Gin Debate – a missed opportunity

on 03 May, 2013

I attended the Worshipful Company of Distillers’ City Debate on Gin last night. I have to say I think it was an opportunity missed.

If it had not been for an interesting presentation from City analyst Trevor Stirling (see news story on drinksint.com), frankly it would have been a waste of time.

The line up was impressive so hat’s off to Wine & Spirit Education Trust chief executive, Ian Harris, who used his supreme networking skills to get some top names to turn out.

Ed Pilkington, Diageo’s global category director for Vodka, Rum and Gin just used the occasion to tell the packed JP Morgan room about what splendid chaps Charles Tanqueray and Alexander Gordon were and how excited he is about the new cucumber flavoured Gordon’s. I’ve got words such as “eccentric, fundamentally intriguing and effervescent” in my notes. To a room stacked full of people who know about gin, this was hardly interesting or enlightening.

Maurice Doyle, William Grant’s global marketing director, fared little better. The ex-Bacardi man twittered on about Hendrick’s under the theme of ‘idioyncrasy and craft’. There seemed an awful lot of sniping at Diageo which I thought was ungracious. I can understand a certain smugness at the obvious success of Hendrick’s but how Doyle can align Grants as a ‘small company’ stretches credibility.

One is not naïve enough to expect the likes of Pilkington and Doyle to reveal their future plans for their brands. And the very nature of a City of London livery company such as the Worship Company of Distillers, is such that they are never going to court controversy. Nevertheless, this was an opportunity missed. All of them could have made a little more effort to show some expertise and insight into this interesting, burgeoning (super premium only) category.

Even Tom Sandham could have had a better brief. Author of the excellent ‘The World’s Best Cocktails’ book and occasional contributor to Drinks International, Sandham gave an amusing potted history of Gin. Again, most of the people in the room know about Dutch Jenever/Genever and Hogarth’s Gin Lane. Would it not have been more interesting to get Sandham’s insight into gin-based cocktails and what is going on in elite bars around the world?

The result was that no debate materialised as no one except Stirling, had said anything interesting or stimulating, let alone controversial. The one important question about the definition of gin – ‘predominately juniper’, was just shuffled around and fudged.

Harris made a valiant effort to ignite some feedback from the floor but there is only so much you can say about radishes as an idiosyncrasy too far.

If the Distillers is to hold this debate again, it really needs to brief speakers so that they don’t just trundle out their standard company Powerpoint presentations and think that is sufficient.

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