Gin: campaign for juniper

The rush to produce Instagram- friendly pink, colour-changing and fruit gins has been well- documented, but amid all the excitement, a kick-back against outlandish innovation has been slowly gathering pace among those who see proper gin as the route to long-term sustainability for the category.

It’s also led some in the industry to call for tougher regulation – or more vigilant application of current rules – to retain transparency in the category (see box).

Angus Lugsdin, co-founder and director of Devon gin producer Salcombe Distilling, says: “The lower end of the market will continue to be dominated by flavours, colours and even glitter.

“The problem with many of these products is that you could argue they aren’t, in fact, gin and are just brightly coloured, overly sweet alcoholic drinks using the term ‘gin’ to sell the liquid.

“If your story revolves around a specific botanical, it is pretty boring. Your brand story needs to have depth and truth.”

Ellie Jones is the marketing manager for Love Drinks, which has a portfolio of gins including: Hernö from Sweden, Australia’s Four Pillars and Brighton Gin, which has just launched a citrus and juniper-heavy Seaside Strength gin at 57% abv.

She says: “Gin drinkers are an intelligent and discerning bunch so over-marketed brands with no backbone don’t stand a chance. It has to be top quality when it comes to taste but consumers are interested in the production, the people, the provenance, the principles and the passion behind a brand.”

Michael Vachon, co-founder of Maverick Drinks, whose gin portfolio includes Finnish distillery Kyrö’s Nupue and Koskue brands, Ableforth’s Bathtub and That Boutique-y Gin Co, says: “People can smell a brand that feels like it’s trying to jump on a bandwagon, whether it’s through design or the way the product is positioned. The brands that are going to do well are those that are rooted in purpose.”

Tom Hills, head distiller at East London Liquor Co, which makes a range of gins, says taste ultimately trumps every other consideration for most consumers. “Consumers may go out on a limb from time to time to try something really whacky or out there, but people need reliable products that are accessible, relatable and aren’t going to break the bank,” he says.

John McCarthy, head distiller at Adnams, believes simply that “gin should be gin”. He adds: “Our USP is that we’re grain-to-glass, which most distillers cannot do. We make the base alcohol in our brewhouse and brew a beer with no hops in it with Adnams yeast, which we then take into a distillery and turn into a vodka and then into a gin.

“We do different types of mash with different grains for each gin where the resultant spirit has a different mouthfeel and flavour, which is almost like an extra botanical.”

Seb Heeley, master distiller at Manchester Gin, says that “quality always rises”. He adds: “Every spirit brand ultimately lives and dies by repeat purchases. Gin drinkers are becoming more inquisitive about the true provenance of the products they buy. Consumers want to know that people are producing it how and where they say they are.”

Japanese whisky producer House of Suntory has launched Roku gin, a juniper-led product with a Japanese twist from botanicals including sansho pepper, yuzu peel and cherry blossom. Brand ambassador James Bowker says: “It straddles the boundary between a traditional style that might stand the test of time and elements of innovation for more recent gin drinkers, where they want something a little more floral and fruity.”

Neil Everitt, chief executive of Brockmans Gin, says its focus is on building a strong core brand. “We believe we have created a perfect product and have never launched sub-brands. The result of fragmentation and so many launches is often consumer confusion and cannibalisation of your own brand.”

Like Adnams, Wiltshire-based Ramsbury takes a grain-to glass-approach to gin-making. Global sales director Mats Olsson says: “Of course flavour is key, but traceability, awareness of production and the people involved in the process are becoming just as important. We are playing around with various base spirits by experimenting with different types of wheat.”

Despite a widespread push back towards the essence of gin, some of the producers featured here haven’t been blind to the constant demand from gin shoppers for something new.

Salcombe has produced a subtle take on pink gin in the form of Rosé Sainte Marie, which Lugsdin says has “a hint of lemon and a whisper of red fruit, like you would expect from a good Provence rosé wine”, and is also working with a Sauternes producer on a new gin.

Manchester Gin is working with Peter Hook, former Joy Division and New Order bass player, on a Hacienda edition, named after the city’s legendary nightclub of the 1980s and 1990s, with a series of limited-edition labels. “We’ve maintained the use of some of our core botanicals, so it’s still very much part of the Manchester family,” says Heeley.

Pernod Ricard has invested in TV advertising for Plymouth Gin and has been busy bolstering the team at The Gin Hub, its dedicated division. Senior executives Toni Ingram, Kenny Hyslop and Lee James have joined the growing team in the past month.

Halewood Wines & Spirits has appointed four new brand ambassadors to help take its gin portfolio to the next level. Jamie Rowe, Devin Tomlinson, Chris Dennis and Joe Brayford will educate trade and consumers in a bid to grow the category.

“They all bring unique and exciting viewpoints on the gin category, and have an unrivalled passion for the industry and their individual crafts. We’re excited to have them develop the strategy for each brand while demand for each grows,” says senior marketing manager Leanne Ware. “At a time when there is a lot of noise in the category, we encourage the trade to make use of their expertise and discover how they can develop the right type of gin experience for their audience.”

Brewdog’s Cloudy Lemonade version of Lone Wolf gin has a grown-up flavour where the citrus supports and elevates the juniper rather than masks it. It is made by steeping fresh lemon peel in the original Lone Wolf gin.

Maverick Drinks has upped the abv of its That Boutique-y Gin Co products to a uniform 44% abv, increased its bottle sizes from 50cl to 70cl and lowered bottles prices to £29.95.

Vachon says the move was possible purely through economies of scale.

“A lot of people would take the economies of scale and keep the extra profit or use it to drive costs down,” Vachon says. “That would decrease the value proposition and is how to kill a brand.”

Diageo’s premium Tanqueray brand has expanded into fruit with its orange-flavoured Flor de Sevilla and the company has just launched Villa Ascenti, a super-premium gin from Tuscany, home of some of the world’s best juniper.

Jack Sotti, senior Tanqueray brand ambassador at Diageo, says: “We are seeing a real explosion of types of gin on offer, from flavoured gins to those with more of a focus on classic botanicals and profiles with juniper at the forefront.

“There is space within the category for a number of brands and styles without saturation.”

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