Did you know that gin starts life as vodka? Vodka is the base spirit, but once you add juniper the spirit begins its journey to gin. You can add further botanicals to create different types of gin, but juniper must remain the ever present, key botanical.
Over the recent years gin market has become crowded, with everyone trying to get their fair share of the profits. These brands are trying to find their place in the gin category by using ever more challenging botanicals to create unique flavour combinations. Juicy sweet gins have been the drink of choice for many this summer. Whether it’s a gin or gin liqueur, the prominence of juniper has gradually been diminished.
Let me backtrack a little to the beginning of the gin boom. What a wonderful time that was. Many new distilling licences were approved across the UK, and several new gin distilleries started their production; big and small, they were all contributing to the change in the industry. Consumers were about to get a lesson on both gin and tonic. Now asking for just a plain old “gin and tonic” in a bar was like asking for pasta in an Italian restaurant.
Fast-forward ten years, and things have got out of hand, with new gins popping out like popcorn (literally, I’ve seen popcorn-flavoured gin liqueurs). Flavoured gin now covers 20% of the UK’s total gin market, but how much of that actually qualifies as gin in the first place…?
So, what is flavoured gin?
In their drive to be different distilleries have been experimenting with a variety of botanicals. Some work wonders and enhance the category, but in a crowded market, where it’s increasingly hard to stand out, many distillers seem to have forgotten the critical importance of juniper when developing their gins. By doing so they are creating hazy lines between gin and other spirits and, quite frankly, lowering standards.
As Hayman’s Distillery put it: ‘Such products undermine the work that the vast majority of distillers complete and run the risk of misleading consumers by blurring boundaries between gin and other spirit drinks.’
The rise and fall of flavoured gin started with pink gin. Originally made with the addition of angostura bitters, today these pink gins come in various berry flavours with most of them being extremely sweet. The complete opposite of what pink gin was all about! Last year, Gordon’s Pink Gin was the first flavoured gin to exceed sales of over one million cases. And if you’ve tried it, you know how sweet it is – but is it really gin?
Flavoured gin doesn’t have to be pink of course. It can be of any colour or simply a clear spirit. Think of any flavour possible and someone has already tried to infuse it into a gin; mince pie, strawberries and cream, coconut, Hubba Bubba bubblegum, strawberry and lime, watermelon, passionfruit, hotcross bun, candyfloss, Turkish delight, salted caramel… the list of shame goes on. The gimmicks get worse with sparkly or shimmery gins and gin liqueurs, or even ones that change colour!
Regulations and clear marketing standards for flavoured gins are urgently needed to save the category. Currently, these flavoured gins are dragging the whole gin category down. Both professionals and many consumers are welcoming the news of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) gin summits and debates to finally come up with better guidelines and, hopefully, regulations to keep the UK’s gin at a premium level.
I would like to stress that there are plenty of high-quality flavoured gins that have a strong juniper presence, I have recommended a few of my favourites below.
*Some of the links used are affiliate links. If you buy through the links, I may receive a commission for the sale. This has no effect on the price for you.