Over 6’s only please
We implemented a policy well over a year ago in which we point blank refuse to review gins that are less than six months old. It may sound a little mean, or maybe even obnoxious, but our reasons for doing so are long, valid and… actually sort of interesting. The first year or so of a distillery’s life is a baptism of fire that sees change occur at every possible moment.
With this article, we’re not seeking to defend our position, but to provide insight into the going’s on and early stages of a brand’s life, with our observations on what most go through.
The flavour drift…
It is incredibly rare for a gin to taste the same on batch 20 as it did on batch one. Larger distilleries operate with scale, resources and with years of experience employing all the tricks of the trade to negate the drift and ensure consistency. Already operational ones to do to a certain extent, while contract houses are exactly that – a precise recipe to order.
For smaller operations though, unless a distiller has done so many iterations and so many tests to get to the stage where they are happy, honing every minutiae of detail as well as doing multiple trials of the exact same batch to reach their first official batch, things will change and evolve.
For those adamant that theirs won’t change, we call bullshit. We’ve spent the last ten years watching and documenting over 300 starts ups go through the process. We’ve often being hands on with many of these ourselves. Change will happen, it always has, it always will, and the basic fact is if it doesn’t, they’re actually not doing a good job.
The reality is that the first few batches might be the correct flavours, but they will also still be the first few times the ingredients, the still, the process and the people are all doing the same thing over and over. It may well be brilliant liquid, but it will not be consistent yet. Consistency comes with practice, and it is natural for it to vary a bit as everything finds a rhythm.
A good distiller should be looking to improve constantly, and if they can’t improve on a process that they’ve only done a few times, they’re not asking the right questions of themselves.
It should be better. There should be improvements in the process (better yields), procurement (better quality of ingredients now that that they really know what works best), flavour recognition (better cuts, finessing grams and botanical prep) etc…
Even if it is perfection in liquid form and cannot be improved there will be issues to overcome too, like buying new ingredients and keeping consistency despite changes that are totally beyond their control (weather, availability, seasonal issues etc). Moreover, how a gin settles and changes over months in bottle should be taken into account – something that is impossible to know at the beginning of the journey. All these things will mean that either improvement is possible or that consistency is hard to achieve and that batch 20 will be different than batch one.
A review any earlier is just a waste of time as it means that the tasting notes and quality assessment published is out of date within weeks of publishing and not reflective of what is being made.
The exuberance of youth…
As with anyone in a new industry, the early days are when mishaps happen. When it comes to new distillers, there are always a few rookie errors – learnings on the road that are best made free of judgement. These should be learnt from quietly and away from the public spotlight.
The claims are sometimes a little over zealous too, the spin a little too heavy and the assertions made a little under-informed. Again, it’s all natural and we don’t judge it as learning about a trade and all that others are doing in it takes time, while we understand there is also a need to be noticed in a saturated environment.
Unfortunately, we’re also jaded hacks that have been there a few too many times and rather than deal with it, we’d rather just give everyone a honeymoon period than be negative about them. It’s unnecessary to preach, as after a few months everything settles and new owners see what works and hone their pitch accordingly.
Another more controversial reason is that most new distillers and owners don’t actually want a critique, they want affirmation.
They want to know their new born is a beauty, not a forensic assessment of their parenting style or inherent taste. If this is surprising or something that you don’t feel is possible, take the fact that despite politely declining to write something up but wishing them well and asking to get back in touch later in the year so that we can do then, less than 20% follow up. It’s validation, not evaluation that a majority seek in their early weeks.
It sounds harsh but trust us when we say that even those who do want to know a truthful opinion cannot handle it. Criticising a producer at a time where the excitement, the pressure to succeed and the dream that’s just materialised for them is so raw almost always results in a volatile situation.
Six to nine months later there’s more scope for a conversation, and as champions of gin and of gin makers, we far prefer cheering the early progress while staying on the side lines.
We write over a thousand words in a review, sometimes over two. Yes, we do need an editor to cut that dramatically but the reason for it is that we talk about the journey that people have been through and where what they have created is going. Some of that involves a crystal ball, much of it is from having observed hundreds grow and seeing where, what and why someone has an edge.
It’s impossible to tell what’s got potential and what’s going to flatline until a brand has had a good nine months to exist. That’s especially true of the brands that launch with a PR campaign, great images and solid digital presences – as most unload it all to get started, often with huge buzz, but don’t then reinvest or allow it to evolve and stall in their ascent to gin stardom.
We look at route to market, tone of voice, quality of images, messages and how active a distillery is, what their attitude is like or whether they understand that despite being a gin maker, they can represent so much more. Brand building is what we’ve cut our teeth on in the drinks industry and no matter how divergent the ideas are there is one universal truth – it takes time to implement a vision and build an identity that drinkers can trust.
It’s not fair to judge what’s underway, but moreover the first year is where the evolution is at its steepest, so just like with flavour, assessments and comments are out of date very fast.
In recent years, we’ve also found that most distilleries will add several products in the first year after launching, and they are often far more telling of quality, attitude and future intent than their flagships.
Hopefully, this provides the three overarching reasons we hold off reviewing the newbies out there, with lots of smaller insights as to why we say no. More so, we hope it just shows why we should all give a bit more room for those starting off, not to ignore but to accept that they are learning, that they need support but they also need room to not be instantly dismissed and allowed to make mistakes. Gin isn’t a one time, do or die situation, it’s just gin. Some perspective is required and no-one’s ever totally written off or always spectacular.
Our aim is simple with our reviews – to provide valuable insight for readers. To do that, we focus on being accurate and armed with a broad view rather being quick out the blocks based on first impressions.
Copyright © Gin Foundry