There can be no denying that gin is undergoing a surge in popularity, with the result that every week it seems I discover a brand new gin to me. This popularity aligned with the small production nature of the new wave of craft gin producers means that there is a lot synergy with independent retailers enabling them to specialise in a growing market that because of the scales of production the big players just cannot get into. But with hundreds of gin brands out there how do you go about shortlisting which gin you should have your shelves?
Below I’m suggesting a ‘top 10’ that any serious wine merchant should give consideration to – but there are a number of rules that I have followed when choosing which gins to list.
1. Think local – there are so many gins being made in small distilleries around the country that there is a good chance that you may have a ‘local’ distillery. There are huge advantages to this. Local people are ‘more likely’ to buy a local product – some won’t change from Bombay Sapphire or Gordon’s but those willing to experiment are more likely to go local than something from the other end of the country. You’ll also benefit from their local marketing push, as they hit local press and raise awareness locally so you are in position to benefit. You can arrange local events with the distillery – their team is likely to be willing to help you sell their gin more often if they are local and you can manage some tie ins with them at events and so on. In addition you can arrange trips to visit the distillery – it is amazing how people become brand loyal having visited – this is your unique opportunity.
2. Think packaging – if it looks cheap, if it looks as if no care has been taken then customers are going to be more wary about buying it without tasting it first.
3. It MUST deliver taste – the product itself must but up to scratch, a poor gin in brilliant packaging from a local distillery is still a poor product and if you are selling bad gin then customers are less likely to believe that the other gins you sell are any good.
4. Work with those people willing to work with you – selling craft gin should be a partnership – a savvy craft distiller will want to see repeat purchases from you as often as possible. If they can do something to increase your sales – to the benefit of both then they ought to be doing it. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you should get everything they ask for – you are still relatively small and asking for the earth is unlikely to yield it.
5. Tap into trends – there are some brands that for one reason or another get talked about and generate a wider knowledge – think about stocking these – but think where else you can find them too. If they are in every supermarket then there is no point of difference for you. But if they are in lots of cocktail bars and pubs people will have had them when they are out and may want to be able to drink them again at home.
6. Make sure the range is diverse – whilst there are always similarities in gin – namely they will all be dominated by juniper (or should be) and have citrus and a few other bits common to most gin – there are genuine stylistic differences. Some gins are better with tonic, others in a martini – make sure you know what is what – but also make sure you embrace the differences. I love some gins with cinnamon and clove aromas – but they aren’t for everyone – but they are different to a fresher more citrus style of gin. One gin in my list below is totally different from anything else – in truth I am not personally a huge fan of the style – but it is different and it does appeal to a good number of consumers – and as such it broadens your sales base. Don’t just buy gin in your favourite style – but if you think something is truly aweful – don’t but it – if you cannot talk about it in a positive light you probably won’t sell much of it, and it could be that the gin really is truly aweful (there are some out there!)
7. Watch out for ‘craft’ gins that aren’t – there are a number of gins produced by larger distillers or that are made on a contract. With gin that isn’t necessarily a problem – if the still is smallish and the recipe distinct the quality can still be very high – BUT don’t make the mistake in thinking that because it’s a small brand it’s made by someone in their garden shed. Examples of this are G&J Distillers based in Warrington who make brands such as Langtons Skiddaw Lakeland Gin, Opihr Oriental Gin, Boodles and Bulldog Gin, but who are also responsible for Greenalls and a number of supermarket own label gins. Another multi gin producer is Thames Distillers.
So my 10 gins – with a reason behind each one…..
1. Tarquin’s Cornish Gin – hand crafted, finished this is the ultimate in small production gin. Tarquin makes the gin in a small still sat over a flame, and hand bottles, labels, waxes and finishes each bottle which he also signs. It’s fresh, citrus and elegant – quite linear and focussed in style. It has very good distribution in Cornwall as you would expect – which is also a holiday destination for many which is only going to help sales.
2. Caorunn Gin – high quality spirit from a whisky distillery flavoured with five Scottish aromatics, this is soft and fresh with a broader palate than the Tarquin’s. Serve with a red apple rather than lime or lemon garnish.
3. Gin Mare – a Spanish gin made with olives, thyme, rosemary and basil – this is proving very popular and it is different to other products on the market with brilliant packaging. If you are considering stocking mixers then get yourself some Fever Tree Mediterranean Tonic for a brilliant G&T.
4. Broker’s Gin – high quality gin, nice citrus and gin hit – and in terms of range building it comes in at a little over £20 giving an independent a genuine alternative to some of the bigger brands but in a more refined spirit. Oh and the bottles have a bowler hat on them too – what’s not to like about that?
5. Brockman’s Gin – now this is one made by G&J distillers but as I said above it is no reason NOT to include it – as long as the product is the right one. This is a bit of a marmite product it has to be said, it has a black vaguely gothic bottle that helps it to stand out and it’s flavour profile is completely unique. A lot of people are going to dislike this – it is pretty light on juniper to the extent where some will question whether it is in fact gin at all – whilst others will dislike the overtly fruity nature and lack of bitterness and citrus. It’s point of difference is the intense blueberry character that dominate the palate – and it’s true I don’t think I’d ever make a gin and tonic with it (it really doesn’t make a very good one) but it is quite tasty sipped and I’m sure that those who are inventors of cocktails are more than capable of making something brilliant out of it. That said then why stock it? Well as I said above – a good gin range is all about diversity – and I have seen with my own eyes people who are not necessarily THAT into gin going wild for it – it brings other people into the category and as such means that as an independent merchant you can increase your overall sales by including it in your range.
6. The Botanist – if ever a product was exactly the right thing and exactly the right time The Botanist is it. Made at Bruichladdich distillery this was launched during the peak period of Bruichladdich’s history – before the period when Remy Cointreau snapped it up and turned it from one of the most ground breaking, mould breaking, collectable whiskies into a bland brand that gather dust – whisky drinkers who loved Bruichladdich and all its quirky nature would never try gin before now – but this was made by Bruichladdich so it had to be good right? Served at millions of whisky tastings as an apertif it brought a new crowd to gin drinking – just as boutique gin was becoming incredibly popular. Sales went through the roof and a major repackaging took place – along sadly with a substantial price rise (again down to those executives at Remy Cointreau). The gin remains top class – plenty of bright citrus fruit, pure and elegant with some musky undernotes.
7. Monkey 47 – who knew they made whisky in Germany of all places – but they do – and now it’s being imitated by other German brands (I say imitated – other German brands are now being made available and the styling has a certain familial appeal) – but this is and remains the grand daddy of them all and at over £40 for a 50cl bottle it isn’t cheap. It does sell however – and that is good news for retailers. The 47 on the label applies to the number of botanicals used in the production of the gin. It’s beautifully crafted incredibly complex and had such power and intensity aligned with really high quality spirit that I could just sip it – but it’s also really versatile handling almost anything you throw at it from a decent G&T to a Martini though personally I think it makes outstanding Negroni.
8. Warner Edwards Harrington Dry Gin – made by Tom and Sion on Tom’s dad’s farm this is small batch but has had an impressive record since it was launched about 2 years ago. Since then it has been listed at a number of top retailers and in prime on-trade accounts. With a big hit of cardamom up front and plenty of spice this is a distinctly different gin that is really good quality and mixed with Fever Tree Indian Tonic makes a sensational G&T.
9. Burleigh’s Gin – brand new on the market having been launched over the summer this brand new gin has an almost creamy soft texture, mouthfilling a lush with plenty of ripe citrus fruit character and pine notes. It’s one of the most exciting new gins on the market and is made by master distiller Jamie Baxter who was also the ‘original’ master distiller at Chase Distillery before heading to City of London Distillery. This is his own project and is, in my opinion the best of the gins he has created to date.
10. Your own local gin – that’s right – for reasons suggested above you can do far worse than buying your own local gin – as long as the packaging and product are good enough.*
So there we are then, I have one thing to add and that is almost a cheeky 11th gin – I tasted this for the first time yesterday and I was blown away by it. Somehow it’s packing in the botanical aromatic concentration of things like Monkey 47, with freshness and some lovely floral character – but I am not going full out to recommend it here for one simple reason. I am going to be doing a bit of representation for them over the next month or so and as a result I want to make sure there are no suggestions of any conflict of interest whatsoever. That gin is The Cotswold Distillery Gin – it’s brand new – the first release was at the end of September and it’s frankly brilliant. You can order direct from the distillery and for individuals who want it there are a number of retailers now picking it up including Harvey Nicholls and Fortnum & Mason.