Ahead of World Gin Day this weekend, our London-based Managing Director Dominic Burke discusses how the ambiguity of gin is fuelling innovation in its category.

Gin is having a moment, perhaps even a movement, emerging as the most vibrant and dynamic spirits category in recent years.  Official figures from HM Revenue and Customs show there were 233 licensed UK producers by the end of 2015. The increase, up from 116 gin producers in 2010, is said to have been driven by ‘niche distilleries’ making small quantities of the spirit. These craft producers are stepping up their efforts, creating ever more innovative gins with a focus on standing out from the rest of the pack with unlikely ingredients and exotic botanicals.

Many of these ‘new wave’ gins claim to be more than 50% juniper in their botanical make-up, which conveniently overlooks the fact that regulations don’t stipulate content, but flavour. Many aim to coax “drinkers who don’t like gin” into the category, with drinks which perhaps would be better classified as flavoured vodkas.

EU gin definitions dictate that gin must have a “predominant taste of juniper” – a highly subjective term which is impossible to enforce. The launches of a craft gin brands, such as Hoxton Gin and Brockmans, have angered traditional gin fans by challenging the boundaries of gin classification. The ‘gin’ descriptor offers heritage, provenance and a historic role in legendary cocktails give an air of authenticity that only a few vodka brands could possibly rival. The biggest problem perhaps is for the premium vodka industry.

The trade is more than aware that gin must be juniper heavy, but consumers are not always so well informed. While gin experts will argue that many of the ‘new wave’ products are not technically gin, does the average consumer care as long as it’s taste appeals?  While many producers believe the industry needs to be careful to educate consumers about the difference between a gin and a flavoured spirit, some are concerned that stricter regulations could affect creativity and limit the category’s growth. This creativity provides an entry point to gin with less juniper heavy liquids often bringing in new customers who eventually progress to juniper heavy versions as their taste buds develop.

The recent surge in craft distilleries is positive for the industry, however it is unlikely many of these brands will have longevity.  Consumers may begin to mistrust the fraudulent activity of some of these ‘new wave’ brands or perhaps because there are so many gins to choose from there will be no space for inferior products or boring back-stories. Empowering the consumer with ingredient education will be key to help navigate a myriad of options in a category with blurring boundaries.

Dominic’s comments on the ‘gin boom’ are also featured in this month’s issue of IWSR.

Feeling ginspired? Take a look at our work for Bombay Sapphire, or get in touch if you’d like to talk with us.


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