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Snapshot of gin as it's crowned the king of Christmas spirits' growth

Published:  08 March, 2017

The gin renaissance has been in full swing for some time now, but new data has confirmed its position as the major cause of excitement - and growth - in the spirits category.

The WSTA's most recent market report released this week shows that while vodka continues to be the category leader, a snapshot of gin's rapid growth in the UK can be seen in its performance over Christmas, where it was responsible for driving spirits' positive performance.

To put it in perspective, in the run up to Christmas 2016, the £21.4m it generated in value sales was five times more than the second best performer, spiced rum (Nielsen figures via the WSTA).

Similarly, without gin's input, spirits' growth would have been halved, and overall price per litre would have declined instead of rising by 0.3%.

Part of gin's runaway success can be attributed to its reputation as a quality spirit, which - for the foreseeable future at least - will continue to help defy its naysayers who label it 'just a fad'.

According to Marika Patrico, senior client manager at Nielsen, gin played its part in making Christmas 2016 the year that spirits sales went 'super premium', with half of total spirits' growth coming from this price segment.

It's easy to see gin behind this trend, where its blank canvas appeal has been imprinted with all manner of creativity from innovative serves, to packaging design (see our Harpers Design Awards 2016 winner, Isle of Harris Gin) and weird and wonderful botanical combinations.

With gin's undeniable pulling power, there are also signs of the spirits' category benefitting by association.

As Patrico observed: "Gin increased its popularity this Christmas and is reinventing itself, becoming more and more fashionable both in the on and off-trade. Purchase interactions with dark spirits such as whiskies got stronger over key events suggesting a gifting element into this gin's growth. Surely dark spirits have something to learn from gin."

Gin at the moment is in the enviable position of being at the forefront of this thirst for quality spirits from premium to super premium and beyond, (aside: how many 'supers' can the category keep adding?)

But as well as its purity, producers wanting to put their stamp on this category will lead to continuing diversification within the category. 

This has caused some murmurs to be heard from some corners of the trade.

Gin 2016

Gin continues to be the headline-stealer of the spirits category.

In the WSTA's Q1 2017 market report, gin was the standout performer in terms of off-trade growth, with double-digit numbers in all areas.

Volume sales were up 12% and value 14% (£455m) for the 12 months to December 31, 2016.

For the same period in the on-trade, sales of gin were even more impressive, up 12% in volume and 17% value to £639m.

Its growth is stark in comparison to the category leader, vodka, which fell 1% in volume in the on-trade, and rose 1% in value (£1,879m). 


In Devon, the co-founders of Salcombe Gin have just launched a gin school - which has been billed as the first of its kind in the South West.

Echoing the ambitions of London's four-storey Ginstitute, the school offers education for bar staff and sales teams as well as offering gin fans the opportunity to play distiller at copper mini-stills and to develop their very own 70cl bottle.

As gin continues to boom, it is to be expected that we might see more of these establishments opening up across the UK as the demand for gin education and tourism grows alongside the thirst for premium and super premium spirits.

Howard Davies, co-founder of Salcombe Distilling Co. is convinced that education is crucial in maintaining gin's quality reputation.

One aspect that threatens this, he says, is the race to incorporate stand-out botanicals which will capture the attention of consumers but overpower the juniper - gin's key botanical.

"The temptation in the category is to try to make something left field, and it doesn't really work," said Davies.

"It comes down to having a good mix of botanicals which work well and compliment each other. Some flavours just aren't going to work together and the result is that the gin is course and palatable."

As the dominant botanical, juniper must form between 75-80% of the botanical mix in order to be classified as a gin.

Coriander often follows, with five parts juniper to part coriander being the rule of thumb.

"Then you get into the creative botanicals - we have 13 in our gin," Davies explained.

"Liquorice or cardamon are popular, but we're talking fractions of a gram. For 30g of juniper, you would include maybe 5g of coriander and half gram or less of the others. With cardamom, it's really easy to overpower the other flavours."

Arming a new generation of gin advocates with the knowledge to make well-balanced and harmonious gins is the core of their mission statement - and surely this is something that the category as a whole should aspire to. 

The relaxing of micro-brewery laws in the UK over the past ten years has certainly contributed to its success and allowed a new generation of gin makers to bring their stories to the table.

But as the category inches closer to saturation point, how the category moves forward will increasingly become a balancing act of maintaining quality and sticking to gin's core characteristics, while satisfying the need to come up with a USP.