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New-style gin targets vodka-driven youth market

Felicity Murray questions London mixologist Gerry Calabrese, owner of Hoxton Pony bar, about the success of his contemporary-style Hoxton Gin, which is now gaining impressive listings

Gerry Calabrese Hoxton Gin

Gerry describes his gin as a "variation on classic gin, like no other on the market".

Hoxton Gin is a gin with a classic, predominantly juniper-driven, character but also distilled with the addition of exotic botanicals (all natural and ethically sourced). These include coconut, grapefruit, iris, tarragon and ginger, which dominate the nose and flavour, even though juniper berries make up about 50% of the mix. It is a gin that gin that opens up a whole new world of drinking, mixing and cocktail possibilities.

Gerry Calabrese has built a reputation as one of the modern greats in the London bar and club scene. Following a successful run at some of London’s top restaurants and hotels Gerry moved into London’s club scene as a promoter before finding his real passion as a cocktail bartender at some of London’s top venues (Lab, Dust, and Sex in the City and MEET). In May 2008 Gerry launched his own award-winning East End bar - famed for its impressive cocktails - The Hoxton Pony.

Hoxton Gin was launched in the UK in May 2011 and its roll-out across Europe commenced in June 2011.  Listings have just been announced in major national retail chains in the UK, Spain and Germany.

What sets Hoxton Gin apart from other gin brands?

"The reason I created Hoxton gin and opened the Hoxton pony was to essentially open a gin bar aimed at young media types and it was hugely successful.

"We had 52 different types of gin on the back shelf, more gin than any other bar in UK at the time I believe and we opened with huge critical acclaim and were selling with huge success. However, I was selling well in excess of 100 bottles of vodka a week but only about 30 bottles of gin comparatively.

"The bar was full of young creative hair types and I looked at the back bar and the majority of gins were juniper driven and lots of what’s called ‘new western style’ gins which tend to put off the younger consumer. These are still juniper based but also have other interesting botanicals – Tanqueray 10 - fresh grapefruit, Hendricks - rose & cucumber.

"When I looked at the packaging, even though they had different flavour profiles that would appeal to a younger palette, their packaging was still based on provenance/history, they were ultra-premium in taste, packaging and price point, not appealing to the younger market.

"With Hoxton gin we wanted to create something that would be completely targeted at the younger market and unashamedly aimed at them in both flavour profile and design and also price point which to my knowledge hadn’t been done before."

What was your thinking behind the choice of bottle and label?

"We created a package and brand name that I believed would resonate with the younger consumer – very minimalist in design, quite quirky, looks a bit homemade, all of which sticks to the fundamentals of what Shoreditch is about. If you look at it on the shelf it is clearly different and probably bears more of a resemblance to vodkas. Younger people are more inclined to drink vodka and our gin is intended as a vodka alternative.

"We wanted something minimalist and simplistic which pops and is communicated well on the bottle. The idea was for it to look quirky and have a point of interest which translated the unusual flavour profiles in the bottle, which I believe it does.

"I used my designer who designs all my stuff, she was heavily directed from myself as with all projects I am involved in. Design is something that really interests me, I have a huge input in all my projects."

Since the launch of Hoxton there has been a flurry of activity in the gin world with a growing number of new products. I asked Gerry his thoughts on this, if he felt they could all survive, and about the best routes to market.

What do you think is the best – quickest – route to market for a new gin?

"There is no quick route to market it takes a lot of hard work, leg work and commitment. The best way in my opinion of seeding a product to market is seed work which means engaging the people on the front end, the decision makers and bartenders who will ultimately recommend your product and choose to serve your product over another.

"In terms of the expansion of the gin category it can only be a good thing. It is my favourite spirit and as a mixologist it is my favourite to mix with because it is so diverse. Whether or not they will all last I don’t know but I like to see the continued expansion and development of different botanical flavourings and balances. I always think... 'what can last 300 years without evolving or adapting to the modern consumer and modern palette'?

How have you succeeded in cracking the UK and Spanish markets?

A lot of hard work. And we have a fantastic team around us. I believe our brand identity and point of difference is strong enough to generate interest. We have also seen it now enter the German market with a listing in Karstadt the major German retailer, as well as about another six other European countries and with any luck it will have continued growth and continued success.

How has the gin been marketed?

"The brand has used the traditional seeding methods within the on-trade – it's a gin that is easy to mix with and that makes great cocktails – and has become available in multiple operators across the UK, including The Living Room bars, Adventure Bar group, Lola Lo’s and many more. Hoxton Gin had great trade success for such a small brand and, being so readily available to the consumer, the next step was to relate to the consumer and engage them in the brand itself."

Hoxton Gin was stocked with upmarket British department store Harrods, positioning the brand as a high end product. Following this, Hoxton Gin achieved listings in the off-trade with national British supermarket chains Waitrose and Sainsbury’s and is now exclusive with Tesco’s stores nationwide.

The gin was pushed to trade and consumer press, sparking a controversial conversation asking ‘Is Hoxton Gin even a gin?’creating a storm in the press, placing Hoxton Gin at the forefront of a ‘gin revival’.

Through PR, it garnered coverage on the front page of the London Evening Standard with an image of a celebrity drinking from the Hoxton Gin bottle. This was a breakthrough for the brand, introducing consumers to a flavour driven gin that was current and 'cool'.

"With a small budget, seeding the product had to be innovative. We gifted the gin to managers and agents in the music and fashion industries, getting the product in front of key influencers and decision makers in the relevant fields of expertise. This led to Hoxton Gin being available backstage and in the houses of the 'coolest acts in town', such as Rita Ora, Ed Sheeran, Mark Ronson, Calvin Harris, Paloma Faith and the Hurts creating a demand for the product in the relevant sectors.

"Sponsorship of high profile events has played a huge part in creating brand awareness for us. This is because the press coverage has associated the Hoxton gin brand with international celebrities, such as Mark Ronson, Calvin Harris, Ed Sheeran, Paloma Faith, Professor Green, Rizzle Kicks. Agyness Deyn, Georgia May Jagger and Suki Waterhouse."

Without paying any endorsement fees, Hoxton Gin was pictured with and tweeted by celebrities, creating a buzz around the brand.

"A large part of Hoxton Gin’s marketing strategy has been is based around social media, including a large presence on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

"We created The Hoxton Gin Car (the world’s smallest two-seat car ever to be made) which is fully equipped with a portable bar, projector and sound system. This 'car' has ‘crashed’ some of London’s best parties and events and, in so doing, generated social media awareness.

"Brand partnerships are also a key way of positioning a brand by aligning it with some of the cutting edge brands in the worlds of fashion, music, film and drink.

"Through ongoing partnerships with the British Fashion Council, to the NME awards and film premieres, we've made the brand part of the fabric of popular culture.

"For example, in early 2013, Hoxton Gin collaborated with Spotify to create a limited edition Spotify/Hoxton Gin bottle. These bottles were distributed to all performers at the NME awards, of which both brands were sponsors, creating an invaluable partnership with another brand at the forefront of the music industry."

Hoxton Gin is 43%ABV and retails at £26.19 per 70cl bottle at Tesco stores.  Brand and distribution:


22 August 2013