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Gin Spin - February 2019

Written by Gin Foundry

February is the shortest month of the year, but that doesn’t mean we’re short on news. There’ve been new releases a-plenty, Hollywood interjections and… well, Brexit. Obviously. Here’s a round up of the trade talk that’s been filling our news feeds over the past month.

Exports, Exports, Exports

The Wine & Spirits Trade Association has released some eye-opening stats from HMRC, showing that British Gin exports were in excess of £612m in 2018. This represents an increase of 15% year on year. Not bad innings.

Back in 2016, when Gin sales broached half a billion for the first time ever, everyone in the game thought that was about the limit. It has continued to grow, though, with no signs of slowing. Gin is, in fact, a bigger export for Britain than beef or beer overseas (the latter by a considerable 28% margin).

The B Word

Let’s just rip off the B-word plaster right away. We’ve been getting a fair bit of flack in our inboxes due to our, shall we say, less than subtle stance on the matter, but there’s no denying that Brexit, or rather the utter shitpile that it’s become, is causing a fair bit of distress in the Gin world.

The brands we work with are holding their cards very close to their chest these days. Distillers are putting plans on pause as they wait to see what happens, not sure whether to continue the drive towards globalisation or consolidate their focus on the local market. Even if it doesn’t disrupt trade, brands like William Chase have recently been quoted as looking at how much it will affect their export strategy and USP positioning, with James Chase telling The Spirits Business that “from a branding standpoint, we might want to question our level association with the Union Jack.” Ouch. No doubt others are also looking at where they stand, with Britain’s soft power appeal across the continent at its lowest ebb in generations.

As far as exports go, though, it seems so be sad to celebrate such a belter year when it could all come crashing down. The USA is the biggest single country importer of UK Gin, with £191m worth of sales heading across the pond. According to the WSTA, South Africa saw an increase of 222%, buying £14.5m worth of British Gin last year. By region, though, the EU is still huge for British gin. It’s the biggest market overall, in fact, having bought £290m worth of UK Gin in 2018 (representative of a 14% rise). The fact this this could all come tumbling down in the event of a no deal is troubling to say the least.

Mike Beale, Chief Executive of the WSTA, had this to say: “Europe represents a huge market for British gin, therefore it is essential that the UK does no leave the EU without securing a deal which allows frictionless trade.

“It is huge important that the Government also secures free trade deals with the rest of the world and we are encouraged by mutual recognition agreements already signed with countries like Australia and Switzerland. However, more must be done, and quickly, so that we maintain our position as the world’s largest spirits exporter and further boost the UK economy and provide more jobs.”

In short, we could be in trouble here…

Sin Gin

Other figures from the WSTA might, actually, suggest that a little bit of punishment is due our way anyway. In 2018, sales of Gin within Britain reached 66 million bottles, representing an astonishing 41% climb on the previous year and equivalent, in sales, to £1.9bn.

Part of the reason for that growth is the icky, sticky mess of Pink Gin. Yes, we’re snobs, we can’t help it, but clearly drinkers can’t get enough of the stuff, so all power to it. While flavoured gin in general drove over half of the growth in gin sales, almost three-quarters of that growth was due to pink.

The WSTA report’s that just two years ago there were only a handful of brands making flavoured gin, but the sub-category is now worth £165m.

Beefeater and Gordons are on it too, but it seems even the craftiest, most straight-down-the-line juniper worshiping brands are getting in on the action. City of London has released a dusky pink Rhubarb & Rose Gin just in time for Mother’s day, whilst even Glendalough Distillery is getting on the action with plans to release a floral rose gin.

When’s a Gin not a Gin?

Gin Geek twitter has been ablaze with righteous rage this month as more and more disingenuously marketed products roll out of the blocks. Kokoro Gin kicked things off by launching a range of Kokoro Gin branded liqueurs. One brief glimpse should tell you everything that’s wrong: Kokoro Gin writ large, liqueur hiding in tiny letters beneath it.

Gin is and must be of a minimum 37.5% ABV to wear its label. Anything less is in defiance of EU regulations. While liqueurs don’t have that burden, they also don’t quite have the cool reputation that Gin has, so brands are cashing in on the name and intentionally misleading consumers. It’s not a good look.

Next to rile everyone up was Fatty’s Organic Gin with their new release; again, while the words were written in huge letters across the bottle, but right at the bottom – really, you’ll have to get your reading glasses out for this – you’ll see the words ‘lower alcohol spirit drink’ written. The product, coming in at 20%, is absolutely, legally speaking, not a gin.

Some asked what had happened with the Hayman’s campaign (Brexit and slow progress), whilst The Gin Guild, too, was roped into the online chatter and in a bluster-full Telegraph headline (not of their making), went to war. The long and short of it is that while regulation is in place, the ability to actually enforce anything is lacking. The Guild said they’re on it. While we believe them and believe they are indeed trying, what that means at this stage or how that moves forward… well, that’s anyone’s guess.

For those who don’t follow the gin geeks on social media and who don’t share a love of spreadsheets and flowcharts as we do - the best news and good work worth shouting about in this department has been done by The GINASIUM, who with some pointers here and there by others in the community has put together a helpful little chart. When is gin not a gin? Look no further than this brilliantly positive contribution to the debate.

Brighton Gin Set for Growth

A quick titbit here, but it looks as though Brighton Gin has a busy future ahead of it. If we’re being completely honest, we’ve waited for this team to take off for years. Brighton has a solid, loyal bunch of residents desperate to have more things to embrace, but there’s been a little bit safe about everything the brand has put out so far, which has been a bit counter counter-culture…

Last year marked a few significant changes; the brand released a limited Pride bottle, pushed out their first Navy Strength and signed to Love Drinks, a distribution agency that will undoubtedly drive it into its next chapter. We expect increasing confidence and bold strikes.

Flying Away

Ryan Reynolds has called in more of his celebrity pals to flog Aviation Gin, this time none other than warbling Wolverine Hugh Jackman. We’re not going to destroy the joke by typing it up (some things just don’t translate), but we’ve embedded it so you can take a look. It made us chuckle, that’s for sure.

New Releases

Valentine’s Day saw a lot of pink stuff roll on out, but in amongst all that filler we had a couple of thrillers. Hendrick’s, the inventors of strange Gin, made its first foray into the coloured gin market, releasing a violent violet Midsummer Solstice Gin. The inaugural product of Master Distillery Leslie Gracie’s Cabinet of Curiosities range, the gin has offered Gracie a real chance to experiment with flavours. Make no mistake, despite it’s pretty colour this is no weak gin, coming in at a hefty 43.4% ABV.

Another celebrity gin, although this one has a few less superheroes in the mix. Graham Norton has been working with West Cork Distillers to create his own take on the tipple; made on an Irish grain and with a handful of local botanicals including rose hip and fuschia, this floral venture has got us wondering just how many more celebrity endorsed products are going to appear. Before we got the chance to look however, a different type of Irish big hitter announced their new release. Irish Distillers, unveiled their Middleton Distillery made Method & Madness Gin. More on that to follow.

Beefeater, their heads still spinning at a thousand miles an hour following the overwhelming success of their Pink Gin, has delved even further into flavoured territory with a Blood Orange edition. First came Tanqueray’s Flor de Sevilla and Malfy Con Arancia, and now comes Beefeater with a brand new Blood Orange Gin. This is one is “from the archives”, based on a James Burrough recipe from 1876. We’re not sure they had flavourings and colourants back then but hey, let’s just keep the words INSPIRED BY in mind and just as with their Pink edition, we’re hoping it’s going to be a relatively ginny experience and well, the best one could hope for…