GIN, a spirit once associated more with women of a certain age than cutting-edge cocktail bars, has been completely revitalised in recent years as a wave of small-batch brands from across the UK and overseas have entered the market.
It’s a boom that doesn’t seem to be quieting any time soon, with the spirit currently worth around £600 million in the UK on-trade, according to figures supplied by Diageo, and brand owners are expecting growth to continue for several more years yet.
“The gin craze shows no signs of slowing,” said Mike Whatmough, UK brand ambassador for Brockmans gin.
“There’s room for growth and it is driven by consumers eager to explore new flavours presented to them by distillers.”
Although the category as a whole is said to be expanding, it’s at the premium end that the real growth is to be found, say drinks firms.
Curating a gin list for an establishment is a rather personal process.
“Gin has been strengthened by the development of the super-premium category, led by the rise of the craft movement and cocktail culture – which has helped not only drive volume growth but also premiumise the category,” said a spokeswoman for Halewood Wines & Spirits, the company behind Whitley Neill gin.
This certainly chimes with research from Hendrick’s owner William Grant & Sons.
The company’s annual market report on the UK drinks industry, published late last year, described gin as “the most up-market category” in the country, with 72.7% of gin drinkers deemed to be in the ABC1 socio-economic group.
With gin becoming an increasingly premium choice of drink, licensees were advised to ensure their offer is up to scratch, both in terms of the variety of gins on offer and the quality of the serves.
However, pub and bar operators don’t have to become experts on the category in order to provide a quality gin offer.
“For a bar not specialising in gin, anywhere around 15 to 20 brands should cover all bases,” said Lindsay Blair, global brand ambassador for Daffy’s gin.
“In Scotland, we are lucky to have a very diverse range of gins, from the more classic London Dry styles to the experimental gins with unusual botanicals which bring uniqueness to each gin,” said Blair.
“There are great gins, however, being produced all over the world with their own individuality so not limiting a selection to local brands can provide a more diverse range and appeal to a wider audience.”
Stevie Watson, UK brand ambassador for Pickering’s Gin, advised licensees to ensure they cover a range of different gin styles on their back-bar.
“Curating a gin list for an establishment is a rather personal process and having a range of styles, botanical differences and a nod to how they work in your cocktail menu would be a good thing to consider,” he said.
Balancing smaller, craft brands with more mainstream names is another strategy, according to Will Holt, director of Pinkster gin, who advised operators to “have some fun” when choosing which brands to stock.
There is room for growth, driven by consumers eager to explore new flavours.
“For sure, list a few banker brands and a couple of local gins, then try a few less mainstream options with quirky flavour profiles and an unusual back story,” said Holt.
And while the classic gin and tonic isn’t going out of fashion anytime soon, licensees have been advised to include a range of gin serves on menus in a bid to broaden the spirit’s appeal; this includes offering gin with different mixers, such as premium ginger ale or lemonade, as well as a variety of different tonics.
And the importance of pairing the right garnish with the right gin shouldn’t be underestimated.
“Garnishes that match the flavour notes of a gin are increasingly in demand, as consumers want to be able to taste the different flavour notes in their preferred gin,” said Nick Williamson, marketing director at Campari UK, the firm behind Bulldog gin.
“The subtle complexities of different botanicals in new gins entering the market, means that the consumer taste experience can be completely altered and use of garnishes can really bring this different flavour to life.”
While lemon and lime are the garnishes usually associated with gin, Dan Bolton, managing director of Hi-Spirits, which has nine gins in its portfolio including Langley’s, said it’s “worth experimenting with orange, grapefruit, pineapple and more exotic fruits such as Yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit which has become a favourite with some bartenders”.
“Each will bring out different flavours in the botanicals in the gin,” said Bolton.
Once a gin list has been finalised, there are several ways to encourage customers to try new gins, say firms.
One tried and tested technique is to host occasional gin tastings.
“Hosting [a tasting] yourself with perhaps some point of sale or training support from the brands, shows you are knowledgeable and passionate about the gin you stock,” said Emma Hooper, brand manager at Darnley’s Gin.
And casual dining occasions are another opportunity, according to Rob Poulter, on-trade consultant at Diageo, the firm behind Gordon’s and Tanqueray.
“A trend towards a more casual culture of eating out is emerging and through our research we strongly believe that spirits present a huge growth opportunity in the casual eating occasion,” he said.
“We encourage operators to think about how they maximise this opportunity by inspiring consumers to choose spirits, educating their staff to up-sell, and supporting them to achieve consistent quality through the perfect serve.”