Producers and distributors said operators who are prepared to offer different flavour combinations beyond the traditional gin and tonic serve stand to reap the rewards in what they say is a burgeoning category.
“There is a strong appreciation of gin in Scotland and it’s becoming a Scottish phenomenon particularly given all the distilleries and new brands that are now available,” said Bob Fowkes, founder and marketing director of Brockmans Gin.
He added that operators should “look to different mixers with gin” including ginger ale and “more seasonal garnishes” such as cinnamon sticks or blueberries.
Jon Sampson of Bacardi Martini, the firm behind Bombay Sapphire in the UK, highlighted a trend among bartenders for experimenting with gin serves.
“Not only is the traditional gin and tonic a great sales driver, many bartenders have been exploring the possibilities of enhancing gin and tonic with new flavours and garnishes to spark the imagination and taste buds of their customers,” said Sampson.
Seasonal serves can prove particularly popular, according to Frazer McGlinchey of Caorunn Gin, who said changing up garnishes throughout the year “can have a great effect as the seasons change”.
“One focus for Caorunn has been the use of foraged, seasonal ingredients sourced locally,” said McGlinchey.
“Foraging and local ingredients have a universal appeal and can work to great effect; think local, drink global, as it were.”
McGlinchey also highlighted gin flights, food matching and tasting sessions as “hugely effective” ways of engaging customers with the category through a focus on provenance.
“We have seen that consumers are much more interested in the provenance and quality of what they consume than ever,” he said.
“Operators reflecting that with informed, engaged staff and a commitment to quality will ensure consumers feel valued and rewarded.”
When it comes to educating consumers a knowledgeable staff is considered key.
Viv Muir, director at NB Gin, said well-trained staff have the ability to improve a customer’s experience of the gin category.
“Many people presume that there’s little difference in taste between one brand and another, but are pleasantly surprised when they’re given the opportunity to try a selection, so personalised gin tastings are a great way of making a feature of gin,” said Muir.
“Product knowledge is crucial for engaging people at the front end and to challenge people’s preconceptions about gin.
“Customers really like a bartender’s ability to explain what makes a gin different, how it’s best served, which tonic is best matched to the botanicals, and to give some background about the gin’s origin, ingredients and story.
“So training staff to educate customers is paramount.”
Kevan Fraser of St Andrew’s-based distiller Eden Mill underlined the importance of staff training and encouraged operators to look to suppliers for support.
There is a strong appreciation of gin in Scotland and it’s becoming a Scottish phenomenon.
“Most of the major gin companies can offer great ‘category’ advice as well as expertise of their own brand,” said Fraser.
“Some, such as ourselves at Eden, are very keen to provide free category training through our new Scottish Gin Experience Programme at the distillery itself.”
Staff knowledge is important, but operators also need to have the right range. Fraser said premium brands are currently driving growth, a trend which he said is fuelled by “genuinely innovative and exciting product quality”.
“Scottish gins in particular are leading in both quality and variety,” added Fraser. “It is important to recognise this is because of exciting quality and innovation, as much as the gins being Scottish.
“Those with a genuine point of difference and real authenticity are working best of all.”
With range and well-trained staff in place, publicans shouldn’t forget their point of sale.
A spokeswoman for Diageo, the firm behind Gordon’s, suggested licensees use “attractive price points for the consumer”.
“This is a great way to attract customers away from beer into the margin-enhancing spirits category,” she said. “Point of sale that includes price points is also a great way to entice customers.”