• Gin: Where Does It All End

    At the beginning of 2018 a friend’s daughter wrote to me and asked for some help with her dissertation on the UK Gin “craze”. With four years of Gin Jamborees under my belt I was well placed to answer he questions on what in my opinion were the key factors in the creation of the phenomenon and to distill (no pun intended) these into four sentences they are:
    • Changes to HMRC rules ‘freedom to distill’
    • Social Media
    • Pop-up promotional events
    • Production innovation in a sector the likes of which has never been seen before
     I actually wrote 30 pages in an outpouring of what I had witnessed over the previous four years and went on to make the prediction that Gin would hit the mainstream during 2018, by which I predicted that finally and reluctantly the major supermarkets would cave-in and recognize the need for more choice of Gin in their isles and that this would mean there’d be a ‘big 50’ Gin brands and by and large this has come to pass.
    What I hadn’t predicted is the speed with which Gin would take over the on-trade (pubs and bars) and how quickly the consumer has come to demand a good choice of Gins wherever they go. A lovely example of just how far and how deep the Gin culture has penetrated the market was just last week when we took over the Winding Wheel Theatre in Chesterfield for our final Gin Jamboree of the season. This lovely Tudor facaded theatre has just enjoyed a facelift to its reception and bars area.
    Eighteen months ago, I remember calling at the theatre to meet with House Manger Matt really to explain what a Gin Jamboree was in the hope that I could persuade him and presumably his lords and masters at Chesterfield Council, to let me bring it to their lovely venue.
    This I achieved with lots of video evidence of Gin Jam’s success elsewhere and lots of assurance that there was demand for such an event and anyway we’d be the ones taking the risk.
    So, in November 2017 we rolled the Gin Jamboree into a packed Winding Wheel and rocked the place so much that we had to return 6 months on, to do it all again.
      Between our last visit and our again packed house last Saturday, the upgrade of the guest facilities has taken place and guess what? They now offer a minimum of ten different Gins on their bar, and Matt tells me that around half of the drinks they serve pre-performance and during the interval are now Gin. A phenomenal turnaround from the ‘one size fits all’ Gordon’s & Schweppes that would have been the only offering just a year before.
    Proof if proof were needed of how the consumer has rapidly adopted Gin and rapidly come to demand choice and a good range of Gins wherever they go.
    I’ve also heard a number of people ‘scoff’ at venues where they were only offered a couple of choices of Gin, such that I wonder if any on-trade outlet who has not embraced the Gin craze will find its reputation suffering.
    So, to the question that I’ve been asked almost daily since we started Gin Jamboree back in 2014: “When will the Gin craze end?”
    Well, I have two answers for this question: the first is that it isn’t going to end for a very long time to come and the second is that it will never return to the way things were back in the bad-old-days.
    Indeed, it is my observation that consumers are loving this massive choice, loving that there’s a new Gin appearing everyday and loving the ‘hobby’ of trying to try them all.
    And you know what? It rather reminds me of the wine market back in the late ‘80’s-early ‘90’s when consumer choice of wines went through the roof. When almost overnight Odd Bins would be stocking 40 wines from Tasmania and wine appeared from British Columbia/Mexico/Isreal/etc, etc etc and the arrival of the new wine list from one of the Avant Garde chains was an exciting read that motivated the consumers to want to experiment and to open their minds to new and exciting things.
    I was working for one of the brewery backed chains at the time, and clearly remember how in many ways the mainstream felt that such consumer choice was not necessary, yet here I am 30 years later and I’m stocking wines from Patagonia, being asked for wines from Slovakia, Canada and I’m sure if I could find wine from Outer Mongolia then the customers of Old School Wines would be up for trying it!
    We have not just red, white and rosé wines these days but orange wines, organic wines, biodynamic wines, wines with no added Sulphur, wines that see barrel aging, wines that don’t, wines that are fermented in barrels, fudre’s and even concrete eggs, so if anything consumer choice in the wine market is even greater and more detailed than it was 30 years ago when wine exploded and became the popular drink of many.
    So, I see no earthly reason why consumers should not want to continue to have an ever-widening choice of Gins. When you look at it like this, we’ve hardly scratched the surface yet and consumer choice in the wine market has become very detailed indeed. “I’d like a barrel aged, low Sulphur South African Cabernet Sauvignon for around £10 please” would have me scurrying to the South African section and hoping to offer choice.
    I’m told that in the motor trade the old adage ‘you can have any colour car as long as it’s black’ is now a long-forgotten memory and consumers choose their car colour, trim and every detail right down to the choice of key fob and this is the norm. So, it’s reasonable to assume that the same consumers will want to have a great choice of Gins and just about any other wine or spirit for that matter.
    Whether our friends in the grocery sector will be able to cope I doubt very much, which is even better news for both on-line retailers and independent specialists like ourselves. Afterall the supermarkets, with one or two exceptions have pretty much given up on trying to sell wine in any other way than by price promotion.
    We stock around 650-700 different wines at Old School and around 220 Gins. Maybe in 5 years’ time the Gin figure might be 3-400, though quite where we’re going to put them, I really don’t know!
    My hope for the on-trade (bars and restaurants) is that they do a better job of Gin than they have done over the past 30 years with wine. It’s still pretty rare that a decent glass can be had in a pub and even if it can then a small glass often costs more than a whole bottle would from a wine shop.
    As a Gin brand owner, albeit a small parochial one, I really do believe that there is a great future for a wide range of Gin brands both in the UK and abroad for a very long time to come. So, the Gin ‘craze’ may in fact, never see an end.