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Optic nerve – gin distillers hit the spot

The diversity in gin and a growing interest in premium brands is sparking the opening of both new distilleries and new and varied activity by many of the existing major players.

The Worshipful Company of Distillers’ annual City of London Debate had as its subject this year the resurgence of Gin. The Company has been involved in the spirits world for over 375 years and is one of London's livery companies, incorporated by Royal Charter in 1638.

Hosted by JP Morgan and chaired by the Master of the Company of Distillers, Brian Morrison, four speakers debated the question: “Is the resurgence of Gin driven by the sharpening of the values of established global brands, or by a fascination with idiosyncrasy and craft?”

The debate addressed the phenomenon of the current diversity in gin and the growing interest in both premium and craft brands, which is sparking the opening of both new distilleries and new and varied activity by many of the existing major players.

Several new distilleries have opened recently, some already making a name for themselves with both the leisure industry and consumers. From the Lake District to Wales, many parts of the UK are seeing a revival of craft distilling. London for example, home of several large distilleries, now also has a handful of new small distilleries, several already producing award winning products.

Tom Sandham introduced the debate and covered the early (wilder) side of gin in its Hogarthian era painting a very debauched picture of what was a very unregulated home industry. The other speakers ensured that the debate was both global and topical.

Ed Pilkington, Diageo’s director of gin, vodka and rum (whose brands include Gordons and Tanqueray), spoke about big brands the traditions behind them and their back stories and innovation (originally and continuing to the current day). He talked about how gin brands are building on tradition but they need to keep fresh and have quality to endure. He added that the big brand names were not traditional 180 years ago – they were craft distilleries – but today they're regarded as traditional.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants,” he said. “Gin lost its way for a time in the 60s and 70s onwards, with other drinks becoming the trend, but it’s finding its feet again now.” It is a category of intriguing contradictions – eccentricity and intelligence, refined and urban, he said.

Maurice Doyle, William Grant & Sons’ group marketing director (producer of Hendricks’ gin which, according to the next speaker, represents half the global market of super premium gin sales) covered the effect of good branding and the effect of idiosyncrasy on what consumers purchase. He told the audience “we are selling dreams not a commodity”.

Trevor Stirling, European beverages analyst with leading City firm, Sanford C Bernstein spoke about the market for gin, its size and place amongst other sprits and the effect of premium and craft brands. He explained how although sales volumes were shrinking the category was growing in value. The real story, he said, is the growth in premium and super premium gins.

A panel discussion followed with a concluding remark on the wide choices of gin brands and gin styles that are now available. The question from a bartender today needs to be not just ‘what’s your gin?’ but also ‘what’s your tonic and what’s your garnish?’ At this point the debate closed and the audience took enthusiastically to the selection of gins on offer - leaving the wine untouched!

The gin debate was co-sponsored by the Gin Guild, an industry body bringing together Gin distillers and industry leaders promoting and encouraging commitment in Gin distillation and its global promotion.

The Guild is supported by the four major gin distilling companies, Bacardi, Diageo, Grants and Chivas. The four major gin companies are generously acting as patrons of the Guild, notwithstanding that the objectives are for the benefit of the Gin industry as a whole.

The Guild, a company, owned by the Worshipful Company of Distillers, aims to promote the gin category across the globe, enhancing its image and widening its appeal to worldwide consumers.

Christopher Hayman, who was appointed as the first Grand Rectifier of the Guild in 2012, has impeccable gin credentials. He and his family own Hayman Distillers and distil a number of gins. They too have a new gin still going on-line later this year. He is a member of the Burrough family and his great grandfather created Beefeater Gin. He is a Liveryman of the Distillers Company.

Guild members include Founder Rectifiers (representing the patrons), Warden Rectifiers (representing other distilling and brand owning companies) and Rectifiers, which category includes others from the worldwide gin trade, including executives from Founder and Warden companies, international distributors and key individuals who enhance the reputation of gin.  

Christopher Hayman (the Gin Guild Grand Rectifier) says: "The main purpose of The Gin Guild is to promote the gin category across the globe, enhancing its image and widening its appeal to worldwide consumers.  We are encouraging membership from the largest to the smallest companies involved in distilling and marketing gin.

“It is a Guild that is long overdue given the long history that London has as the birthplace of what we now know as London Gin, a very particular quality spirit made and enjoyed worldwide. The Worshipful Company of Distillers is proud to be involved in the launch and development of the Gin Guild.

"The Guild is a body dedicated to celebrating the heritage of Gin, recognising what makes great quality gin and the furtherance of the enjoyment of the spirit.”

Nicholas Cook, the director-general of the Gin Guild, says: “The Guild and its members aim to reflect the renaissance in Gin and the growing variety of products, ranging from the established major brands to and including products from boutique and smaller distillers. There is a wide interest in gin and the various styles available means that there is something for everyone and that it continues to be very popular whether as a simple G & T or used in cocktails. The debate was well received, as was the gin bar with over a dozen gins to sample afterwards. No one opted for the wine alternative, so clearly appetites for gin had been stimulated”

Pictured above: Nicholas Cook, director general of the Gin Guild with some of the gins tasted after the debate. Below: a full house of nearly 200 attendees


7 May 2013 - Felicity Murray