To provide a valuable range of views on the future of the gin industry, The Gin Guide has sought the input of key industry influencers who individually and collectively hold a well-rounded insight into distilleries and gin brands, consumers, events and festivals, bars and venues, retailers, and gin awards.
Regulation of the industry, the classification and definition of 'Gin', and exploitation of the 'gin' name have been key talking points of 2018. In Part One we cover the views of industry experts on:
This feature includes the valued comments, insights and expertise of Bernadette Pamplin (Under the Ginfluence), Katie Hughes (What's Katie Doing?), Martin Reid (The Gin Cooperative), Natalie Button (Gin Obsessions), Sarah Miller (Gin a Ding Ding), Simon Higgs (Forest Hill Gin Club), and Paul Jackson (The Gin Guide). We highly recommend following each of them on social media and visiting their websites.
The Trend in 2018:
The range of gins and gin-related products continued to rapidly expand and diversify in 2018.
Bernadette Pamplin summarises, "This year we have seen the boundaries of 'gin' pushed further and further until it's hard to tell if the spirit deserves the title of gin at all" and adds that "The beast of commerce has picked up the scent of gin's popularity and in a year we've seen gin liqueurs of sweets from our youth, tears of mythical creatures and every variety of gin product that you can imagine, from lip balm, to bubble bath to cheese."
The common view is that this is set to continue in 2019.
Sarah Miller writes that "Firstly, most obviously (and depressingly) we'll see even more novelty "gins" come to market that bear little resemblance to the classic spirit in either appearance or flavour", and Natalie Button agrees, commenting that "We will undoubtedly see more and more people jumping on the gin bandwagon, trying to get rich quick and saturating the market with novelty gins."
Martin Reid believes that "Year on year sales will show positive signs of an increase and there will continue to be new brands coming to market. Unfortunately the flip side is that not all of these new brands will bring value to the gin category or actually be making gin as per the legal definition."
Despite concerns about new gin-related products, it is anticipated that continuing consumer demand will give the trend ongoing momentum.
Simon Higgs acknowledges that "There will still undoubtedly be a market for cheese and pickle flavoured gin, or whatever other ridiculousness passes for 'contemporary' these days", and Katie Hughes agrees that "if the public consumers want sweet and fruity and glitter and gimmick, then I think the industry is still going to keep producing these products."
The Reaction in the Industry:
This continuing trend for novelty gin-related products and products that stretch the definition of gin is certainly provoking a reaction:
Bernadette Pamplin states that "It's been noticed. More and more people are starting to speak up about it" and Katie Hughes expects that "we are going to see a backlash against gin distilled drinks and liqueurs from the professionals" and highlights Gin Monkey's hashtag #stopfuckingwithgin as a prime example of this.
Paul Jackson has observed that "there has been a notable change in tone towards gin brands that are launching products which may be considered 'gimmicky', that do not adhere to regulations, or that are being misleading or secretive about their production location or methods. Key influencers are becoming increasingly vocal and are questioning and standing up to those they feel are being potentially harmful to the industry or dishonest to consumers."
Simon Higgs writes that "hopefully the tide has turned on this one and more effort will be put into making high quality traditional gins", while Natalie Button sees that there is potential for the trend to be an opportunity and a gateway for consumers to discover more of the gin category: "Although annoying and exasperating, part of me does look at this from the point of view that at least people are being exposed to gin. Once they're hooked on the sweet stuff, there must surely be some way of convincing them to try the real stuff...or we can at least hope!"
Regulation & Transparency:
The other major response in the industry has been the hotly debated discussions around enforcing existing regulations and exploring the possibility of introducing new regulations. Many in the industry expect this to continue and develop in 2019.
Sarah Miller writes that "we can expect to see greater demands to 'call time on fake gin' by enforcing, or even tightening, existing regulations".
However their is also scepticism over the feasibility and practicalities of implementing this.
Simon Higgs says "I'd like to be able to predict that 2019 might be the year when regulations get enforced and juniper returns to the forefront of what gin is about, but I suspect this is too much to hope for". Natalie Button also wonders if any significant outcomes will result from the discussion, observing that while 2018 has seen much debate and discussion about what gin is and trying to pin down the definitions, "this seemed to gather a lot of momentum before dissipating into the ether".
Paul Jackson notes the challenges involved, saying that "the misuse and flaunting of the term 'gin' has indeed become prolific, however the horse may have bolted and fundamental challenges to addressing this are found in establishing who will monitor and enforce regulations, and also in the subjectivity of taste and determining an acceptable and unacceptable prominence of juniper."
If regulation is not the solution, it has opened up conversation on other opportunities and to work towards the same goals.
Alternative Solutions & Developments:
Martin Reid suggests that self-regulation and improved consumer education may be the more likely outcome: "We feel 2019 will be the year where more established gin makers and brands will work towards more self-regulation of the category. What shape this takes isn’t for us to say but we believe a charter would be sensible. Something that gin makers and gin brands can sign up to that makes it clear they respect and will adhere to the legal definition of gin. We think something along these lines could benefit the industry as a whole and increase consumer education of what constitutes a gin."
Similarly to this view on consumer education and transparency, Natalie Button feels that "2019 will see many more distilleries being forced to be more honest about their gins, their botanicals and the processes involved in their distillation methods as people ask more questions of them and hold them more to account". And Katie Hughes highlights a role for influencers in the industry, saying that "I want to ensure I support smaller 'craft' distillers and I love to meet the distillers themselves at events like Junipalooza".
Paul Jackson summarises that "while formal regulation may not come to fruition in 2019, consumer education and the identification and support of quality gin products and gin producers may begin to create expected standards and stigmas that journalists, influencers, event organisers and consumers begin to uphold and promote. In response this may apply pressure on the market to adapt and to rise to meet these standards and avoid the stigma."
What are your views on 'novelty' gins and gin products, 'fake gin', transparency and regulation? Let us know in the comments below or on social media:
Also read the second part of the 'Gin in 2019' feature - Part Two: Innovation, Growth & the 'Gin Bubble'