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Gin boom sees England overtake Scotland in distillery numbers

Published:  24 January, 2019

The increasing popularity of gin has seen the number of distilleries in England nudge past Scotland for the first time, according to HMRC.

In 2017 Scotland had a total of 149 distilleries compared to 135 in England. But in 2018 HMRC issued 31 new distillery licences in England and 11 in Scotland. Though Scotland operates some of the largest distilleries in the UK, an increasing number of smaller distilleries have sprung up in England and Wales, with many of them making new whiskies, vodkas, rums, brandies, liqueurs - and gin.

In its end of year report, the WSTA revealed a huge boost in gin sales over the summer, taking UK sales value to over £1.9 billion. It said over 66 million bottles of gin were sold in the UK over the year, up 41% (or 19 million more bottles than the previous year). And the HMRC said the UK exported £532 million of British gin in 2018, a number predicted to grow in 2019.

“It lifts the spirits to hear that distillery numbers continue to grow in the UK,” said WSTA chief executive Miles Beale. “It’s not just our gins picking up awards, but we have also seen a growing number of excellent quality English and Welsh whiskies too. With all the uncertainty surrounding Brexit it is extremely reassuring that our talented spirit makers are continuing to innovate, invest and grow. With England now boasting more distilleries than its Scottish cousins, 2018 really has marked a moment in history. There is a significant amount of money being poured back in to the British spirits industry which has been helped by the Chancellor freezing spirit duty.”

Chapel Down started making gin last year and will open Chapel Down Gin Works, a bar, restaurant and distillery in Kings Cross, London, in March. The bar will centre around the microdistillery’s gin still.

“More and more consumers want to visit the location where their products are made and be informed and entertained by the people who make it happen,” said Chapel Down managing director Mark Harvey.

“There’s nothing like a hands-on experience. Our Winery visits have been a key component behind the success of Chapel Down, growing the congregation year on year. So following the success of our new Chapel Down Bacchus Gin, it was a natural next step for us to open a distillery experience, restaurant and bar to enable us to give customers what they want. A great time! And we’re just thrilled we have landed this in the heart of a re-energised King’s Cross, the most connected place in London.”

Construction has also begun on the Thomas Dakin Gin Distillery in Manchester, a new city centre gin distillery and visitor experience that will showcase the rich heritage of English gin makers.

“We’re in a golden era for quality English gin – it has never been so popular but it is origins in the North West of England are little known,” said Warren Scott, chief executive of Quintessential Brands Group, which owns Thomas Dakin Gin.

“The region has been an epicentre of excellence for English gin going back to the 1700’s and continues to produce some of the world’s best-selling gins at G&J Distillers in Warrington. There’s a growing thirst for knowledge when it comes to gin and with our new Thomas Dakin distillery, we are looking forward to breaking new ground in craft gin distilling and also to showing the world the North West’s important place in the colourful history of gin.”

Growth in the gin category shows “no sign of abating and we were delighted to see a number of English distilleries open in this space,” said Killian O’Sullivan, chief executive of the London Distillery Company. “Consumers continue to demand innovation across all spirit categories. Our view is that each of the new English distilleries will bring their own unique style and sense of place to the industry which in turn will drive the innovation that consumers have embraced over the last number of years.”

The UK recorded a total of 361 distilleries in 2018, with 166 in England and 160 in Scotland. HMRC said 54 new distilleries opened in 2018 while eight closed, a net increase of 46. Of the 54 new distilleries, 39 were in England, 11 in Scotland, two in Wales and two in Northern Ireland.

UK distillery openings have gone up 210% from 116 since 2010 when the WSTA first started collecting the data – adding 245 in just eight years. England had only 23 distilleries in 2010 compared to 166 last year, accounting for 58% of all UK openings in the last eight years.