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Gin distiller denounces exploitation of the term 'craft'

Published:  05 May, 2021

The premium gin market is being threatened by unscrupulous distilleries bastardising the term 'craft', according to a leading niche brand.

Rachel Hicks, distiller at Sky Wave Gin, expressed her frustration during a recent Harpers panel discussion, entitled 'Think Gin: Modishness versus Marketing'.

“The term 'craft' has been hijacked by several of the larger distilleries; unfortunately there is no legal definition of a craft brand,” said Hicks.

“To cite an example, we were contacted several weeks ago by an individual looking for a supplier reference, who was starting a new gin brand. We welcome new faces in the market, but the individual stated that they had simply hired a company to make the gin for them – about 1,000 bottles per day.

“I tried to explain that this does not qualify as craft gin. Their response was: 'Yes, but it sells well, doesn't it'.”

Aljoscha Wright, head of buying & logistics at Oxford Wine Company, agreed that too many gin brands were exploiting the marketing advantages inherent to this emotive word.

“Consumers rely on buyers to navigate this crowded marketplace, to separate the authentic craft brands from the copycats,” said Wright.

“We rely on personal connections with new clients like Sky Wave – the story that feeds down from our conversations are vital in selling the gin brand, and justifying its premium price tag."

However, Nicholas King, product development manager at the WSET, argued that larger distilleries could qualify as craft producers, if there was direct involvement from the owners.

“Craft is both a horrible and great word and isn't necessarily about scale; one could not claim that Beefeater Gin has not been crafted. Their distiller Desmond Payne is a master of his industry,” he observed.

“Larger volumes and craft aren't mutually exclusive.”

The panel also considered whether the UK market was likely to reach 'peak gin' in 2021.

“The discussions over peak gin have been going on for over two years, but as far as I'm concerned, we haven't reached that point yet,” insisted Hicks.

“Of course, gin exports fell in 2020, but that's not surprising considering the global context. But this is a blip in the rise of gin. Our continuing innovation is helping to drive new interest around the category. The spirit's versatility means that we have not reached peak gin yet.”

King added: “I can't see peak gin happening anytime soon. Everything that rises will fall, if history can tell us anything. But predicting when that will happen is a fool's errand.”