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SB Voices: Stop waiting for gin to fail

The highly anticipated big gin fallout is yet to happen. Perhaps it’s time we all had a little more faith in the category, says Melita Kiely.

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Why should we expect gin to fall out of favour with consumers when we don’t expect the same for whisky?

After flavoured vodka fell out of favour with consumers, gin quickly stepped out of the shadows to fill a white-spirit hole, blindsiding the industry with its rapid ascent to the top.

Since then, the gin category has experienced an unfathomable level of success. A handful of brands have been joined by hundreds of keen competitors eager to cut their teeth in the spirits market. It’s pushed tonic waters to premiumise and expand in order to keep up with demand, and given imbibers even more choice for their tipples.

And yet the question remains on everyone’s lips: “When will we see a gin fallout?”

This was something that struck me as I was interviewing Walter Riddell, managing director of the Moorland Spirit Company, which makes Hepple Gin, and Hepple Gin co-creator Valentine Warner. When I asked about gin trends for 2018, Warner said: “People always talk about the bottom dropping out of gin, but I don’t think it’s going to go away. It’s going to grow for some time. Something has really dug in here and I see gin lasting in the same way that whisky has.”

The fallout question is rarely, if ever, put to whisky producers. Or Cognac. Or rum. At least not in the same incessant way it is put to gin makers. Brown spirits seem to have a cemented status within the drinks world; they’ve earned their success and they’re here to stay. People only question how they’re going to be bigger, better. Nobody is bemoaning the number of new Scotch whisky distilleries due to open this year, or the influx of new Irish whiskey distillers.

Which begs the question, why must we see a gin fallout? Yes, there are a huge number of gin brands to choose from, growth has been quick and inevitably the quality of some will not be quite up to scratch. But is gin unequivocally doomed to the same fate as flavoured vodka? I’m not so sure…

At its peak, flavoured vodka played heavily on gimmicks with its weird and wacky flavours. Yet, while gin distillers embrace ever-more unusual botanicals to give their products a point of difference, the category doesn’t seem to be following the same approach as its white spirit counterpart. Even the newest of gin distillers seem much more driven by flavour rather than fad.

Of course, as with any industry, there will be peaks and troughs as companies weather political and economic turmoil, changing consumer attitudes, cocktail trends, and more. But perhaps it’s time for a change of attitude towards gin’s unforeseen success; for us all to stop waiting for the ‘big gin bust’ that never comes. It’s something to ponder as you pour your next G&T.

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