A scotch whisky distiller, when asked recently if he made any blends, was gloriously sniffy and dismissive of blended whisky. It would have been interesting to see and hear what he would have made of the Johnnie Walker Directors Blends, which I got to taste last Thursday (November 28) in London.
ONLY 10 YEARS AGO what is now happening in the global gin market would have been unimaginable. With or without a crystal ball it would have taken a brave analyst to say that, come the end of the noughties adjectives such as ‘dynamic’ and ‘robust’ would be used to describe gin’s state of play – but that is the happy reality. It is a category that is quite literally throbbing with activity.
Largely eclipsed by vodka in the 80s and 90s, it has come back with a vengeance and, more importantly, on a premium and super-premium footing. So what are the reasons for this turnaround? The easy answer is that it’s the growing interest in and resurgence of the cocktail – but that’s by no means all.
In the past five years there has been a spate of activity in the super-premium sector, and this has not only dragged the category up by its bootstraps but inspired the trade and attracted the consumer, who these days is increasingly sophisticated. The catalyst to this turnaround was William Grant’s launch of Hendrick’s, a small-batch gin boasting the quirky combination of cucumber and rose petals in its botanical mix, and supported by ever quirkier PR and marketing campaigns.
Its success attracted others into the fray, crucially the multinationals – a sure sign that there’s money in them gin stills. Diageo had already introduced Tanqueray 10 and Pernod Ricard unveiled Beefeater 24 in late 2008, both super-premiums to their already established premium brands Tanqueray and Beefeater.
“Over the past two years the gin market has changed,” says Chivas Brothers international director of gins Paco Recuero. “There are now three distinct sectors – the standard, which is not evolving, premium and the super-premium, which is showing plenty of excitement as more and more brands are coming on to the market.”
With its trio – the premium mainstay and world’s number one exported gin Beefeater, according to Pernod Ricard, along with Beefeater 24 and Plymouth – the company boasts major contenders positioned at the most dynamic edge of the market. To really capitalise on the current upswing the company recently relaunched Plymouth – one of the two AOC gins in the world, in that it can only be produced at its distillery in Plymouth.
“This was not simply a repackaging exercise, we also wanted to underline the heritage of the brand,” says Recuero “We are very excited about the new look and it’s been very well received particularly by bartenders around the world, which is good because the brand is also highly regarded.”
Indeed the new look, which not only underlines its heritage but also the fact that Plymouth is an artisanal gin, has won universal praise and is currently available in the UK, Spain and is being rolled out in the US – with France and Australia destined to come on stream this year.