Gin: Keeping it real

22 August, 2018

Gin has adopted many new incarnations in the course of its meteoric rise – but is it in danger of going too far? Christian Davis ponders over a great G&T


GIN USED TO BE LIKE A traditional department store. Familiar, safe, a bit staid but reliable – you got everything you wanted. In gin’s case: refreshing citrus notes underlined by juniper and mixed with tonic water, ice and lemon. There just isn’t a better thirst-quenching drink, particularly on a summer’s day.

Today, gin is like a souk. Chaotic, seemingly unregulated, exciting but slightly unnerving, easy to get lost in. You have little idea of what you are going to come out with – herbs, spices, a joint, a rug, or a fez.

The spirit has come a long way from what its stereotypical drinker might suggest: a middle-aged, middle-class woman in southern England (Tunbridge Wells), quaffing a Gordon’s or Beefeater with Schweppes tonic while she waits, lonely and depressed, for her husband to come home from work.

Gin is now as much about men with skinny trousers, long beards and crazy hats in pop-ups in London’s Shoreditch and Hoxton, Copenhagen’s meat packer district or Barcelona. There is also the fad, started in Spain, for pink, strawberry-flavoured gins. The very latest is gin liqueurs – lower alcohol, on trend, and packed with sugar.

According to statistics supplied by the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs and Diageo, gin has increased its growth rates, with yearly value sales growing by nearly a third and quarterly value sales by nearly 40%. Over the last quarter, gin value sales were worth only £10m less than blended scotch. Exports of British gin have broken the half a billion-pound mark for the first time.

UK gin exports reached £530m in 2017 – the highest ever for gin exports, totalling around 189m (70cl) bottles (up from around 177m bottles in 2016). The US remains the largest single importer of UK gin, with sales worth £184m, up almost £12m on 2016.

By region however, the EU is still by far the biggest destination for UK gin, with the European market seeing growth of 16% last year.

Within the EU, Spain is the largest market, with £100m of gin sales, meaning that the Spanish gin market is bigger than the next five markets (Germany, Italy, France, Greece and Belgium) combined.

The UK sends more gin around the world than it does beef, and increased 12% by value and 7% by volume in the last year – the largest exporter of gin in the world.

Nicholas Cook, director general of the Gin Guild, tells Drinks International: “Despite the headline figures bandied about as to the number of distilleries listed by HMRC and the claims that this growth in distillery numbers is all down to gin, we think the headlines cited by many are a little misleading.”

Cook points out:

  • Not all gin is distilled gin (the EU does allow compounded and non-distilled products to be labeled as ‘gin’), but the Gin Guild only recognises distilled gin, the higher production classification;
  • Not all licence holders actually use their licences;
  • Not all companies who describe themselves as ‘distillers’ or ‘distilleries’, actually distil themselves.


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