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Hayman’s Gin Debate: Gin rules are being discussed
Published:  07 September, 2018

The definitions and regulations regarding gin are being discussed and reviewed by trade organisations, it was revealed at a major debate on gin yesterday (September 6).

During the discussion, titled: ‘What is Gin - and how can we protect it?’, organised by the Hayman’s gin family and held at its new distillery in south London, a member of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) revealed that trade bodies representing the spirits industry in the UK have been reviewing the regulations regarding what constitutes gin.

Chairman of the discussion was Edwin Atkinson, former head of the now defunct Gin & Vodka Association. He called for ‘Chatham House rules’ to encourage open debate but called for restraint in naming gin producers and brands. Therefore unless specifically asked for permission to attribute quotes, Drinks International was unable to name many of the speakers.

The audience included, Nick Cook, director general of The Gin Guild, Charles Maxwell of Thames Distillers, consultant Martin Riley, former head/senior executive of Irish Distillers/Pernod Ricard and Christopher Hayman, chairman of Hayman’s Gin, whose ancestor is James Burroughs, the inventor of Beefeater gin.

There were also representatives from Diageo, owners of two of the world’s largest gin brands, Gordon’s and Tanqueray, plus a plethora of boutique, craft, gin producers.

In response to a question, a representative from the WSTA revealed that for the past six months various interested bodies had been discussing and reviewing the definitions and regulations regarding gin and their enforcement.

Asked by Atkinson, whether legal advice had been sought or was a lawyer involved, he replied: “No”, explaining that the discussions were at a very early stage. When asked who enforces the regulations, he replied: local trading standards officers. 

Someone from the floor told the audience that he had been told by his local trading standards to remove an aged gin because it was illegal.

Currently gin must be at least 37.5% abv and the botanical blend must comprise ‘predominately of juniper’. It is generally agreed that the last stipulation is widely flouted by many new generation, ‘craft’ gins.

When asked about the status of aged/rested and fruit gins, well-known gin writer and specialist, Geraldine Coates, said that, with the notable exception of sloe gin, these styles were simply not being made or on sale when the definitions were drawn up.

Drinks historian and writer, David Smith, who was on the panel along with Olivier Ward of the Gin Foundry, Eric Seed of Hayman’s US importer, Haus Alpenz and entrepreneur, Simon Difford, confirmed that coloured (rested/aged) gins that had been stored originally in oak barrels and fruit gins existed in earlier times.

Previously, Ward had announced that he would be publishing what he described as “white paper” on gin in the new year.  He urged participants to get onto the Gin Foundry website and check it out.

When asked about so-called gin liqueurs and some of the low/non-alcohol G&Ts flooding onto the market, Maxwell, whose family has been distilling and rectifying gin since about the 17th Century, stated that any spirit under 37.5% was not legally a gin. It was also said that non and low alcohol drinks, should not even be called a spirit.

On quality and the consumer, Coates said that she had recently helped judge the Scottish Gin Awards and, in her opinion, only eight out of 60 gins were “acceptable.”

Difford, in talking about the current standards and their enforcement, said it was too late, “the ship had already sailed”.

Seed said that gin was perceived as a quintessentially English drink, typified by the gin & tonic but there were also classic cocktails such as Negronis and Martinis - and one of the agreed, specific definitions was ‘London Dry’. Therefore he felt it was down to UK producers, brand owners and the enforcement authorities to sort out exactly what is gin and what isn’t.

There was a lot of discussion and exchanges about base alcohol, botanicals, provenance, production techniques, and labelling, which Atkinson had to brush aside on the basis, “we will be here until next week if we have to discuss these,” he said.

There is a suggestion that the debate will lead to some sort of working party to look at the way the gin market is heading and coming up with a new set of rules and regulations - and most crucially, how to enforce them.