I take a look at the evolution of gin and why it is now the big bad wolf of the spirits market…
Gone are the days that casted gin as the emotional instigator. Gone too are the days when gin was type casted as the infamous currency for the lower classes.
Stripping back the fluffy terms, gin is essentially a flavoured vodka; a neutral spirit laced with botanicals and juniper berries. We’ve all been there – had a cheeky drink or two and then had a good long cry. But why? Well… Alcohol: a sedative and a depressant of the central nervous system. Quite simply, gin, like any alcohol with high volume contents, will act as a depressant if drunk in large quantities in a short amount of time.
So long history, the ginvolution is here and boy is it very much staying.
It is fascinating to look back to the birth of gin. Claimed to have been created in the 17th century in Holland for medicinal purposes (although Italy also argues they hold this title), the Dutch decided to add juniper to make it more palatable. We have all heard of the phrase “Dutch Courage” – we are all culprits of having a tipple or two – this originated from the thirty years’ war, where gin was given to the British troops as a warming agent. British distillation existed, however quality was somewhat dubious, and the new drink became a firm favourite with the poor, often distributed as a form of wage.
The British Navy have a lengthy history with gin as well. The original thought process of tonic was to add quinine to the daily sailor diet as a cure to scurvy! (You learn something new everyday).
Many of us won’t have a clue what The Gin Riots were. But it is their very existence that has made gin was it is today. The Gin Act in 1736 was a catalyst that moved gin from being the “poor man’s drink” to a high society spirit. “Mother’s Milk” quickly became “Mother’s Ruin”. Spirit retailers built gin palaces for the slummers to slum away from home. In fact 5000 of them popped up over London. Gin was notoriously also associated with violence, madness, death and crime; mainly due to the cheap and easily accessible licencing. Despite the levitation of taxes throughout the 1700s, the storm calmed but much of the damage had been done.
But this is 2018 and, wow, have things changed since….but not as many as you would have thought, or perhaps even realised. The Philippines has the largest gin market in the world – 43% to be precise. Second on the list is the USA. Spain is the largest gin market in the EU. The world’s largest gin producing company is San Miguel (counts for 27%), Diageo and Pernod Ricard (owners of Beefeater and now Monkey 47).
There are now 315 distilleries in the UK –24 in London alone – this is more than double the operational figure five years ago. The HMRC revealed that in 2017 alone 49 new distilleries opened. Most of the gin homes are in Scotland; however London has been a new hub for gin lovers with new digs for Haymans in Balham and Sipsmith in Chiswick.
Bang on Trend
In the last 12 months we have seen a marvel of trends. We are in the grip of a ‘ginaissance’. There are currently 95 different types of gin on the UK market with an estimated two new flavours surfacing a month. Despite our consistently unpredictable seasons, our fellow Brits still seem to love a craft cocktail which is paving the way for all local distilleries to tap into the evolving market. Gone are the days of #healthyliving, hello to the months of #mixwiththebest. Healthy eating is now healthy drinking with tonics and mixers ranging from cucumber to basil, with the latest range being Refreshingly Light from Fever-Tree, soon to be available to the market.
But isn’t just about the products. It’s about the look. We are a social media-obsessed generation. We are millennials on the cusp of changing science: our hands have now genetically changed from holding mobile phones. We are addicted to taking pictures, posting pictures and hash tagging the hell out of them. And to keep up with our ever-evolving characteristics, brands also have to change to keep up with us (if they can). Everything is copper, shiny, boomerang-able, beautifully colourful and branded. If it doesn’t look good through a screen, don’t even bother.
Tips from the Top
Andy Coleman, owner of Mai Tai in Poole, said “Gin has been on an interesting journey over the last 10 years. A relatively slow moving category has been sparkled into life off of the back of the craft beer movement and the dogged efforts by Sipsmith, who opened the doors for craft gins to re-enter the UK distilling world: A category, traditionally owned by the big brands, has now been opened to the smaller boutique and craft innovators who are not held back by the rules. New flavours and botanical combinations have transformed the category into a kaleidoscope of tastes and variations.” His go-to? A Warner Edwards Rhubarb with tonic (mixer not specified – but trust me, it isn’t one you would expect). And what about the future for gin? “I think the gin culture is here to stay; more variations will start ot come to market, with distllers confidence in exploring new flavours and a new wave of flavoured gins is coming. Cold pressed coffee gins are being seen. Heavy botanical sipping gins have launched and the reintroduction of sloe gins and summer cups are going to be in a lot of leading venues this summer”. Andy, let’s watch this space.
But could it be argued that so many of these gin trends have been given a helping hand by the pairings that accompany them. We are all familiar with Schweppes, we are all aware of Double Dutch and Merchant’s Heart; but it is almost a laughable offence if you haven’t yet of heard of Fever-Tree. Now the number one mixer in Britain, the annual revenue of 2017 rose by 66% and offers over 25 different types of flavours. Charles Rolls, one of the company’s founders, sold three million shares priced at £27.50 each. With its official pairings of 2018 including name such as Pink Pepper, Caorunn, Sipsmith, Black Cow Vodka, Seedlip and Warner Edwards, Fever-Tree seems to be an unstoppable force that seem to continue to re-write the definition of the perfect serve. Our advice? Hold on to those shares. The end is not in sight.
The UK now exports gin to 139 countries around the world. Two years ago, we had our largest ever exportation of around 180 million bottles. We drank roughly 1.32 billion gin and tonics in 2017. This quintessential British spirit has totally grown away from being a medicinal tonic and evolved into a competitive, affordable favourite. There is a flavour for everyone. There is a flavour to accompany every one of these alcoholic creations. There is a garnish, of which now so many are grown locally in the UK, to pair perfectly with your gin bowl. There is such a demand for G&Ts that glass companies are creating moulds specifically for gin.
The question is – will this end? Will the art of a gin and tonic become so accessible and generic, that we will bore of it? Will we always continue to need a bit of Dutch Courage or shall we start slow clapping in the rebirth of craft beers or even the growth of British sparkling wine? Will this new attachment yet again become an emotional detachment?
All we know at work is that, one of our favourites and equally our customers’, Gin & Tonics are a ‘go-to’ and not just in the summer. The demand over 2017 has been astonishing and with Peppermint operating all of the Fever-Tree shows for the 2018 season, we are only expecting further growth.
I’ll take a Mediterranean Fever-Tree and a Portobello please. Don’t forget my lemon wedge.