Saturation point?

02 June, 2016

Can gin survive the plethora of new brands flooding the market? Ian Buxton reports


PING! IT’S AN EMAIL: a gin’s been launched.Ping! A new craft distillery has opened. Ping! Here’s a crowd-funding campaign to help another artisanal gin conquer the world.

Ping! Ping! Ping! Every day it seems that my email is crowded with news of new gins. It’s hard to keep up – and I’m interested and involved with gin. So where will it stop? Will this 21st-century gin craze run out of steam? Have we, in fact, reached peak gin?

I wanted to ask some craft distillers – large and small – what they thought is driving the market, how long it can last and where it will go. Without exception they were upbeat – all their talk was of expansion, almost limitless opportunities and new worlds to conquer.

Mark Marmont is an engaging Aussie with a varied career to look back on, none of it involving distilling. He began making his 58 gin in a workshop in a converted railway arch in London in January 2015. Everything – and I mean everything – is done by hand, yet he counts high-end cocktail bars Merchant House and Dukes Bar and luxury retailer Fortnum & Mason among his accounts.

As I got off the phone to him he had just closed an investment round that will finance his tiny distillery for the next three years – allow him to take on his first staff and double or triple production. A new 60-litre still is on order and he’s discussing export enquiries from France, Canada and his native Australia.

All this has been built on hand-to-hand selling at weekend markets and by a visible presence on social media. “People want something different,” he says. “They love to meet the distiller in person and explore what’s in the product.”

On an altogether different scale, Alex Nicol of Edinburgh gin makes much the same point. “Provenance, packaging, product innovation and taste are the drivers,” he says. Launched as long ago as June 2010, which makes Edinburgh gin a veteran of the craft scene, the brand has moved rapidly from a contract distilled product to opening its own in-pub distilling operation with two 180-litre stills. Before long they were running “flat out” and in May the company will commission its new 1,000-litre still, custom designed in partnership with Heriot Watt University.

With four core products, further seasonal specials and one-offs and bespoke creations for customers’ own-brands, Edinburgh gin has come a long way. But, as co-director Jane Nicol says: “The companies aiming highest, working with scientists and investing in premium products, bottles [and] labelling will survive and be best. Others will fall away through lack of understanding of the market and not realising just how hard it is out there to be competitive and stay ahead.”

Moving up in size to the larger end of the craft scene, Bruichladdich’s Botanist has met with remarkable success. Incredibly, CEO Simon Coughlin told me that, within the year, Bruichladdich will sell greater volumes of gin than its renowned single malt whisky. And Botanist, just to recall, was launched only in Spring 2011 and wasn’t even the reason Rémy Cointreau came calling. But its distribution power, global scale and marketing muscle have super-charged this Hebridean brand.

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