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Is Scottish Gin Set to Crush Whisky?

Written by Gin Foundry

While Scotland is on its annual post-Burns Night Whisky comedown, whispers about the growth of small (dare we say it “Craft”) Scottish Gin distilleries that have emerged in the past year have started to gather momentum. Whisky may historically be Scotland’s favourite tipple, but while distillers lay their spirit down to rest, it’s Gin that keeps the cash flowing.

Gin is the first experience many consumers have with many newbie distillers and it is the foundation from which they build their brands. It is also with their Gins that they are helping the country’s craft distilling scene place itself at the forefront of the public’s consciousness.

With cries of “I’ll be drinking Gin this Burns Night” still reverberating across the Twittersphere echo chambers, such is the advance of Scottish Gin that even National Scottish titles began to infer that Gin was so in you could tip your Whisky in with the Haggis and be done with it. Understandably, as Gin super fans, this works for us. So, is it time to ditch tradition and crack open the tonic from now on in?

The main question and point of contention we have with all of the noise surrounding this is the implied assumption that with over 30 Gin producers in Scotland currently (and more due to open in 2017), the Scottish Gin market has the chance to pull up alongside Whisky and command equal national importance. But is that really the case?

We’d love to think so, but even as hopeless optimists and champions of anything remotely juniper-laced it is quite clear that it’s a no. ‘Whisky is dead, long live Gin’ does make a good click bait headline though…

The reality is that even most drinkers across Britain will not realise that two thirds of the UK’s Gin is produced in Scotland. From anecdotal evidence and in our experience this perception is even further apart in the US or across Europe. Drinks industry veteran, bartender and educator Philip Duff echo’s this lack of connection too; “I have to say that the vast majority of people in the UK, let alone abroad, have absolutely no idea how much Gin is made in Scotland. I understand it - there is still a lot of mileage for brands to be had from the classic image of Gin being quintessentially English”.

If we take a more quantifiable approach and add statistics to this by looking into Gin sales, we can see that the category is still lagging far behind Whisky. Though Gin sales are undoubtedly soaring – they hit just over £1bn consumed domestically and over £1.7 billion in exports last year – they’ve still got a significant amount of catching up to do. Scotch Whisky Association’s Acting Chief Executive, Julie Hesketh-Laird, told the Express that Scotch exports are worth £4bn alone a year. Even if Gin continues its double-digit growth, it’s got a lot of catching up to do.

So, with the realities exposed the question then becomes will Scottish Gin ever gain equal status in the wider public perception?

Many outside of Scotland may not realise that Gordon’s and Tanqueray are both made there, but in defence of the wider public, their Geography has never been marketed. Hendricks’s and Caorunn have positioned national provenance slightly higher on the agenda, while many new brands are very deliberately playing on national heritage as a core part of their USP. “The sheer number and quality of Gins made in Scotland, harnessing the unique terroir and culture of the country, are beginning a slow but encouraging climb to world-wide recognition,” says Duff.

We have to agree; many of this new generation of Gins – Pickering’s, Esker and Rock Rose to name but a few are building on a foundation laid by the work Scotch whisky achieved, and it has clearly served as an inspiration them. With a continued focus of provenance, we believe that this message will become better embedded in consumer understanding of Gin.

It is in this new generation that the message and recognition will gain even more traction, but it is something that takes time. Mike Aikman, owner of the legendary Edinburgh cocktail bar Bramble shares much of the same sense of excitement, yet also cautionary realism about Scotland’s Gin scene. “It is definitely thriving. I feel that we are getting there with global recognition. There are some interesting new products coming out and more on the horizon. However, I don’t think it will ever be as much a part of our national identity as Whisky.”

So what about the rest of the trade - will bartenders play their role in helping position Scottish Gin at the front of the UK’s cocktail culture? With three months to go until Tales of the Cocktail arrives in Edinburgh as part of their Tales on Tour event this April, Founder Ann Tuennerman is arguably well placed to provide some insight on the international understanding that the trade may have for Scottish Gin. We asked her if Scottish Gin was even on the bartender radar yet?

“If you talk to the typical bar patron, yes the chances are they’d associate Scotch with Scotland. But it’s different for bartenders. They’re much more tapped in to what’s going on in the industry. Scotland is becoming known as one of the top Gin producers in the world. And the more bartenders around the world embrace Scotch Gin, the more they’ll start sharing that with their customers.”

It seems that while Scottish Gin is indeed picking up, it isn’t quite a tidal wave yet, and contrary to the overwhelming consensus on gin centric social media accounts that Scottish Gin was awash (and Scotch Whisky falling into lost lament), if one looks a little further outside their own channels - and further than just the UK - Gin is still a long, long way off even getting equal billing.

There’s clearly something bubbling under the surface, though, and the future of Scottish Gin is bright indeed. Our tip: keep your eyes peeled on the islands and just off the coast as there are more than just a few interesting, hyper seasonal products due to emerge in the months to come….

Scottish Gin scene