up on the list of distilleries in great remote locations. Their mantra is to reward adventurers to Patagonia with craft spirits and conviviality, and when the gin is that good and the stills are glowing warm, I can only imagine it to be a beacon of hospitality during the icy winter months. As if this wasn’t enough – nearby is another “boutique” distillery located on the Carretera Austral in Chilean Patagonia, Tepaluma. Co-founded by someone who was literally struck by lightning before moving from Belgium, it may just take the award of most extraordinary backstory (and setting). Talk about a thunderbolt moment!
For all the wonder and provenance these three distilleries carry, despite the clearly extraordinary people behind them, it’s hard to chart a course for how any can go from where they are today to imminent international success.
Further north in Chile, Atacama Wines and Spirits make Gin Nativo using 100% native botanicals from the Atacama Desert. The distillery is in the heart of the Huasco Valley, one of the most extreme wine valleys and at an altitude of 1,150 meters above sea level (allowing their direct flame heated battered looking copper pisco pot stills to boil at 85°C). What a place to make booze and satisfyingly, it is even distilled from a mix of Pisco spirit and corn alcohol too.
Personally, I found Gin Nativo as a story captivating, from its provenance of being from the driest desert in the world, to how it’s made, the ingredients used and who makes it. That said just like much of that region’s magic it is likely to remain a local discovery for most in Europe for the time being as the rest of the “package” from brand to flavour has a bit to go before being at elite level.
Each time look Argentinean and Chilean gins, I reminded of the sheer beauty of their countries. The geography varies so hugely and the botanicals that can grow there is diverse, be it farmed, or native and wild. That sense of wonder has managed to captivate wine drinkers the world over but when it comes to spirits none have ever seemed able to generate international acclaim. It's changing but slowly and for now, they are hotbeds for gin lovers and places where you are likely to discover something brilliant should you get a chance to visit.
In my opinion, the front runner to become the region’s big name is Canaïma Gin. It’s made in Venezuela and is produced by the Diplomatico Rum distillery who take Amazonian botanicals and harnesses them to fantastic effect. Spirit aside, the brand brings together conservation ideals and a sense of genuine authenticity and brings them to bear in a charming way.
It has the contacts, it has the distribution channels and has the right combination of brand ethics, identity and appeal to find a receptive audience. Given the right placement and incubation it could go onto become a big name – but I question if that liquid is good enough to be the next sensation. It’s delicious, laden in tropical fruit but it drowns easily when mixed and while it’s balanced it’s not that memorable. I’m yet to come across anyone who really dislikes it, nor anyone that has feverishly ask if I’ve tried some to see if I like it too.
And so, to the elephant in the room, Brazil, the only country to produce so many great brands and have me stuttering with excitement about my hopes for them yet never see them gain any traction.
Truth be told, despite my fervour for the next big thing to hail from there, there is a sense of too little too late about the gins so far. From a European perspective if any of them were going to become huge names here, they would have done it by now as they’ve all been courting drinkers here for a while and at a point when the gin market was on the up.
Why it hasn’t is a mystery to me. It’s a country of continental proportions, a world of infinite flavours, aromas and stories. It has beaches, rainforests, music, EVERYTHING. Everyone can visualise an image of Brazil when asked to and its soft power as a state is impossible to deny. And yet…
YVY Distillery has some of the lovely ideas about imbuing culture, tradition and local flora into their gins. Their visual identity is striking and their ingredients are considered in their inclusion and compelling in what they represent and taste like. Their recent move towards sustainable packaging looks cool and it's hard to see which box they haven't ticked to qualify for elite international status.
Country-mates Amazzoni Gin also have a lovely trio that would suit most drinkers, a historic distillery space and a raft of awards to their name. Unfortunately, much like some of the nation’s best Cachaça producers who make incredible spirits that would have Rhum Agricole fans giddy, they have not transcended.
And there you have it, a whirlwind around the world looking into the potential of the gin category.
Out of all the names mentioned, and beyond those already quite far along and looking at those at such an early stage of their international growth - if I had a few quid and a bookie willing to take a bid, Peddlers are the brand I’d back. Porcelain will be be big too though so perhaps the better bet would just be to just say it'll be a gin from China!
Irrespective of who makes it (next), if you just zoom out beyond the usual European and US based names that dominate local headlines and take a global view, you’ll notice just how dynamic and exciting the gin category is.