Craft gin distillers: does buying in neutral spirit matter?
Craft gin distillers are celebrating with more good news showing that the sector is in rude health. Over the last few years there’s been an explosion in the number of craft gin distillers with gin sales in the UK expected to pass Scotch by 2020. Last year saw gin exports grew 16% to hit almost £500 million in value. Despite this success there’s a growing debate about whether the ‘craft gin’ label applies to distillers who buy in their neutral grain spirit. Does it matter? Here’s our view.
Gin starts life as a neutral grain spirit (vodka really) which has been distilled and is almost pure alcohol. It’s then goes through a process where the spirit is introduced to juniper and the other botanicals that give the gin its flavour.
It’s this recipe that determines the gins taste and the balance between the juniper and other elements. After this the gin is diluted with spring water to the required ABV (roughly 40% for most craft gins).
Whether the neutral grain spirit has been distilled in-house seems largely irrelevant. In setting up their business, craft gin distillers will have considered the implications of both routes. As well as the cost of primary distillation there’s the expertise required. And what about scale? What capacity do you invest in?
This isn’t meant to take anything away from those craft distillers who start with the grain or potatoes and progress from there. If the business has both the skills and resources to do this that’s great. However, it shouldn’t prevent people from entering the market if they can craft a great tasting gin. It’s also a great way of testing the concept and by using a third party, they get to test the market with less investment and access to greater expertise.
What constitutes success?
Successful craft gin distillers will have done three things: created a great tasting gin that drinkers love, whether it’s enjoyed neat, as a G&T or in a cocktail. They’ll have created a story around the gin’s provenance and, sold this into the trade. In parallel they’ll have generated consumer demand that drives long-term sales.
As long as the story is consistent and honest about the gin’s roots it shouldn’t matter. Take Pinkster Gin: their site acknowledges the role of G&J Distillers in creating the spirit with the secondary distillation involving the brand’s signature raspberries taking place at Pinkster’s Cambridgeshire home.
OK so that’s a bit simplistic. But it sums up what success is down to. And where does the distillation fit into this? Are consumers bothered about this level of detail? Do most consumers even know how gin is distilled? It’s likely that most drinkers won’t know about the minutiae of the distillery process. The more engaged consumers will understand about the botanicals. But in all honesty, most won’t know, or care about where the spirit comes from.