London Gin Summit

on 02 October, 2013

Last night I was at the London Gin Summit, which, contrary to its lofty title, was a relatively low-key meeting of drinks commentators and producers bound by a common craft, encircled by a common road (...the M25). The premise for the summit was the question: ‘should London-distilled gin be protected?’ and this is what happened... 

Before arriving at the WSET classroom, my overwhelming – and perhaps under-thought-through – opinion was, of course it bloody should. Having visited many of the great wine and spirits regions of the world and seen their tapestry of AOCs, DOCs and DOCGs, it is obvious that the British are woeful at protecting their products.

How the French must laugh at the British for failing to even protect Cheddar (…how they laugh at Cheddar full stop), so surely London [Dry] Gin, with all its long and colourful capital-based history, should be protected as a product of London.

Alas, as I was about to find out, things are not that simple. Host David T Smith of Summer Fruit Cup blog fame, took us through the various courses of action (and inaction):

1/ Formal GI status with the EU

According to Smith, this is an unlikely solution as early approaches to DEFRA have indicated the term ‘London Gin’ is so widespread, a GI would be impossible.

2/ A voluntary adoption of a logo/marque

A collective of London distillers that sign up to a rudimentary code of conduct. Smith notes that achieving consensus on the rules would be difficult, when London [Dry] Gin already varies so much.

3/ Do nothing

Rely on gin brands to market themselves individually.

Debate ensued:

“The horse has bolted – London [Dry] Gin is a style not a GI,” said Jamie Baxter, founder of City of London Distillery. “We should put on the bottle Distilled in London.”

Alan Stibbe of Knockeen Hills Poteen argued for the term “London Cut” for those gins produced in London, but most in the room doubted whether consumers would understand what it meant.

Others made the point that London is hard to define as a city – where does it end? But perhaps the most important point of the night was that GI indicates terroir – the link between the product and the environment it is produce in.

This is where London's origin tag seems a little flimsy. Not one London distiller produces its own neutral grain spirit – not Thames Distillers, where numerous gin brands are produced, not Beefeater… the list goes on. Which all means, strictly speaking, these gins are rectified not distilled.

What about the water – well that’s come through Essex, and the wonderful array of exotic botanicals used in gin? Kew Gardens must be looking awfully bare.

Essentially gin can be made well anywhere in the world. Its geographic origin is a matter for history, and let’s not even get into the Dutch’s contribution.

“How about Assembled in London,” concludes Jake Burger, of The Ginstitute and Portobello Star gin. That got the best laugh of the night, for one reason: it’s the only description that makes sense.

Probably the default option to ‘do nothing’ won the day, leaving the best products and best marketing to fight it out. That’s not to say the Summit didn’t achieve anything – the capital’s distillers were almost unanimous in their support for inaction. Now this is starting to sound like a summit.


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