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Can London dry gin achieve GI status?

With questions abounding over the potential for London dry gin to achieve GI status, we ask if gin can go back to its roots, or has “London (dry)” become as generic as Yorkshire pudding?

Consumers often mistake London dry gin as a spirit which solely heralds from the UK’s capital, when in fact it is a production style

“Given the heritage and history of distilling in London, should London-distilled gin be protected and what is the best course of action?” The controversial subject of applying for an appellation for London-distilled gin has been discussed by British distillers in great length for some time.

London has been connected to gin since the early 17th century during the reign of William of Orange, through to the 18th century Gin Craze and its infamous depictions as “mother’s ruin” in William Hogarth’s Gin Lane of 1751. It was even the British development of the column still in the early 19th century that gave rise to the London dry style which is so popular today.

It’s no wonder then that 15% of confused consumers incorrectly believe the term “London dry gin” refers to spirit heralding from the UK capital, rather than a particular production style. At least that’s according to the (Not) Made in London – Assessing the Value and Understanding of the term London Dry Gin (2013) report

London dry gin is one of those curious terms that in its modern definition actually has nothing to do with the city itself. The reference to London was simply a way for the EU to refer to the grade of gin with “the most stringent and demanding production criteria” known. But without any strict geographical indication, or GI status, London dry gin can be distilled anywhere in the world, from Scotland to South Africa.

As part of the (Not) Made in London report, UK distillers were also asked their opinions on whether London-made gin should be given a protected appellation?

All the London-based distillers asked were in favour, while 40% of other distillers in the UK also agreed. Given the history of gin in London, it’s not hard to see why distillers are so keen to hold onto their own heritage, particularly when other countries hold the city in such high esteem.

“There’s magnificent enthusiasm in the cocktail cities of the US for products made in London because so few are,” said Allen Katz, co-founder of New York Distilling Co. speaking at the London Gin Summit 2013 in early October. “We think of London as the home of gin, and as a consumer from the US I can tell you it’s all simplified. We believe it comes from London. We don’t care who markets it or where it comes from, so long as it’s from London.”

Would distillers suffer the costs of lobbying the European Commission to trademark London dry gin?

Michael Vachon, a native American now working with Maverick Drinks in the UK, agreed: “People are curious about products made in London and to put a country of origin or name against it would almost be like a stamp of quality. I honestly believe if there was a distinctly London distilled gin, it could increase sales. When Americans buy gin the majority buy brands they think are from London. That’s why Beefeater and Tanqueray ramp it up so much and that won’t change unless perceptions do.”

But surely, with so many brands around the world calling themselves London gin, and with no particularly distinct, unique style, is it too late for London distillers to claim a GI status?

“The time for London to claim ownership of gin has probably long gone,” said Martin Price from Park Place Drinks which produces SW4 Gin. “There are so many exciting things from all around the UK and the world of gin right now, and ultimately I think the discussion now should be over style and quality of your gin, and not where it’s produced.”

Vachon on the other hand believes producers could use the existing confusion surrounding different styles of gin to their advantage. “I don’t think it’s too late because there is still such confusion. If they start now, they won’t be confusing the situation, rather they will be simplifying it,” he argues.

Another solution that would avoid costly legal fees, years of discussion and lobbying the European Commission, would be for London distillers to voluntarily and collectively sign up to a rudimentary code of conduct that would set out production methods, and allow all parties involved to use a trademarked logo on their gins’ packaging so they could highlight their London origin.

But even that suggestion threw up several issues when discussed at the London Gin Summit, organised by the gin enthusiast David T. Smith.

Clarifying the term London dry gin could benefit the future of the industry

“There is a chance a voluntary logo or trademark could work, but how do you establish what that is,” asked Jamie Baxter, co-founder of City of London Distillery. “I don’t think you can do that beyond simple geographical origin because the methodology that various London gin distillers use is different and the range of botanicals they use is different. There’s not enough commonality between them to group them under one umbrella.”

Price agreed, drawing attention to the difficulty of claiming a gin is from London, when most of its ingredients are sourced elsewhere. “If you’re going to have a geographical limitation it needs to be based on something real, which in my opinion is the concept of terroir. But how can you apply terroir to gins distilled in London?

“It’s unlikely to be of consequence for most of the botanicals we use, but how about the alcohol itself? Most is bulk, neutral spirit for redistillation and dilution and most of this bulk spirit production doesn’t necessarily come from London.”

Price continued: “Water is a big component, it can be up to 62.5% of the finished product that we love to drink, but again, even if you are using mains water, can you isolate this source?”

Suggestions were raised during the summit for the use of a “London cut dry gin” logo, which would allude to the distillation of the gin being the only aspect truly associated with London. However many argued the term “cut” would confuse consumers even further, with many unaware of what happens during the distillation process.

So what’s the answer? The resounding response from the London Gin Summit was that distillers should concentrate on marketing their own gin as they see fit, whether that’s through adding a “Distilled in the City of London” badge to the bottle, or marketing the product with as many references to London as possible, in the case of Beefeater.

If The Spirits Business were to chime in on the matter, we’d recommend the industry stamp out confusion by working on educating the consumer on different production methods and what “London dry gin” actually means.

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