In 2018, global consumption of gin grew faster than any other beverage alcohol category. Brandy Rand thinks she knows why, and she calls it her “plant theory.”
“If you look at consumption trends over the past few years, there is a high growth rate in people eating more plants. We have been told it is better for the environment and for our diets,” says Rand, chief operating officer for the Americas for global alcohol-industry tracker IWSR. The power of plants is changing consumption behavior across many food and beverage categories: There are plant-based burgers, chicken, seafood, and milk products—and even cannabis is soaring in popularity.
All this talk of plants may be giving gin a lift too. With a botanical base, gin has an herbaceous vibe that fits neatly into the plant craze.
Gin makers are experimenting with surprising flavors like basil, rhubarb, orange, and cinnamon, and in the process they’re bringing new drinkers into the fold. The trend toward these natural ingredients has become so buzzy that vodka brand Ketel One last year launched a botanicals line that’s gin-ish.
Globally, sales of gin jumped 8.3% last year versus 2017, IWSR data shows, bolstered in part by trendy pink gins, to lift the spirit’s sales to more than 72 million nine-liter cases. Growth has been explosive in European markets like the United Kingdom and Spain, where much of the innovation is occurring. IWSR forecasts gin will hit 88 million cases by 2023.
Bartenders are embracing gin in funky cocktails that shine on—you guessed it—Instagram. And even the tonic side of the equation is seeing innovation. Stateside, brands like Fever-Tree, Navy Hill, and Fentimans are giving gin drinkers new ways to experiment.
“Gin is an interesting drink,” says Ed Pilkington, liquor giant Diageo’s North America chief marketing officer. “The different flavor types that exist in gin align with our food culture.”
Pilkington says the gin renaissance in Europe has unfolded because it was a drink once preferred by people who are older but is now consumed by all legal age groups and more evenly by both genders. Diageo has focused on innovation within the category, launching Gordon’s Pink and hitting over 1 million cases just a year after that gin’s debut.
In 2018, Diageo launched an orange-flavored variant of Tanqueray called Flor de Sevilla. It is bringing the spirit stateside for the first time with a limited launch in Florida. And just last month, Diageo debuted a new super-premium Italian gin called Villa Ascenti, which it will sell in 14 European countries.
The world’s largest spirits makers are also placing bets on gin with acquisitions. In the past few years, Gruppo Campari bought Bulldog London Dry Gin, Pernod Ricard scooped up Italian Malfy and Germany’s Monkey 47, and Corona maker Constellation Brands bought a stake in craft spirits maker Black Button Distilling, which sells lilac- and citrus-forward gins.
Gin is so trendy that even actor Ryan Reynolds bought Pacific Northwest–based craft brand Aviation Gin.
“Competitors are investing in gin, and that’s good for the category,” says Pilkington.
In America, gin hasn’t yet emerged as a superstar. Last year, the spirit’s volume dipped 1.1% as growth for the priciest gins couldn’t fully offset declines for the cheapest stuff, according to data from the Distilled Spirits Council.
To put things further in perspective: Gin volume soared 52% in the U.K. versus a slim 1.5% gain in America for the 52-week period ending February 23, 2019, according to Nielsen.
Part of what has held gin back in the U.S. is the misconception that gin must always have a juniper taste, and that’s because many London-style gins feature that flavor profile. And because the most popular cocktail was a gin and tonic, many drinkers find the floral notes overpowering.
Gin isn’t alone in fending off such misinterpretations. Rum often gets pegged as being too sweet, Scotch as having too much peat, and mezcal as too smoky. All of those spirits brands and their makers need to work on educating bartenders and consumers about their unappreciated versatility.
Popular cocktails like the Negroni have helped introduce gin to more Americans in a more subtle way. Craft gin brands are among those aiming to bring new flavors to the market. Ohio-based Watershed Distillery is selling gins with notes like rose petals and citrus, and even a gin that sits in a bourbon barrel for a year.
“A lot of people had a bad experience with gin in college,” says Greg Lehman, Watershed’s founder. “But gin isn’t a one-note category. And there is a new gin consumer that is open to new flavors.”
On the trendy side, Beefeater Pink came to the U.S. last year, a pink-hued gin that balances juniper with strawberry and citrus. Hendrick’s Gin, meanwhile, gets a lot of credit for elevating the gin experience in the U.S., though other brands are adding excitement. Monkey 47, for example, has classic botanicals like juniper and coriander but also lingonberries and spruce. Pernod Ricard says that it has invested behind Monkey 47 in the U.S. and has been rewarded with exponential growth.
“If you start from the idea that American spirits consumers have always and will always look for flavorful experiences, and you layer on the trend of authenticity, craftsmanship, and health and wellness—it sets the stage for the reemergence of gin,” says Jeff Agdern, senior vice president of New Brand Ventures at Pernod Ricard. “Gin offerings today are wildly different than what was available 20 years ago.”
“I am not sure if we are ready to call gin the next big category [in the U.S.],” adds Agdern. “But more brands are coming in, and there’s more retail and consumer interest. We are betting on it.”
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