Wednesday, February 28, 2018

London - The Gin Capital of the World?

Gin cocktails are helping London to first position.

London has long been associated with gin and the history and heritage of both are intertwined. From its introduction to the UK by William of Orange from Holland in the 1600s through the Gin Craze of the mid-1700s to the modern resurgence and resulting boom, the city has playing a key role. So, is London the current gin capital of the world?

A recent study appears to support this view and has shown the English capital as the place to be for drinking gin. The report looked at where people were using #gin and #gincocktail on social media and London came in first position, significantly ahead of other world cities such as Berlin, Melbourne and New York.

Certain gin brands are synonymous with London and have been made in the capital since the Victoria era. One such example is Beefeater, which is made in Kennington near the famous Oval cricket ground. It exports a little piece of London’s gin history to 127 countries worldwide and has done for over 150 years.

Others have grown up out of the current gin boom and are beginning to do the same. This began with Sipsmith, which started in a west London garage just over a decade ago, and has been carried on by brands such as Dodd’s - this is made by The London Distillery Company, who also produce gins for such iconic names as Fortnum & Mason and Kew Gardens.

The recent resurgence of gin has created so much choice. Recent figures showed over 6,000 brands of gin on the market and this keeps growing. Gone are the days of having just a couple of well-known choices in a bar or shop. But while consumers are naturally exploring the new brands, many seem to be coming full circle and returning to classic gin brands.

What many consumers or new converts to gin do not realise is that it is these classic brands that are often leading innovation within the category. Beefeater, for example, has recently expanded their range with a series of small batch limited editions using rare botanicals and the new London Pink, a strawberry infused variant.

Innovative products such as these have not been created by a newly qualified distiller with a ‘passion for botanicals’ in a renovated railway arch in a cool suburban area of a UK city, as many people believe. They have been created by a gin industry legend – Desmond Payne MBE, a veteran of over 50 years and the Master Distiller at Beefeater. What he does not know about gin is not worth knowing it seems.

Desmond Payne MBE in his office at the Beefeater distillery.

“Gin is currently on the crest of a wave,” he tells me, “there are so many brands these days and it is important that we are innovative and stay ahead of the competition. Beefeater is the definitive London gin and we try to move with and reflect the times. We would be silly not to attempt to dictate trends and give people what they want.”

It is no coincidence that the rise of gin can be directly associated with a dramatic increase in the popularity of cocktail culture and the rise of the professional bartender. London is a significant hub for the world’s creative talents and is home to some of the best bars on the planet. This includes Dandelyan, recently voted The World’s Best Bar by the influential Spirited Awards, and the pioneering 69 Colebrooke Row.

The Chablis, a gin-based cocktail at Dandelyan.

This is reflected in the capital being home to a series of high profile cocktail competitions including the recent Beefeater MIXLdn, which saw 31 of the best bartenders flown to London from all over the world. Three days of challenges whittled this down to a final eight, before the winner from Hong Kong was announced. He mentioned the inspiration of London and its gin heritage in his acceptance speech.

When you add in classic gin-based drinks to the increased sales of cocktails in bars then the power of the gin category seems unstoppable. Take the hugely popular G&T, of which a staggering one billion are consumed each year in UK, for example. But are there any danger signs for gin? Will the current bubble eventually burst?

“The current growth shows no signs of slowing,” adds Payne, “but it has to slow and consolidate at some point. The market cannot and will not be able to sustain so many brands. Those that survive will be the ones that, like us, can offer a combination of consistency, innovation and quality.”

“London is a ‘gin hub’ and the modern gin world is very London-centric. People look to the city for history and inspiration” finishes Payne, wrapping everything up superbly in a couple of sentences. It is difficult to disagree or argue with such an industry legend. Or the 3.5 million London-based gin hash-taggers for that matter. If London is not the gin capital of the world, then where is?