The joy of gin

ginWhat’s caused gin to become an on-trend drink? Some bars are now dedicated entirely to the spirit but what has sparked this? And what are the best brands and styles for restaurant and bar owners? By Ben Canaider

The drinking business always needs a new darling, and right now we’ve got one that may well prove to rival the biggest juggernaut of the last generation—that being the worldwide savalanche of New Zealand sauvignon blanc. Yet while this new sensation may look a bit like sauvignon blanc, that’s where the similarities end. It is a white spirit. Gin. It has about 27 per cent more alcohol than sav blanc and costs—in its new, groovy guises—five to six times as much as a Tuesday-night bottle of the good old SB. 

It’s quite aromatic, however—which was part of sav blanc’s temptation and allure—but it has more personality than SB, both in terms of its flavour and its brand. Indeed, today’s gin is arguably the drink that the drinking world of today both needs and deserves. A perfect storm, as the phrase goes…

But is it a storm from which you might benefit? Undoubtedly because the bigger the trend, the greater the overall profit margin.

A certain appeal

First, a scary statistic: market research company Euromonitor last year estimated that by 2019, sales of gin in the UK could overtake sales of blended whisky. Yes, that’s how much gin is floating around—and being drunk. Yet before you destock all your sulphur-free wine and bio-dio-orgo beer, is gin worth investing? Why is it so popular?

It’s partly because gin is relatively cheap and easy to make. In countries such as Australia, the only impediment to gin production has been—until the regulatory changes of the early 1990s—legality. Small-scale distilling was illegal. From more or less zero Australian small-batch gin distillers 20 years ago, we nowadays have around 130 of them. The cynic says that this has happened because the regulatory changes have enabled entrepreneurial small-batch distillers to see the money in the game.

Couple this with a broader demographic shift away from cheap, conglomerate spirits that offer no backstory and no sense of place and you end up with a product that’s cost-efficient to produce and market and sell, but is also a product that consumers imagine they want and need.

The revelation

There’s another reason why gin is easy to make: the revelation. Those notions just touched upon about a new demographic of drinkers that want something they can call their own has a powerful draw. Much like the craft beer resurgence of the 1990s and early 2000s, bespoke gin is attracting drinkers because it has an imagined provenance, a unique flavour profile, and it is a premium product.

Make a small handful of locally produced gins your own. Tell their stories and educate your customers in an inclusive manner as if they already knew the stuff you’re telling them.

With worldwide alcohol drinking trends heading—at speed—towards quality rather than volume, high-class, top-shelf, small-batch and bespoke gins sound a clarion call for individuality and exclusivity.

A big part of this revelation, particularly within Australia, has to do with Indigenous flora and fauna. Whereas gin has traditionally been flavoured with such aromatics as juniper, angelica, lemon, and orange (to name but a few), local distillers here have sought the intrigue and aroma of native plants. Wattleseed, quandong, lemon myrtle, Kakadu plum, celery top pine, strawberry gum, cinnamon myrtle, saltbush, and even green ants.

Much like boutique vintage wines from single vineyards, small-scale, limited bottlings of obscure gins talk of their one-off uniqueness and almost unprocurable quality.

The continued growth of provenance within the food industry also helps gin in this regard. Food shoppers and diners want more and more evidence of provenance; there’s less customer loyalty, more experimentation, and a greater desire to find new brands that seem somehow ‘genuine’. 

Gin, in this sense, has also neatly played off a growing and changing soft-drink mixer market. In many bars, a post-mix tonic used to rule; nowadays it is more likely to be a bespoke and no-sugar change champion, such as Fever-Tree.

Keep it local 

The new-look and -taste gin also demonstrates the new demographic’s attitude to consumerism. Yes, they still want everything, but they want it to be produced locally. Think global, act local—that sort of thing. From local production to local economic benefits for local producers and communities, gin, as food and wine and beer has already done, is riding this notion of fair and equitable business practice. Or so it might be suggested, or even believed.

Yet please don’t be perturbed by my cynicism. All of this is the perfect storm—for your business. Sell upwards, not down; provide the best gins and the best mixers and have the stems-ware and staff that do such drinks the best favours. That shows them in the most theatrical and convincing light. Make a small handful of locally produced gins your own. Tell their stories and educate your customers in an inclusive manner as if they already knew the stuff you’re telling them. Sell two cutting-edge G&Ts to one customer for $16 a go, rather than three rubbish ones at $10. Less is more. Heaps more. 


Try:

Archie Rose

Mount Uncle Distillery Bushfire

The West Winds

Stone Pine Distillery

Melbourne Gin Company

Lyrebird

Four Pillars

Kangaroo Island

Mad Men

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you Ben, the Melbourne Gin Palace has now been trading for over 20 years. When we opened in 1997 14 different gins were available. Now we need to cull to 200 (shelf space) from something like 600 products available. We weren’t responsible for the trend, although we ride the wave.
    I’ve always felt that service is the key, so the aim is to be more palace than gin. However, our customers truly love the stories behind the products and a bartenders job is to engage the customer until they leave with a smile. And come back of course.

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