Let the games be-gin – what’s next for mother’s ruin?

21 December 2018

The ‘gin bubble’ has been a buzz-phrase in the drinks world in recent years, with industry bods clashing over whether or not this manic craze really is set to reach its peak.

While certain gurus have long been predicting an end to the trend that’s dominated the spirits sector for the past five years, the stats demonstrate that our enthusiasm for ‘mother’s ruin’ shows no signs of abating.

Sales of UK gin totalled £2.2 billion in the year ending 16 June 2018, and experts estimate that there are a staggering 3,500 gin brands and varieties in existence worldwide. What’s more, some even predict that sales of the spirit could officially topple Scotch by 20201.

The huge increase in popularity has also resulted in a host of category changes, and a market that was once dominated primarily by Gordon’s and Bombay Sapphire is now a multi-faceted empire with a host of micro-sectors. Producers are now jumping on every wider industry trend to offer up their own version – from pink gin, to craft gin, to the recently-launched ‘world’s most expensive gin’ at a staggering £4,000 a bottle.

What’s more, the growth of gin has come hand in hand with the emergence of ‘sub-categories’ such as mixers, with discerning drinkers hunting for top-end tonics to match the quality of these premium gins.

However, despite this solid stronghold, gin is not without threat from wider drinks competitors. In fact, as we head into next year there are set to be more ‘trending’ rivals than ever.

First off, rum. Long considered the underdog of the drinks world, rum has recently been touted as ‘the one to watch’. With ‘fake news’ currently at the centre of public criticism, rum has an ‘authentic’ string to its bow that other categories can’t quite match – tending to be hand-made using techniques passed down through generations of cane-cutters and distillers. As we enter this golden age for rum, we’re also seeing producers diversify their offerings with more interesting barrel aged rums (i.e. using ex-wine, sherry and cognac casks) and bartenders leveraging this to offer quirkier rum-based serves on their menus.

Next up, vodka. Despite gin having stolen vodka’s thunder in recent years, it remains the biggest spirits category in the UK on-trade by both volume and value. In the UK vodka has long been considered as a base for a mixer or a cocktail, with many averse to drinking it neat. However, as better-quality brands are gaining recognition, there’s an opportunity for the category to encourage ‘solo sipping’, to hero the unique flavour credentials and premium styles available. This is something that gin cannot yet boast, as on the whole it is still considered as a base to be topped up with tonic or mixed in a cocktail.

Finally, we cannot talk about gin without addressing the elephant in the room – the demise of millennial drinking. With a third of under-25s turning teetotal, there has been a growth in the low- and no-alcohol category, which has so far been dominated by wine and beer. Although brands such as Gordon’s are jumping on the bandwagon, having recently brought out low-alcohol ‘tinnies’, alternative options are still the first choice for health-conscious drinkers.

The latest craze to hit the low-alcohol category is ‘shim’ drinks – cocktails that replace the strong spirits with lower ABV alternatives, such as vermouth or herbal liqueurs. ‘Shim’ cocktails are cropping up on bar menus across the country, knocking a few gins of the podium by answering to the growing need for drinks that still taste delicious but don’t result in a ‘slow down’.

So, what’s next for gin? When it comes to the supposed ‘demise’ of the category, the sales stats speak for themselves and can shoot down any argument that the bubble is ‘set to burst’. That being said, while the botanical spirit remains the undisputed current champion of the drinks world, there are some strong contenders coming at it from all angles. Not only that, but the direction of current consumer trends should spark a small concern in the minds of even the most cock-sure producers. Gin may be safe for now, but it shouldn’t rest on its laurels.

1BBC article (13thDecember 2016): UK gin sales ‘to outstrip Scotch whisky by 2020’