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WSTA warns that Brexit could lead to a gin shortage

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has warned that a “no-deal” Brexit could threaten imports of juniper from the Mediterranean, leading to a “doomsday” for British gin.

L-R: WSTA chief executive Miles Beale; Cotswolds Distillery founder Dan Szor; and WSTA chairman Dan Jago

The WSTA highlighted the fact that British distillers import considerable quantities of juniper from overseas, mostly from the Mediterranean. It added that other botanicals commonly used in gin such as orange and lemon peel, liquorice, orris root and angelica root are all usually imported too.

The trade body said that custom delays could lead to “extremely testing times” for UK gin distillers.

While juniper does grow in the UK, it is not available in sufficient quantities for every distiller to use, while native plants have also been infected by P austrocedri, a pathogen which attacks juniper roots, killing vascular tissue (phloem) and forming lesions which extend up into the lower stem.

P austrocedri was first reported in the UK in 2011 and since then, while it is under no immediate threat, juniper has been added to the national seed bank to allow for research and conservation work to take place.

According to the latest market report by the WSTA, sales of gin in the UK broke another record, reaching £1.5 billion or roughly 55 million bottles in the 12 months to the end of March 2018. 

The WSTA stressed that problems would not be limited to the gin industry, adding that import delays could be particularly damaging to wine. 99% of wine sold in the UK is imported – amounting to 1.8 billion bottles in 2017, 900 million of which came from the EU.

The trade body warned that importers “need to have contingency to double their wine stocks” and face having to find “extra warehouse space and cash flow”.

Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association said: “The British gin industry is a great example of a booming trade that could be severely hampered if the so called ‘Brexit Armageddon’ scenario strikes. Doomsday Brexit could have a catastrophic impact, certainly on some of the smaller gin distillers, who are likely not to have the capacity to buy in and store reserves to make their products. This could lead to a shortage or even wipe out your favourite craft gin.

“The whole of the UK wine and spirit trade relies on the frictionless movement of goods in and out of the UK. We have been warning our members to prepare for the worst for the last 18 months. Government seem to have only just woken up to facing the bleakest outcome.

The harsh reality is that Armageddon risks companies going under, jobs being lost and consumers facing price hikes. So, Parliament needs to debate and pass the EU withdrawal bill and the government needs to get on with negotiating a successful trade deal with the EU that can be delivered in time for the end of the transition period. Businesses in our industry need a frictionless, fudge-free fix – and they need it fast.”

Dan Szor, founder of the Cotswold Distillery, said: “If we are faced with a trade dead-stop at customs it is going to cause chaos at UK ports. Businesses like mine will find it very tough. We need clarity from government so that we can start to make a plan. At Cotswold Distillery we rely on juniper berries from Macedonia – and it comes into the UK via Calais. Without juniper there is no gin.

“Juniper grows wild and the success of the harvest is very much weather dependent, if we have a bad season and distillers are being forced to stockpile and I can see a juniper war kicking off. It’s not just SME’s like ours that will suffer the situation isn’t resolved it’s all millions of gin lovers who might not be able to get hold of their favourite tipple if juniper is in short supply”.

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