With news just in from the WSTA that the gin boom is showing no sign of abating, we have a look at some potential problems in the category and find out what the industry is planning to do about it.
A forthcoming report from the WSTA (Wine and Spirit Trade Association) outlines how the gin craze is crazier than ever. British gin sales (domestic and export) broke £2 billion this year, doubling in value in five years, and sales are up 38% on last year. Time to crack open the gin and celebrate responsibly? Not so fast! There are clouds on the horizon. Firstly, in his next budget, the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is planning a rise in duty on spirits of 3.4% in line with inflation. Booo! The second problem is more existential – it’s a debate as to the very nature of gin itself. So it’s time to put on our thinking berets and ask, what is gin?
First, a bit of background
In April this year, Hayman’s (producer of a classic London Dry Gin) launched a punchily-titled campaign called “Call Time on Fake Gin.” Their beef was with gins that had the g-word on the label but didn’t taste of juniper.
A meeting of minds in Balham
Hayman’s campaign led to a conference at their swanky new distillery in Balham, south London, earlier this month attended by great and good of the drinks world, and me. The panel was chaired by Edwin Atkinson, former head of the now-defunct Gin and Vodka Association, and featured Geraldine Coates (Gintime and drinks judge), Simon Difford (Difford’s Guide), Olivier Ward (Gin Foundry), David T. Smith (That Boutique-y Gin Company and drink historian), and Eric Seed (Haus Alpenz, an American drink importer).
What’s the problem?
Gin is not strictly regulated like Scotch. There is no gin equivalent of the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association). It’s much easier than it was to open a distillery these days and the EU definitions for gin are quite flexible. In some ways this is a great thing. Much of gin’s success comes down to being so adaptable. Gin always is and always has been changing. But this sheer adaptability can be a problem. These were the main topics of discussion:
What is to be done?
There was much disagreement about this from the panel. Some (I can’t say who – Chatham House rule, darling) thought that gin’s nebulous nature was an asset, whereas others wanted lobbying for strict regulation along the lines of bourbon or Scotch whisky. But here are some simple ways that gin might be made a little easier for the consumer to understand:
At the end of the event, a working group was formed consisting of small and large distillers, as well as bartenders and other industry figures to come up with a coherent plan to protect gin’s good name. And then we all had a lovely refreshing gin & tonic. Watch this space for more information.