Editor's Column - Scottish Gin Debates
What defines a 'Scottish Gin'?
Whether it's Scottish Gin or any other country and it's gin producers, it's a simple sounding question that is infinitely complex. To one person this may simply be a gin that is distilled in Scotland. Another person may also expect the use of Scottish water, a percentage of Scottish botanicals and for bottling and labelling to be carried out in Scotland too. And another may be willing to call a gin 'Scottish' if it is distilled in England but the founder/company is based in Scotland and the gin features at least one Scottish botanical. There are so many different perceptions and viewpoints that often each have logic and merit but that don't all align with each other. And that's before even discussing what 'gin' is!
Scotland isn't known for it's citrus orchards and many other traditional gin botanicals are difficult or impossible to grow reliably in Scotland or to purchase affordably from Scottish suppliers. So gin producers in Scotland, like gin producers around the world, frequently purchase imported botanicals - as is the case with importing barley from England, America, Canada, Europe and Australia for Scotch Whisky. So it sounds simple that the definition of a 'Scottish Gin' must therefore be determined by the location of production using these botanicals - but again it is anything but simple.
This then presents more intricate questions about the stage at which 'production' starts and ends. Should Scottish water be used? Should bottling and labelling be in Scotland? It's a labyrinth of questions and different perceptions at every turn.
Should and could Scottish Gin be regulated in a similar way to Scotch Whisky?
This is a question that I'm frequently asked about and a topic that seems to be the source of much conversation in the Scottish gin industry. The first clarification needed in order to answer this is about why regulations are being proposed and what benefits could regulations achieve.
One of these reasons is about aiming to establish 'Scottish Gin' as a definable category within the spirits industry, as per categories such as Scotch Whisky, Cognac and Champagne, with potential benefits including increased export and tourism. A second reason is about transparency and not misleading consumers over where the gin is distilled. And a third is about ensuring certain criteria, processes and standards are met in order to develop and maintain a global reputation of quality for 'Scottish Gin'. They are all understandable motives, but each requires a different approach to achieving them and when considering regulation.
In many ways the gin industry is more like the craft beer industry than the Scotch Whisky industry, with countless producers of varying sizes, qualities, styles and production methods that are exceptionally difficult to define, group and regulate.
Improved transparency seems to be the most important and achievable of these and it is hard to envisage Scottish Gin having the formalities of Scotch Whisky or developing the same status in the global industry. The gin industry has for many years been attempting to define 'gin' more clearly, but too much subjectivity and disparity of views exists for agreement or potential regulation to be on the horizon, and this is a crucial factor in the definition and regulation of 'Scottish Gin'.
Could the development of a 'Scottish Gin' brand be continued as successfully without regulation?
It could certainly achieve many of the same assumed goals. However, it is understandable that those in the industry are keen to ensure that others do not jump on the bandwagon and exploit the industry in a way that they would deem to be dishonest or not in the long-term interest of the industry.
Is this just the nature of business and competition, and one of the inevitable outcomes of a successful industry? Will the industry be somewhat self-policed by Scottish gin producers and consumers (with the aid of consumer education)? Would the industry necessarily benefit from regulation and greater control? It's another set of debates with a diverse set of strong viewpoints towards them.
A scenario to leave you with... If a gin is distilled in Scotland by a Frenchman, using a German still, neutral grain spirit from Ireland, entirely imported botanicals, and English water, before sending it all to Wales for bottling and labelling, is it Scottish Gin because it was distilled there? In the globalised world and modern gin industry, can gins truly be definable by their distillation location? Or are the globalised world and modern gin industry the reasons why it is more important and valuable than ever to establish a sense of place and determine traceable origins for products?
What do you think? We'd love to hear your thoughts. Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
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