Gin: Too big to fail?

The original Sipsmith distillery in Hammersmith.


In such a fast-paced, dynamic market, it can be difficult to predict the next trend. For Cook of The Gin Guild, it is the turn of honey as the key botanical, with brands such as Silent Pool, Dodd’s, Greensand Ridge and Warner Edwards already championing the ingredient.

He also told db that he thought Australia “would be the next big area for gin”, thanks to its native flora. Australia has a staggering 24,000 indigenous plants compared with around 1,700 in England. The fruits are quite literally ripe for the taking, as Australian distilleries have the potential to use botanicals that are difficult, if not impossible, to source anywhere else in the world.

Aside from ingredients, however, Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, adds: “Consumers are increasingly willing to spend more for an experience, so this factor could come into play, with gins taking on new marketing techniques so that they can gain a competitive advantage.”

Most recently, we have seen the creation of gin brand Portobello Road’s gin hotel, a multi-million-pound, four-storey “gin mecca”, combining a hotel with a distillery and a restaurant.

Hayman’s Gin is also cashing in on this experiential trend, prompting its decision to move its distillery from Witham in Essex back to London, explains sales and marketing director James Hayman. He says the new distillery, which will include a training area and consumer events space, “will be more than a distillery for us – it will be a home that allows us to entertain, to educate and to share our family’s ongoing passion for distilling English gin the traditional way”.

With the buy-ups and takeovers that have swept through the craft beer industry, as brewing giants AB InBev, SAB Miller, Heineken and Carlsberg buy their way into the craft sector, it is only natural that we should ask whether the same thing will happen to gin.

This year, Campari bought London-based Bulldog Gin for £46.8 million. In 2016 Beam Suntory took a controlling stake in Sipsmith, while Pernod Ricard snapped up German gin brand Monkey 47. Dixon of Harvey Nichols, however, does not think the movement will take hold: “I don’t think we will see a massive movement towards consolidation and mergers. Larger producers appear to be looking beyond gin to other emerging categories, such as Irish whiskey and mezcal,” he says.

Unlike craft beer, which has increasingly encroached on big brewers’ market share, forcing them to take action, the WSTA’s Beale says that the whole gin category has benefitted from the gin boom. “Mainstream brands have maintained their market share as well as smaller brands doing well,” he says. “In a nutshell, regardless of their size, all gin brands are performing well.”

Although the British have laid claim to creating gin since the early 1700s, it was first inspired by the fiery, juniper-dominant genever, hailing from the Netherlands and Belgium. It seems fitting, therefore, that the next stage in its progression could be regarded as ‘the rise of world gins.’

Willing and label: Italy’s Il Dottore gin

Brands such as Germany’s Monkey 47, Four Pillars from Australia, Aviation from America, Ki No Bi from Japan and Scapegrace from New Zealand are already picking up quite a following, with the German company Elephant Gin and English gin Whitley Neill both using exotic botanicals for a foreign flare.

Snow Queen, well-known for its vodka, is capitalising on the popularity of overseas gins by releasing a new Italian example called Il Dottore. Managing director Roman Park says: “It is inspired by the story of those who were making ‘gin’ in the 1300s.Italian doctors believed the juniper berry to have medicinal powers so they would create tonics infused with it.”

Speaking about the market for the company’s new gin, Park adds that, saturated or not, “people always have space for a good story in their lives”.

Anders Långsved, commercial director for Europe at America’s Brooklyn Gin, believes the gin market in the US is yet to reach its full potential. He tells db: “We see that interest in gin, and especially gin from new distillers, is definitely picking up in the US, although we’re a few years behind the UK in this respect.

“In the US, the size of the gin category is nowhere near where it used to be before vodka became the white spirit of choice, so there is plenty of room for growth. With so many exciting new options, we believe the interest in gin, especially craft gin, is still in an early stage,” Långsved adds.

3 Responses to “Gin: Too big to fail?”

  1. martin says:

    Interesting thoughts, and by and large mostly agreeable, but there are different gin strategies out there, three of which spring to mind; regional and/or local botanically-based or biased gins, craft/artisan gins using the best available botanical ingredients regardless of origin, and then there are those gin brands that are merely that – not even distilled by the owners, but simply a farmed-out recipe gin that relies on marketing and PR, a brand exercise capitalising on the resurgence of the category! Whilst writing another strategy has occurred to me – the big brand owners/distillers, also cashing in on the popularity of the category with pseudo-craft gins and even with the cynical use of labelling terms such as ‘handcrafted’ which the big brands are most certainly not! But the question about longevity is a valid one. My opinion is that quality will last, as it does with most things, not just gin. The regional products may hit a ceiling before others, as more regional products appear then a customer’s loyalty is more narrowly defined if you ask me, and customers only have so much cupboard space for gin, not to mention the cash to pay for it. Hopefully the band-waggoning brands will get bored at some point and move on to something else, as I don’t think they contribute very much of value to the category, just muddy the pond! And I have just thought about another entrant to the market – the hobbyist! These guys are at least distilling their own gin in the main part, not commissioning a big player to do it foe them, and for that they deserve respect, but actually they risk the most in my mind as they generally have no previous history in drinks, let alone spirits, and are very often following other professions or careers. These guys seem the most likely to fall first, but time will tell.

  2. R says:

    As with anything, quality is King\Queen. Some of the bigger brands will always be there, they have the might and capital reserves to ride out a small drop in market share, not to mention the lower distribution costs vs smaller craft distributors. In my view a key hurdle to growing the brand is the removal of the effort barrier to obtain one of these products. Nearly all supermarkets carry Gordons gin, easy to access, drop it in with the shopping, chug it with some Schweppes tonic, its acceptable as a beverage, its also obtainable to most of the +18 population. But take a small hand crafted gin that contains unicorn hooves and phoenix feathers, chances are it will be only sold in a small shed on the road to Shegra.
    In order for the smaller producers to get their product to market there needs to be greater cooperation between the producers and the giants of commerce. If the supermarkets cant sell very limited qtys of specialist spirits, perhaps its time that Amazon took the mantle and made it easier for folks to receive beverages by post, I never had an issue getting my monthly crate of wine left a the back door, Amazon force you to be in at time of delivery and anyone that has had the hell of using Yodel will attest to, its just not worth it. Existing suppliers are just way too expensive, ~£50 for 450ml of gin delivered, its Gin, not the elixir of life we are talking about….they may be one in the same, but at that price, it wont be me.

  3. Jack Keenan says:

    Bombay Sapphire was created with a very low level of juniper as USA drinkers do not care for the juniper flavour…one reason why Gin consumption per capita is much lower than the UK or Spain!

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