IS GIN FINALLY IN?

Gin brands are taking a lesson from their kindred spirits, tequila and vodka, and are stressing the importance of their individual history and quality.

Over the past few years, looking at the gin category meant making a decision: are you going to see the glass as half empty or half full?

On the “half empty” side of the argument, gin has not been seeing the excitement and growth that other white spirits, especially vodka and tequila, have. But on the “half full” side, gin has remained stable in a market that has seen other distilled spirits suffer steep declines.798gin2

Gin is appealing to drinkers of classic Martinis as well as those who like to combine it with various mixers, like the gin and cranberry juice shown here.

These days, however, that glass may be about to be shaken. While the latest figures from the Adams Liquor Handbook still show a slight decline for the gin category as a whole of 2.4%, it also shows growth among the imported brands, which were up in 1997 by 6%.

Meanwhile, individual brands within the category are posting growth. One new flavored brand, Seagram’s Lime Twisted Gin, which was named a Rising Star distilled spirit brand by Adams Media Research, has seen its sales grow between its first and second year by 57.9%. Meanwhile, some established brands are also experiencing rising sales. Tanqueray, the number one imported brand, grew by 3.4%, Beefeater, the number two import, is up by 3.2%, and Bombay Sapphire, the number three import, is up by 54.3%. Meanwhile, on the domestic side, Burnett’s Gin from Heaven Hill saw its sales increase by 1.4%.

A History of Gin

1650. Dr. Frances de la Boes, also known as Dr. Sylvius, a chemist and professor of medicine at the University of Leyden, creates an infusion of juniper berries in alcohol while searching for cures for various maladies. He called it genièvre, the Dutch word for juniper, a name that was soon shortened to genever.

1689-1751. Known at first as “Dutch Courage” in England, the spirit, which was less expensive than French brandy, German spirits and eventually even British beer, became the national drink of England. The English further abbreviated the name to gin.

1769. Gordon’s Gin is first produced in England.

19th Century. After the invention of the continuous still, English distillers develop their own gin style. “London Dry Gin” at first meant that the gin was produced in or around London. Now, most of the gins on the market, both domestic and imported, are made in this dry style.

Gin, specifically Plymouth Gin, is brought on board the ships of the British Navy. Gin is used to make medicinal substances, such as Angostura Bitters and tonic water, which contained quinine, used to combat malaria, more palatable.

1820. James Burrough first produces Beefeater Gin. Beefeater is currently the only gin still being produced in the city of London.

1830. Charles Tanqueray founds his London company. In 1839, he develops the recipe for what is now Tanqueray Malacca.

1860-1910. The Martini is invented. Stories of its creation abound. Jerry Thomas, a bartender at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel, creates a drink for a customer traveling to Martinez that contains sweet gin, vermouth and bitters. A gold miner in the town of Martinez pays for a bottle of whisky with a nugget of gold so large that the bartender creates a new drink in his honor and calls it the Martinez. Martini de Arma di Taggia, a bartender at the Hotel Knickerbocker in New York creates a drink made with equal parts of gin and dry vermouth. Barnaby Conrad, author of The Martini Book, has found what he believes to be the first documented modern Martini, a recipe in Stuart’s Fancy Drinks and How to Mix Them, published in 1896.

1920-1934. During Prohibition, gin is the easiest spirit to produce illegally, hence the term “bathtub gin.” Martinis become a popular cocktail in speakeasies.

1939. Seagram’s Gin is introduced.

One measure of the budding excitement in the gin category is the number of new brands introduced over the last couple of years. Some, such as Seagram’s Lime Twisted, a flavored brand introduced in 1996 and Seagram’s Excel, a superpremium brand currently being test marketed, are from established gin suppliers. Others, such as Plymouth Gin, imported by Todhunter Imports in West Palm Beach, FL, and Leyden Dry Gin, from Luctor International based in Reno, NV, are from companies that are new to the gin market.

Interestingly, two of the newest brands are meant to provide consumers with an alternative gin taste. These are not flavored gins, but rather are made with different combinations of botanicals, ones that are lighter on the juniper. “We think there are consumers out there who would like a gin with a mellower taste profile,” said Diane Bloom, associate brand manager for Tanqueray and its new sister brand, Tanqueray Malacca. “Whereas vodka is flavorless and Tanqueray has a very distinct juniper flavor, we thought there was room for something in between. Tanqueray Malacca, which, at 80 proof, is lower in alcohol than Tanqueray, is priced comparably with the original brand.”

Leyden is a superpremium, priced a few dollars more than Bombay Sapphire, and it, too, is meant to fill the slot between vodkas and gins. This 80-proof brand is described by its company as a Holland-style gin rather than the more traditional London dry gin. “Its competitors are Bombay Sapphire and the upscale vodkas,” said Roseanne Hardenbrook, vice president at Luctor.

Many of the new gin brands are positioned to be superpremiums. “If you look at beverage alcohol in total, at all the categories, the trend is toward superpremiums, explained John Hartrey, category manager of gin for Seagram Americas. “There’s the single malts in Scotch, the blue agaves in tequila, the move toward VSOP, Napoléons and XOs from VS in cognac. Seagram is currently testing its superpremium gin offering, called Seagram’s Excel, in Atlanta, Detroit and the Oakland/Sacramento area of California.

Heaven Hill introduced its superpremium gin, Burnett’s Crown Select, a little over a year ago. “We introduced Crown Select because there is a lot of interest in gin in general and because our regular Burnett’s [a domestic brand often referred to as Burnett’s White Satin] is very, very strong,” explained Susan Overton, Heaven Hill’s director of marketing.

Plymouth Gin, a superpremium entry from Todhunter Imports, is actually an old brand. Last available in the United States 20 years ago, this brand stresses its heritage. For example, it has been distilled for over 200 years at the same site in Plymouth, England. Barnaby Conrad also noted in The Martini Book that Plymouth was the gin called for in the first documented Martini recipe, published in 1896.

The interest in the superpremium, or imported, end of the gin market is not surprising. The top four imported brands all reported growth in 1997. “What we’re seeing is that people are drinking less but better,” Schieffelin & Somerset’s Bloom said. “There’s been a whole resurgence of the classic cocktails.” Gary Clayton, marketing director at Domecq Importers, the company behind Beefeater, agreed. “We are seeing no decline or fading in the interest in classic cocktails,” he said.

Currently, Bombay Sapphire and Bombay Original, the third and fourth largest imported gin brands, are in limbo as their ownership is being transferred from Carillon to Bacardi. The Federal Trade Commission required that the Bombay brands, along with Dewar’s Scotch, be sold when Guinness and Grand Metropolitan merged.

Whether they handle domestic or imported brands, suppliers face decisions when it comes to choosing how best to take advantage of opportunities in the gin market. Should they work on attracting new consumers to the category, focus on people who already know and like gin? or do a little of both? Then there’s the question of whether classics like the Martini and Gin & Tonic should be the focus, or whether the gin’s overall mixability is more important.

Each brand, of course, develops — and adjusts — its own approach. UDV, for example, has recently changed its marketing strategy for Gordon’s Gin from trying to attract new consumers to gin to focusing on established consumers. It changed its advertising from its “Pour the Boar” campaign, designed to attract new consumers, to a campaign that touts Gordon’s as “the world’s most popular gin” and “a simple pleasure since 1769.” Among Gordon’s upcoming off-premise promotions are a free consumer offer for a poster showing Humphrey Bogart with cases of Gordon’s Gin onboard what looks like the African Queen. The image will also be shrinkwrapped onto 750-ml bottles. In the third quarter, Gordon’s will outfit 1.75-liter bottles with a fold-out label that explains the heritage and the production process behind the brand. Some materials will include a scratch ‘n’ sniff panel that smells of juniper, and the brand will also launch a consumer offer, in markets where legal, for a boar’s head pourer.

With its imported brand, Burnett’s Crown Select, Heaven Hill will focus on the Martini, specifically the Savoy Select Martini, made with Crown Select and Dubonnet, a recipe dating from the 1930s and ’40s. In addition, Crown Select will offer an on-pack this year containing four Martini olive forks.

Meanwhile, Burnett’s White Satin will continue its “The Gin Thing, The In Thing” campaign, which provides consumers with a range of gin recipes. In conjunction with the Burnett’s Vodka brand, the gin will also be featuring an on-pack of lemonade mix, along with the recipes for two drinks, the Lemon Peeler and the Lemon Smoothie.

Like many suppliers, Overton sees a great opportunity for gin in the resurgence of the Martini in particular. “Vodka is such a huge product,” she said, “but the true aficionado prefers a gin Martini.”

Domecq’s Clayton agreed. “We think it’s wonderful that the Martini is being defined by the shape of the glass rather than by its ingredients,” he said. “There’s been an explosion of Martinis. Every brand, every flavor, every category is trying to take advantage of the Martini. That’s a threat, but it’s also a big opportunity.”

The opportunity for Beefeater and other gin brands: to get younger consumers to think about the Martini in its original form, made with gin. “People pride themselves on buying and drinking the best,” he said. “The Martini aficionado is looking for the genuine article, and we are seeing more gin Martinis, as a result.

Beefeater is also looking to expand upon the classic cocktail trend. This summer, for instance, the brand, in markets where legal, is offering an on-pack of a glass cocktail shaker, along with recipes for both classic cocktails, such as the Negroni and the Gimlet, and for new drinks, such as the Gin & Sin, made with Beefeater, orange juice and lemon juice, and the Bulldog, which combines Beefeater with ginger ale.

While Beefeater is focusing its marketing efforts on attracting younger consumers, Clayton pointed out that the brand’s target audience is not necessarily the youngest beverage alcohol consumer. “We’re focusing on the 25- to 35-year-olds,” he explained. “We call them the in-betweeners, in between the Boomers and the Gen Xers. We understand that a rite of passage, a maturity, is required for gin.”

Some suppliers have planned summer promotions for a group of their products, including their gin brands. Seagram, for instance, will be promoting Seagram’s Gin, the number one gin brand on the market, in conjunction with 7 Crown and Captain Morgan. Meanwhile, Jim Beam will be promoting Gilbey’s and Calvert Gins along with several of its other platinum spirits, vodka and rum brands, in a program with the tagline, “Get into the Party Spirits.”

Other gins help establish themselves in the public’s mind with unique campaigns. Tanqueray has, for example, made a name for itself by sponsoring the most successful AIDS fundraiser in history, its Tanqueray AIDS Rides, which is a series of bicycle marathons throughout the United States, that have raised over $68 million so far. This year, the fifth year of the fundraiser, one trip has already taken place between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and four more are planned in Washington, DC, Twin Cities/Chicago, Boston/New York and in Texas.

Meanwhile, Fleischmann’s, a domestic brand from Barton with a strong presence in Wisconsin, sponsors two minor league baseball teams and a bowling tournament in that state and will be expanding its outdoor advertising campaign into Minnesota. And Barton Gin, another Barton Brand, will be appearing in the movie “Rounders,” due out in Fall ’98.

All in all, gin suppliers see their glass as half-full. “We’ve done a lot of research, and we see that younger consumers, LDA [legal drinking age] to late 20s, are rediscovering gin,” said Seagram’s Hartrey. “That’s why we feel very good and positive about the direction we’re going. We’re seeing that, like flavored vodkas and like tequilas, which have a unique flavor, there is opportunity for gin too.”

Leading Brands of Gin
(Thousands of 9-Liter Cases)

Brand Type Supplier 1996 1997

% Change

Seagram’s Gin Domestic Seagram Americas 3,500 3,170 -9.4%
Tanqueray Imported Schieffelin & Somerset 1,310 1,355 3.4%
Gordon’s Gin Domestic United Distillers USA 1,170 1,115 -4.7%
Gilbey’s Gin Domestic Jim Beam Brands 785 721 -8.2%
Beefeater Imported Domecq Importers 620 640 3.2%
Fleischmann’s Gin Domestic Barton Brands 420 407 -3.1%
Burnett’s White Satin Gin Domestic Heaven Hill Distilleries 360 365 1.4%
Barton Gin Domestic Barton Brands 355 346 -2.5%
Bombay Sapphire Imported Carillon Importers 162 250 54.3%
McCormick Gin Domestic McCormick Distilling 195 186 -4.6%
Crystal Palace Gin Domestic Barton Brands 179 172 -3.9%
Bombay Imported Carillon Importers 161 165 2.5%
Seagram’s Lime Twisted Domestic Seagram Americas 95 150 57.9%
Total Leading Brands 9,312 9,042 -2.9%
Others 2,349 2,341 -0.3%
Total Gin 11,661 11,383 -2.4%
Source: Adams Liquor Handbook 1998.

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