An international boom in high-end gins is slowly making waves in the US. What will it take for a full-fledged expansion?
Gin made with seaweed, gin made with truffles, with collagen, red algae, rhubarb or Darjeeling tea. Gin from Japan, Germany, or anywhere, for that matter. Internationally, gin is on a serious upswing. Yes, it may finally be true when you hear someone say, “Gin is in.” International sales figures for gin have exploded in the past few years.
Things are a bit different in the US, however. Gin sales were mostly flat last year, according to numerous reports, but among the higher end imported brands experienced substantial growth: about 10% at high-end and super premium levels.
That higher end is where most of the growth internationally is coming from as well, at least in the UK and Spain (the second and third largest markets for gin – India is first, the US fourth). Overall, the category has enjoyed incredible growth in recent years. In the UK, for example, more than $600 million worth of gin were exported last year, according to the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA).
This year, the major International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC) received nearly 400 gin entries from 35 different countries – an increase of more than 500% since 2013. The UK is especially flooded with new high-end gins, and supermarket Waitrose reported recently that sales of local and artisan gin have grown 50% over the previous year. In fact, the amount spent in the gin category at the supermarket chain has overtaken whiskey for the first time. As a result, Waitrose keeps adding new, locally sourced and small distiller brands to their shelves. Their spirit buyer has been quoted as saying, “Gins from local and regional distilleries have become particularly popular for several reasons. There’s been a shift towards people sipping the spirit before their meal as an aperitif, so artisan gins, which tend to have been infused with unique flavours, really appeal for this purpose.”
Few of these small producers’ gins make it to the US, but some of the more fanciful offerings from around the world do get to our shores. The new Nikka Coffey Gin, made with a range of botanicals including Sansho peppers and yuzu, will be released here shortly.
Even big distillers are in on the creativity game: venerable Gordon’s has introduced Gordon’s Premium Pink Distilled Gin, inspired by a recipe from the 1880s that features with strawberries and raspberries. The company has made previous efforts in the UK (Gordon’s sold in the US is not imported but produced here) with elderflower and cucumber variants as well, trying to catch the gin zeitgeist. (Like Tanqueray and Hendrick’s and more than 70% of UK-produced gins, Gordon’s is made in Scotland.)
What will it take for gin to catch fire here as well? A few of the smaller producer gins have gathered fans along the way. Death’s Door may be the most successful, but its sales are still tiny compared to the high-end brands like Beefeater and Hendrick’s, the latter being the biggest imported breakout gin since the introduction of Bombay Sapphire in 1987. While many small distillers are making gin, the sort of ingredient-driven creativity has yet to reach the same peaks it has in the UK.
Perhaps a recent move by Pernod Ricard will have some impact. The French spirits giant just announced launch of The Gin Hub, tasked with developing and innovating within the company’s portfolio of strategic gin brands to drive further growth in the category. The producer said its launch marked “a show of confidence in the future” of its gin portfolio, which includes Beefeater, Plymouth and Seagram’s.
“Gin is the fastest growing spirits category, and premium gins are growing faster than bourbon and tequila,” said Sophie Gallois at an event to launch the concept in London, according to Drinks International. “We really think this growth is going to continue for the next few years and that gin has a lot of room to develop. To grab this opportunity, we thought Pernod Ricard needed to work differently.”