The gin guild’s director general, Nicolas Cook, examines why consumers, media and the on-trade have helped bring about the renaissance of gin


THE GIN GUILD’S launch was very timely. It was just before what has been an explosion in gin brands, both in the UK and beyond.

The Gin Guild brings together distillers and industry leaders involved in the production, promotion, distribution and consumption of gin. It promotes and encourages excellence in the category, playing a key role in both consumer and trade education and is a go-to gin information source for the press.

We have more than 170 members worldwide, from Spain, France, Italy, US, Russia, Mexico, Canada, Liechtenstein, Norway and Japan and have enquiries from Sweden, Iceland and even Sri Lanka. Our members represent not only the big four distillers – Bacardi, Chivas Brothers, Diageo and William Grant & Sons – but brands from Adnams to Warner Edwards.

Consumers are now fuelling the gin boom. They are often surprisingly well-informed and curious, seeking out something new, exciting, or a gin whose production methodology, botanicals or back-story makes them want to find out more.

They are interested in authenticity, history and even the individuals who make their product – loving what are often quirky, artisan-crafted gins and the personal stories behind them.

While craft brands are remarkably buoyant, both in the on and off-trade, mainstream brands have worked hard to build interest and, as a result, there were almost £1bn of UK gin sales last year.

There hasn’t been a spirit industry conference recently that doesn’t feature – with envy and amazement – gin and its growth. CGA Strategy reports that smaller gin producers, reflecting the boom, diversification and interest in them, have grown in value by an incredible 135% over the past five years. They make up £64m of gin sold in the GB on-trade within the past 12 months, with the big four selling nearly £500m in the same period.

It’s not just in the UK but internationally that gin is big. Key markets include the US, Spain, Germany and Italy and there are style variants. The US has some particularly imaginative ‘new western’ interpretations and several German and Swiss gins, and others from that region (reflecting the regions taste for very botanical fruit spirit production), have distinctive multi-botanical gins (such as Monkey 47), which may shock UK palates.

The great thing about the gin category is that, within reason, its definitions (principally the EU definitions), are loose enough to allow a wide range of flavours, providing that, as required, juniper, the key botanical is predominant.

If the US market is anything to go by the gin market in the UK is still in a growth spurt. In 2003, there were 60 craft distillers operating in the US. Today, that total is 760, according to the American Distilling Institute, and a further 200 are under construction.

A key element in the gin revival has been the advent of quality premium tonics, which enable the individual flavours of gin to shine.

Premium mixers seek to play a role in what is a vital supporting act. Many are playing an important role, alongside gin brands themselves, in encouraging imaginative and attractive on-trade gin serves, whether an interesting and well-presented gin & tonic or a gin-based cocktail. The combination of key mainstream brands, additional interest from craft gin brands, alongside better serves, has whetted the appetite of consumers.

While there may be a point at which there’s saturation in the number of gin brands that can be supported by the market, I can’t see this renewed interest disappearing, based as it is on a more sophisticated and demanding consumer.

Hats off to all the gin brands which succeed. The game is afoot and once again success will depend on the key elements of product, packaging, provenance, promotion, price, premium, panache, profile and presence. We see some imaginative and hard work from brands to promote their differences.

Let’s raise an appreciative glass to them all – subject of course to recommended daily intake levels.