Craftsmanship justifies premium-plus status for gin
As aged spirits thrive in the premium-plus category, gin producers are looking to change consumer perceptions of the spirit to ensure it doesn’t get left behind.
Premium-plus agave-based spirits saw growth of 16% in the first half (H1) of 2022 versus the same period in 2021. This followed growth of 44% in H1 2021 versus 2020, much of which was driven by the Tequila category in the US.
In Diageo’s 2022 fiscal report, the firm’s premium-plus brands, including Don Julio and Casamigos Tequila, and Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky, contributed 57% of reported net sales, with an organic net sales growth of 71%.
However, while whiskies, Tequilas and Cognacs have dominated sales in the premium-plus segment, gin brands are looking to highlight the craft and skill behind the spirit’s production to ensure the botanical spirit is not left behind.
Speaking to The Spirits Business, Bombay Sapphire master distiller, Dr Anne Brock, said that the lack of premium-plus gin brands on the market is down to value perception: “I think it’s because people still see age as a marker of quality – the years in the barrel and the older the whisky, the more people pay, and as gin is not aged you’ve immediately got that hurdle to overcome to get people to pay more.
“There are brands [that] have done crazy things. There is a £3,000 (US$3,667) bottle of gin that Cambridge Distillery has made,” she says, referring to the distillery’s Japanese gin, Watenshi. This bottling is said to be made of the ‘elusive percentage’ of the spirit usually lost to the angel’s share, captured using a refined technique that utilises atmospheric pressure less than half that found at the summit of Mount Everest, and temperatures on par with the coldest day ever recorded at the South Pole. The result is a yield of just 15ml every still run, equating to almost fifty distillations for a single bottle.
“It was crazy,” Brock continues, “so it’s trying to sort of justify [that price] when you don’t have an age process.”
Last month, Bombay Sapphire released its Premier Cru Murcian Lemon gin in the US. The premium gin honours the brand’s long-standing relationships with suppliers and farmers.
Brock explained that this release allows Bombay Sapphire to highlight the effort and length the gin producers go to in order to create the spirit, which in turn allows it to be considered a premium product.
“It’s not just the case that these botanicals materialise at the distillery, get put through the still and then put it into a bottle. This is years of care and skill that goes into it before it gets to me.”
Ivano Tonutti, Bombay Sapphire’s master of botanicals, added: “We wanted to tell the consumer that even though it’s not aged, there is at least the same level of care and skill behind the gin as there is behind a whisky that has spent most of the time in a barrel.”
‘Distinctive drinking experiences’
For ultra-premium gin brand Seventy One, telling the story of the spirit’s craft is key for the brand’s success in the category. Tasso Ferreira, managing director and co-founder of Seventy One Gin, explained: “With luxury offers so well developed in whisky, Champagne and Tequila, why should gin be left behind?
“We brought together a series of unique techniques developed by the best team of connoisseurs to craft a rare and authentic taste, aligned with a very selective distribution to curate the best experience for our consumer.
“True craftsmanship is never out of fashion – consumers are connecting with and understanding the value of devotion to quality, seeking the most interesting and distinctive drinking experiences.
“The rarity of materials and sophistication of production methods used in the ultra-premium spirits category mean that the liquid is something people feel they have to have.
“At Seventy One, each and every part of the journey is a relentless pursuit of perfection. The result is a beautiful, extraordinary experience that becomes priceless with every sip.
“Of course, the packaging and the branding complements what we are about, however we view these elements as an appropriate framing for the liquid, which is where the real artistry takes place.”
Much like Bombay Sapphire, Seventy One has looked to shine a light on the skill-led techniques and craftsmanship used to create the ultra-premium spirit, which retails for £168 (US$205) per bottle. However like other premium spirits categories, it has also turned to post-distillation cask ageing to add additional value to the end product.
“Our gin is formed by the distillation of each botanical separately, at their pinnacle of expression, with the most precise method, to get their absolute best. Just like a perfumer would,” continued Ferreira.
“Once the rare botanicals are extracted and assembled, Seventy One rests in a mix of specially selected oak casks allowing the spirit to rest and marry gently in small batches. Resting delivers unparalleled smoothness and an added dimension of complexity, imbuing the spirit with an amber glow.
“[Creating the gin] was a big challenge, but the disruptiveness is what excites us. A true work of devotion, a work of art.”