Pubs should play to their strengths

Operators can attract custom with gin offer that makes the most of the bar

Classic gin-based cocktails are expected to continue to prove popular – but newer, more experimental serves should be offered alongside these on a comprehensive gin menu to ensure gin drinkers become regular customers

PLAY to your strengths. It’s a saying which, in theory, could apply to all aspects of running an on-trade business. But it’s said to be particularly relevant when it comes to gin.

According to the Wine and Spirit Trade Association’s recent market report (see page 26), while gin sales in the UK on-trade have grown to a value of £729 million – the equivalent of 8.8 million bottles – it also revealed that 38.7m bottles of gin were sold in the off-trade.

Therefore it is imperative that operators do all they can to tempt more gin fans out of home and into Scotland’s pubs and bars to further capitalise on the lucrative spirit.

That was a view shared by several gin producers, who told SLTN that operators must make the most of the on-trade’s unique strengths in order to attract more custom.

Neil Boyd, commercial director at Edinburgh Gin parent firm Ian Macleod Distillers, said it “is important that bars and restaurants mix it up to ensure customers stay engaged”.

Boyd said this is especially important when looking to lure off-trade gin consumers into the on-trade, as at home they will typically “only have a limited selection of gins and mixers, while the on-trade can offer gin drinkers a wide range of gin, style of mixers and garnishes that appeal to palates, styles and price points”.

“We have found new gin consumers are attracted by choice and often experimental offerings,” added Boyd.

Echoing this view, Dan Bolton of Hi-Spirits, which counts Langley’s No.8 and Brooklyn Gin within its portfolio, said choice could be the trade’s ace card when it comes to gin.

“The key advantage that the on-trade offers gin lovers is a greater range than they have at home, offering the opportunity to try different styles and serves depending on the occasion,” said Bolton.

“Operators need to press this advantage by highlighting their range of gins and the different serves offered in outlets as well as online and via social media.”

One way of approaching this is through seasonal serves, reckons Boyd of Ian Macleod Distillers, who said this encourages variety and promotes an outlet’s gin offer.

“An increasing trend is to experiment and offer seasonal serves – so, for example, we find that our Plum and Vanilla is a great winter-style cocktail served in a Soor Plum cocktail, whereas our Elderflower liqueur is a lighter, refreshing summer-style drink,” he said.

The key advantage that the trade offers gin lovers is a greater range than they have at home.

Beyond seasonality, operators must ensure their gin offer is laid out clearly to avoid any consumer confusion, reckons Bolton of Hi-Spirits, who said a simple gin menu “is a great way to communicate with customers, listing each gin available, a suggested serve, and information on where it’s made, the flavour and botanicals”.

It is important, however, to also remember that gin is no longer a ‘one-size-fits-all’ category, according to Bolton, who reckons operators should stock brands which cover mainstream, premium, local, and craft gin as this will “engage and interest customers”.

A varied gin range can be put to best use via a cocktail list that is in line with the times, according to James Hayman of Hayman’s Gin.

“The resurgence in popularity of classic cocktail serves like the Negroni and Martini is also hugely important for the on-trade,” said Hayman.

He added that selling “more adventurous cocktails” alongside the classics “can be a successful tactic to ensure gin drinkers become regular customers”.

Bartender knowledge can be another feather in the on-trade’s cap, according to Craig Rankin of Newton Stewart-based Crafty Distillery.

Gin tasting sessions, for instance, can help attract customers into a venue as well as help to build their knowledge of the category.

“Specific events which provide customers with the knowledge to navigate through the wide variety of gin out there should be a focus for the on-trade,” said Rankin.

Reinforcing this view, James Nicol, managing director of Kokoro Gin (a Japanese-inspired London Dry gin), admitted it “can of course be daunting to be presented with a huge array of choice”, which means that a large gin range is only a good thing “if you can talk a customer through your selection and guide them to a gin serve that will suit their palate”.

One Edinburgh-based bartender told SLTN that he has witnessed first-hand a real step up in demand for knowledgeable bar staff.

John Ramsay, general manager of The Blackbird, said: “The increase in the number of gins available has meant that we in the industry have had to improve our knowledge as our guests have.”

He advised operators to “always showcase the flavours of your gins, whether that is botanicals or citrus, with complementing flavours that don’t ruin the drink with loads of sugar”.