Losing sight of why it is important to protect the term “local”
For fear “local” will soon become akin to “boutique” and “craft”, we decided to write a few thoughts on the seemingly unstoppable trend towards the heavy marketing of the term…
The heart of Gin may well come from juniper, but the soul of any spirit, especially Gin, lies in its ability to encapsulate the magic and essence of where it’s made. Provenance gives many spirits their identity.
The last couple of years have seen more gin distilleries globally turning their attention to their geography in order to find which botanicals could add a touch of individuality to their recipes.
Many are realising that the best way to be unique in an ever more saturated category lays in their ability to incorporate a local accent. Foraging for botanicals is high up on the list when the time comes to create a new Gin.
For example, the Kyrö Distillery team forage four wild ingredients and distil them separately before blending them with another juniper-heavy distillate to create their flagship bottling, Napue Gin. Their biggest issue? Finding enough of these wild ingredients to meet demand and then finding a way to create a consistent distillate (as depending on the season, the botanicals’ oils and character will vary dramatically).
We receive information about many gins and having counted up 2015’s press releases, almost 75% claim to have at least one botanical that is sourced locally. This begs the question – how much of this is just for PR and how much “foraging” is actually done for flavour?
The key element many seem to forget when embarking on a quest to use local botanicals is to only do so if they really make a difference. Most good gins that are known for having a distinct geographic accent have an authentic reason for why they forage, or why they grow their own or pick botanicals locally. Namely, the ingredients are discernible in the overall flavour of their gins and imbue their spirits with a sense of place. It’s more than just a tag line.
For Gin as a category, this is the challenge we now face. Regionality has got to remain about taste first and foremost and not just be a marketing strapline that simply pushes an evocative idea.
Don’t get us wrong – It is truly great to have seen the rise of this trend towards regionality. More local, unique and exciting products are a good thing. Yet it is with caution that we encourage more of it. Done well, the diversity of the Gin category will be all the better for it; being geographically unique is, after all, the most inimitable aspect to many a gin and is what makes the category so exciting.
It’s why craft players like Rock Rose have a captivating gin, why Barr Hill Gin has a memorable USP, why many of the Nordic gins are so distinct and why many of the new Australian Gins are finding a receptive audience. Their choices of local “star” botanicals are both unique and make a substantial impact to the flavour in a positive way. This is why they are so credible and carry enough gravitas to become their respective distilleries’ calling card.
However, if the market becomes saturated in a sea of gimmick-lead claims about a “local” or “foraged” ingredient for the sake of it (i.e. simply because it looks good in pamphlets), the very idea as to why consumers should care about regional accents in the first place will be rendered mute.
Should you really be making a big deal about using English coriander seed as opposed to seeds from anywhere else, if it’s only a minor part of the recipe? How much of a difference does it really make using foraged elderflower in a US region that isn’t known for it, in comparison to importing better quality from further afield, especially if you can’t taste it in the end outcome anyway?
Don’t get us wrong, if a local ingredient can be used, it should (so long as the quality is right) but like any homogenised word (“boutique” and “craft” spring to mind here), the negative impact of overusing the terms ‘foraged’ and ‘local’ in an attempt to upsell the mundane and redundant will be detrimental to all.
Making a fuss out of an ingredient because of its provenance is only worthwhile if it is genuinely exceptional and can be noticed in the end flavour profile.
We hope that the next couple of years will see new gins being made using local botanicals, with the same level of authenticity as those who have already been made. Be warned however – if we are not careful, we’ll have another set of terms to add to the redundant message pile alongside craft and boutique.
We will have actually allowed those with a lesser sense of integrity to prevent the ability of future generations of gin makers to really shout about something that makes their spirit unique. We will have, once again, allowed marketing to hijack the integrity of the end outcome for the sake of making a quick buck.
Don’t fall for it folks. Ask questions as to why they have picked their ingredients. Celebrate those who have done it well and applaud them loudly. Shun those whose call for “Hand-picked” is dubious and who have chosen messaging over substance…
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