Gin O’Clock – Part Sixty Three

The ginaissance still shows no sign of running out of steam. Far from it.

Figures released recently by HMRC showed that export sales of British gins had doubled in value since 2010, reaching the heady height of £612 million in 2018. Meanwhile in Blighty, we consumed 66 million bottles of gin, a 41% increase on 2017.

Impressive statistics but, as I noted a few weeks ago, there is a discernible attempt to exercise some control of what is rapidly resembling the Wild West. Some companies have been playing fast and loose with what were the commonly held tenets of the gin industry, not least what a gin is.

The two key articles of faith, if I can put it that way, are that the spirit has an ABV of 37.5% or more and that it is juniper-led. The Gin Guild, which seems to be emerging as the self-proclaimed gatekeeper of all matters gin, puts it more succinctly on their website, recognising only “gin styles produced by distilling ethyl alcohol in stills traditionally used for gin, in the presence of juniper berries and other botanicals – provided that the juniper taste is predominant.” You can’t say fairer than that.

So, where does this leave the so-called gin liqueurs? The few that I have tasted have been fruit-heavy, sweet and with low ABVs, often as low as 18%. On so many levels, they fail the gin test. At best they can only be described as a juniper flavoured drink. The only reason that gin is mentioned on their labelling is that is so on trend that gullible consumers are likely to be attracted to it. There is a very strong case for forcing them to remove their misleading labelling. According to press reports, Nicholas Cook, director-general of the Gin Guild, has already reported a number of these liqueurs to Trading Standards. I shall be interested to see what they do, if anything.

The undoubted success story of 2018 has been the growth of coloured and flavoured gins, which now make up around 20% of all gin sales in the UK, contributing to around a half of the overall increase in gin sales in 2018. Pink gins make up around 75% of the increase in flavoured gins alone. Personally, I feel they are too sweet for my palate and on occasion the distinctive taste of juniper is overwhelmed. And, once more, it is hard to make a case for some to be included within the classic definition of a gin. Another area for Trading Standards to keep an eye on, methinks.

I am not arguing that there is no place for these drinks, just that they are labelled responsibly so that the consumer knows exactly what they are getting. That is not too much to ask, surely.

One development I will watch with interest is the launch and development of the Gin Guild flavour guidance or Gin-Note. As bottles of premium gin are expensive, it pays to do a little research before making a purchase. An impulse buy based on the shape of the bottle or the marketeer-ese description on the labelling can be the precursor to an expensive mistake. The idea behind the Gin-Note is that it gives a standard flavour summary of each gin signed up to the scheme.

There are three elements to the Gin-Note – a visual representation of the general characteristics of the gin, a 20-word brand supplied description of the gin and two words, think tags, drawn from a pre-determined list which the supplier thinks best fits or describes their hooch. Provided that there is sufficient buy-in from the suppliers and that the standards are applied consistently and are broad enough to encompass most of the wide variety of tastes and flavours of true gins, it should be a boon to the consumer.

Until the next time, cheers!

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