The varying styles of gin are appealing to a widening range of consumers.
Gin was king of white spirits for many decades, from the pre-Prohibition era and beyond, but by the late 20th century the juniper spirit began declining in appeal in favor of vodka. Now, however, it appears that the current classic cocktail culture is encompassing gin once again. Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests that today’s gin renaissance is driven by bartenders who in turn are influencing consumers, creating a trickle down effect to retail stores. Total sales for gin spiked 1.5% nationally in 2008, according to the Beverage Information Group, and industry prognosticators are predicting further growth, causing retailers and tastemakers to declare that gin is in.
London Dry and New Expressions
The juniper heavy tang of a London Dry Gin is the best-known style of gin and Tanqueray, the top-selling imported gin in the U.S., is the quintessential London Dry. Angus Winchester, the global ambassador for Tanqueray, noted, ‘The definition of London Dry is quite flexible, but it must have a generous taste of juniper. Tanqueray London Dry Gin is still made to its original recipe created in 1832, which I don’t think a lot of distilleries can say. I think of it as the benchmark of London Dry the way Johnnie Walker Black is the benchmark of blended whisky.’
Another textbook London Dry is Beefeater, known for its iconic image of a Yeoman Warder (the guards to the Tower of London also known as beefeaters) on the bottle. The distillery recently launched a new expression called Beefeater 24, created by master distiller, Desmond Payne. Simon Ford, the director of trade outreach and brand education for Pernod Ricard USA, the importer and marketer for Beefeater, Plymouth Gin and Seagram’s Gin, said, ‘Sencha tea, green tea and grapefruit have been added to the usual Beefeater botanicals and it has an earlier cut during distillation.’ [Ford refers to the process of distillation when the head and tails are discarded. In the case of 24, the ‘cut’ into the tail of the run is earlier, resulting in a lighter, subtle character]. Continued Ford, ‘Beefeater is quite a full-on gin, but the 24 is more delicate, while still being a London Dry by definition.’
Another top import is Bombay Sapphire, marketed by Bacardi USA. The high-end gin that grew an impressive 3.1% in 2008, despite the economic downturn in the last quarter of the year. Bombay Dry Gin is the company’s more traditional London Dry, with an emphasis on the juniper berry, whereas Sapphire is their point of departure, being the more delicate version. ‘Peppers, namely grains of paradise and cubeb berries, are among the ingredients used in Bombay Sapphire. These botanicals really smooth out that heavy juniper character. As a result, when you drink Bombay Sapphire in a dry Martini with just a whisper of vermouth you can pick up on all these different types of botanicals. It is a much more versatile gin,’ explained Giles Woodyer, vice president for Bacardi U.S.A. and brand managing director for Bombay Sapphire.
Genever and Dutch Gin
Gin might be best-known as a British drink, but its origins lie in Holland. Indeed, gin’s predecessor, genever, is also making a bit of a comeback thanks to Bols, imported by William Grant & Sons. The company recently re-launched Bols Genever, causing buzz for the maltwine-based juniper spirit. ‘Genever is a separate protected category (AOC), like a Cognac or a Bordeaux; it can only be named as such if produced in Holland and must include maltwine,’ stated Tal Nadari, vice president of marketing for Lucas Bols USA.
John Walker and Co., a wine and spirits shop in San Francisco, carries a range of 40 different gins with a few genevers on the shelf too. ‘We have a good selection of genevers, including Bols and Boomsma Jonge [young] and Oude [old],’ said Dominic Venegas, spirits buyer and manager. The store also carries a local version of genever: Anchor Distillers Junipero. ‘It is their attempt to make genever and is modeled after the 19th century style. It isn’t easy drinking, but it has a following,’ Venegas added.
Genever aside, Dutch gins are known for their more assertive character and higher proof. President of Van Gogh Imports, Jonathan Bleiberg, explained, ‘The style is typically higher proof. The Dutch believe in complex gins. When people think gin, they usually refer to London Dry. But take a gin like Tanqueray or Gordon’s and compare it to ours; they are so distinctly different.’
New Gins and New Definitions
In 2000, Tanqueray 10 was launched. Many industry commentators believe that the citrus-y character of the brand’s new expression led the way for what has now become known as the New Western Dry movement. ‘Tanqueray realized there was room for innovation and sensed that gin was going to regain its status; meanwhile, they looked at other white spirits and thought about how the Martini had been bastardized into a vodka drink. So they went away and did a lot of experimentation with citrus. After trial and error, they came up with a combination of white grapefruit, Mexican lime and a little orange along with chamomile, which gives the gin a really sensual appeal,’ said Winchester.
Co-founder of Aviation Gin, Ryan Magarian, is a spokesperson of sorts for the gin category and is an advocate for the New Western Dry term. He noted, ‘The New Western Dry Gin designation seems to have evolved over the past eight years, as a result of efforts from large brand houses and regional distillers in Europe and in the United States. Taking a good hard look at today’s rather loose definition of dry gin, these distillers realized a greater opportunity for artistic ‘flavor’ freedom and are creating gins with a shift away from the usually overabundant focus on juniper, to supporting botanicals, allowing them to just about share center stage. And while the juniper must remain dominant in all dry gins to achieve definition, these gins are most certainly defined by the careful inclusion and balance of supporting flavors, creating, what I believe to be, an entirely new designation of dry gin that deserves individual recognition.’
‘I either say ‘Old World’ or ‘New World,’ said Venegas at John Walker & Co. ‘Brands like Tanqueray or Beefeater, the heavy juniper gins, being Old World. But now we’ve got all these New World gins coming out. And by ‘New World,’ I don’t just mean the U.S., I’d place Hendrick’s Gin [made in Scotland] in there too.’
Fragrant, accessible and consumer-friendly, Hendrick’s Gin is a brand that has made new gin drinkers out of a non-gin drinking generation. ‘Hendrick’s set out to create a flavor profile that would be less intimidating for people that are not used to that strong juniper taste that you can get in a London Dry. We hear it so many times, when people say they don’t like gin – but they like Hendrick’s,’ explained Charlotte Voissey, brand ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin.
Martin Miller’s Gin also breaks the juniper-heavy mold. According to David Bromige, the co- founder and creative director of Martin Miller’s Gin, ‘It does not fall in any single category. It closely resembles a London Dry, but is not strictly categorized that way. It is an artisan gin with a strong citrus overtone.’
G’Vine, based in the Cognac region, is the Francophile’s answer to gin. G’Vine Floraison features vine flowers, as well as the essential juniper berry and more. The company just launched their second gin, called Nouaison. Audrey Fort, marketing and business development director for Eurowinegate, the owners of G’Vine, said, ‘G’Vine Nouaison is a new interpretation of G’Vine and focuses on the next step in the vine’s lifecycle. After the blossoming period in June comes the setting, known in French as Nouaison; it’s the birth of the berry. It is stronger and spicier than Floraison with a more dominant juniper berry note.’
Distilled in smaller pot stills and made with a medley of 19 different botanicals, Citadelle Gin is another French juniper spirit by way of the Cognac region. The company recently launched a new, heartier, barrel-aged expression called Citadelle Gin Reserve. Guillaume Lamy, Cognac Ferrand’s vice president of sales for North America noted, ‘Citadelle Gin Reserve has a much rounder mouthfeel. It shows rancio and vanilla from our used cognac casks. It is very complementary with the overall taste profile of Citadelle Gin. Six months of aging adds a refinement that we cannot get out of a pot still. The best way to consume the Reserve is in a Martini with orange bitters.’
From back in Britain, Pinnacle Gin debuted in the U.S. last year. Imported by White Rock Distilleries, Pinnacle (which also features a vodka) is distilled five times and infused with various botanicals as well as juniper flavors. The 80 proof gin comes in a shapely, upscale package and is available nationally in several sizes.
The birth of the American micro distillery has launched a handful of regional gins. Venegas noted, ‘At John Walker and Co. we carry the major brands, but the majority of our gins are from small distilleries, many of them are American. We’re seeing micro-distilleries popping up all over the place. We are big supporters of Aviation Gin [made in Oregon]. As a sustainable gin, Bluecoat from Philadelphia does well. There has been a strong interest among consumers for organic and sustainable wines and it is crossing over into the spirits world. Local gins are big here too; Sarticious is made in Santa Cruz, Gin 209 and Anchor Steam’s Genevieve and Junipero are based in San Francisco.’
Astor Wines and Spirits in New York City boasts an impressive selection of juniper spirits. Their best-selling gins are British, namely Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Hendrick’s Gin and Plymouth, but the store is on the cutting edge of small production American gins. ‘The brands we really like are Aviation, Anchor Distillery, Clearheart Gin [Iowa] and Death’s Door Distilled Gin [Wisconsin],’ said Bill Kenny, store manager and spirits buyer.
Indeed, America’s top-selling gin is produced domestically. Seagram’s continues to launch new flavor profiles of gin including Seagram’s Grape Twisted Gin, which launched in December 2008, joining the likes of Lime Twisted, Orange Twisted, Raspberry Twisted and Apple Twisted Gins. Pernod-Ricard suggests it is a brand that consumers can rely on, especially during today’s credit-crunch times.
Another popular domestic gin is New Amsterdam, from E&J Gallo. The name is a nod to history ‘ when New York was owned by the Dutch ‘ though the gin itself is made in California. It has had a phenomenal two years on the market, selling 450,000 9-liter cases in 2008, and on track to gain significant sales again in 2009, according to the company. New Amsterdam, too, offers a twist on the traditional, by toning down the juniper in favor of more citrus notes. According to Kenny at Astor Wines & Spirits, ‘Retailing at $13.99, New Amsterdam is the best gin for the price.’
Winning New Consumers
Educating the trade and consumers has always been top priority for Plymouth Gin, a protected geographical indication gin. Plymouth Gin took a grassroots attitude by employing hip brand ambassadors to reach out to bartenders and retailers and now Plymouth is an industry favorite. ‘It was quite a unique strategy for the time,’ said Ford at Pernod Ricard. ‘Now everyone’s doing it and hiring smart brand ambassadors like Charlotte Voissey [for Hendrick’s gin] and Angus Westchester [for Tanqueray].’
Bombay Sapphire uses a signature cocktail as its selling tool. Explained Woodyer, ‘We’ve been educating consumers and retailers through the Sapphire Collins, which is a twist on the Tom Collins. The key is to use fresh ingredients. Every bar in America and most homes have lemons and sugar, so it’s an accessible drink and it is a particularly refreshing cocktail for the summer.’ A nifty citrus squeezer is provided to retailers for in-store tastings, and it is sold as part of a premium pack in select markets. ‘We think of the citrus squeezer being to gin what the muddler is to rum,’ said Woodyer.
Last year, Astor Center (Astor Wines and Spirits educational facility) held a gin event split into two segments, one for media and trade and the other for the public. Eighteen distilleries were invited to submit their gin to a blind tasting. The roster included traditional London Dry gins, Dutch gins and New Western Dry gins. Tasters were asked to vote for their top three favorites. The winning gins for the media and trade segment were Tanqueray Rangpur, Broker’s Gin and Zuidam. In the consumer voting, it was a two-way tie, with Martin Miller’s and Beefeater Gin followed by Blue Coat Gin and New Amsterdam Gin. The tasting successfully divulged the wide breadth of different styles and categories when it comes to gin, something that gin producers and retailers are relying on to help spur ales in the category.
The Gin and Tonic
The thirst-quenching Gin and Tonic has had a makeover. ‘One of the telltale signs of gin’s popularity right now is the phenomenal success of Q Tonic and Fever-Tree,’ said Simon Ford at Pernod Ricard. ‘They’ve had such a rise in sales, which tells me that the Gin and Tonic is really making a comeback.’
‘We have seen growth of around 250% last year. The majority of the consumption of our tonic water is driven by gin sales (after all, 80% of gin is consumed with tonic). The premium Gin and Tonic is unquestionably making a comeback, fuelled by the increasing number of high-quality gins and the birth of the premium tonic. These new tools are allowing bartenders and home consumers to once again embrace this classic cocktail,’ stated Tim Warrilow, co-founder of Fever-Tree.
Q Tonic expects to more than double its sales this year, despite the economic downturn. Founder Jordan Silbert said, ‘Liquor stores are Q Tonic’s best channel for sales. Spirit shops such as BevMo! And Sam’s Wines & Spirits are selling lots of Q Tonic and actually stocking it in both their mixer sections as well as their spirits sections. Shoppers are spending about $30 on their favorite gins and don’t want to ruin them by mixing with tonic water that’s basically all high fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors.’
Both Q Tonic and Fever-Tree have teamed up with gins such as Hendricks, Beefeater 24, Blue Coat [for Q Tonic] Plymouth, Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire, Millers Gin, Hendricks Gin, Citadelle, Whitley Neil [for Fever-Tree] to promote the pairing of premium gin with quality tonic water.
Sloe Gin and Old Tom
Old Tom is an historical, slightly sweet, style of gin, originally consumed in Britain in the 18th century. It is a niche spirit that nevertheless has its share of fans. ‘Haymen’s Old Tom Gin has quite a following. It makes good classic cocktails like the Tom Collins,’ explained Bill Kenny, store manager and spirits buyer, Astor Wine and Spirits, New York City, NY.
Sloe Gin, made from slow berries, is an English liqueur with a gin base. Plymouth Sloe Gin is the most respected brand for its time-consuming, additive-free recipe. Dominic Venegas, spirits buyer and manager, John Walker & Co., San Francisco, CA, said, ‘Plymouth Sloe sells like hotcakes here. When it launched last year, it gained a lot of interest because it is so unique. San Francisco is a very cocktail-oriented city. And Sloe Gin is known as an ingredient in drinks like the Sloe Gin Fizz, made with gin, a little sloe gin, lemon juice and egg white.’