Gin Mixes It Up

The gin category is on the move, and seems poised for growth after a long term as the also-ran among rapidly expanding white spirits categories. Overall gin sales have been inching up in recent years: the category increased by 1.5% to 11.2 million 9-liter cases nationally in 2007, following a 1% increase the previous year, according to the 2008 Handbook Advance, recently published by The Beverage Information Group, formerly Adams Beverage Group, which projects continued category growth in 2008. [In the control states, the total was a bit less compelling, with overall gin sales gaining 0.4% in 2007, to more than 2.435 million mixed cases.]


Taken individually, most of the top-selling brands nationally showed modest results last year, but there were a few stars in the gin galaxy. Once again, Bombay Sapphire, from Bacardi USA, was a notable performer, notching a 4.0% increase in 2007, to sales of 780,000 9-liter cases nationally. [The brand’s gain was under 1.0% in the control states.] And while category leader Seagram’s Gin, from Pernod Ricard, gained 0.5% last year (to almost 3 million 9-liter cases nationally), its Twisted line of flavored gins showed stellar results, rising by nearly 13%. Tanqueray, from Diageo, was a top performer in the control states, gaining an impressive 5.5% in 2007, while Constellation Brands’ Barton Gin increased by 3.2% in the control states.


 


Regarding quality and taste, gin has come a long way.


“For years, gin has been the ugly stepchild of the spirits world.” Before gin lovers and marketers take offense, consider that the statement comes from Simon Ford, brand relations manager for Plymouth Gin. He contended, “Most people’s early gin experiences were with cheap nasty, rough spirits with overwhelming juniper. No one was educated on the category, including bartenders.”


He’s not alone in his thinking. “Gin does get a bad rap,” agreed James Moreland, master mixologist for Bombay Sapphire. “Years ago, people often tried an inexpensive gin first, and you can’t hide a poorly made gin, even in a cocktail full of other ingredients. First impressions can be lasting.”


     Gin is making a decidedly different impression today. Thanks to current trends in cocktails and mixology, and an influx of new expressions and brands, the neutral spirit flavored with botanicals – primarily juniper – that first was used as a medicinal beverage in the 16th century is morphing into a sleek, sexy spirit that’s attracting new consumers today.


A quick survey of marketing programs reflects this positioning shift. More than 200 Beefeater Gin Sharp’ner events have or will take place in six key markets this year, designed to acclimate Americans to the London tradition of meeting for a “quick drink,” and brand advertising now highlights a London hipster motif. “The Sharp’ner program also creates the connection between London and Beefeater, which is the only gin still distilled in the heart of London,” said Paul Campbell, vice president, Beefeater Gin. The brand’s new, more elegant package has been well received by the trade and consumers, as it “targets consumers who are all about premium image and chic cocktails,” said Campbell. For the off-premise, Beefeater will continue to provide a wide array of materials, including Sharp’ner cocktail recipe cards, to enhance floor and shelf displays.


For its part, Tanqueray’s front man is entertainer Tony Sinclair, and the Tanqueray Style Platform brings trendsetting music, fashion and art to 10 U.S. cities this year.


Bombay Sapphire continues its work with top designers to create iconic cocktail glasses and to offer highly stylized television ads. This summer, the brand is launching a platform that includes a multi-


million dollar print and digital ad campaign called, “The Spirit of Exploration.” To increase reach of the Bombay customer, this year digital communications will play a greater role in the brand’s marketing mix, said Shane Graber, vice president and brand managing director for the brand.


To help contemporize the brand, Plymouth Gin has been sending brand ambassadors out to meet and educate consumers and retail accounts in key markets nationwide. Hendrick’s Gin has taken a similar approach, and recently completed its first annual Hendrick’s Gin U.S. Bartender Croquet Competition, held in New York City, where 30 of New York’s top mixologists competed.


Old & New Stylings


Driving gin’s renaissance is the resurgence of classic cocktails. “If you look at the history of the cocktail, you quickly discover that gin played a major role in early cocktail culture. Anyone seeking to emulate the origins of the cocktail has to involve gin,” notes Charlotte Voisey, U.S. brand manager for Hendrick’s Gin.


Gin also lends itself to modern mixology. The spirit’s inherent complexity and the variety of gin styles makes it an excellent source of inspiration for drink development, noted Ryan Magarian, founder of drink consultancy Liquid Relations in Portland, OR, and co-founder of Aviation Gin. “As the craft of mixology grows, gin grows,” he said.


Juniper, traditionally the primary gin botanical, is still present and discernable in these new bottlings. The variety and number of botanicals involved often makes the berry take a back seat to other flavor components, however, resulting in a spirit that’s more approachable to a generation of imbibers raised on flavored vodkas.


“Often, people say they don’t like gin, but what they don’t like is the strong taste of juniper,” said Voisey. “But cucumber sounds nice and refreshing; if grabs them and opens the door.”


And once the door is open, education is necessary, said Ford. “I did a tasting once of Aviation cocktails using 18 different gins, and each completely changed the character of the drink. For a long time, gin marketers didn’t educate, but now they’re taking the time to train bartenders and consumers on the different styles,” he said.


Working through brand ambassadors like Ford and Voisey, supporting cocktail competitions and hosting tastings, brand marketers are raising awareness of the category and the different flavor profiles. While gin mavens welcome the heightened interest, some see a need for clarification.


“What we have is a third style of gin emerging,” said Magarian, who came to the idea of the third category with cocktail historian and author David Wondrich. “You have London Dry gins and Plymouth Dry, Plymouth actually being a designation of origin. Many of these newer gins are neither. We see this third category as New Western Dry gins – ones that are elementally juniper, but the supporting botanicals are what truly characterize them.”


Boutique Brands, New Launches and Packaging


In addition, new brands, line extensions and upgraded packaging are often the signs of a vibrant category – just look at vodka. And the gin category appears to be touching these bases. A spate of interesting small batch and boutique brands have joined the category in recent years. Philadelphia Distilling, for example, produces Bluecoat American Dry Gin with juniper, coriander, angelica root, a citrus blend and organic botanicals for a classic dry gin. Debuted in Philadelphia in 2006, Bluecoat’s distribution now includes 11 East Coast states, California and Arizona, and is expanding.


Plymouth Gin, which re-launched in the U.S. in 2001, is marketed by The Absolut Spirits Co. Distilled in Plymouth, England without bitter botanicals, it is less juniper-forward than traditional London Dry versions. Absolut also gave the brand a new package in the spring of 2006. “The new Plymouth packaging has been well received for two reasons – first, it has helped modernize and premiumize the brand, and secondly, it has given us greater shelf presence by making the brand stand out more,” said Maria Pribble-Puente, Plymouth Gin brand manager. The brand also recently introduced Plymouth Sloe Gin (see sidebar).


New Amsterdam Gin, a Dutch-style spirit, struck a chord when E. & J. Gallo launched it last year, and sold 100,000 cases in its first year. The new 80 proof gin is made with a neutral spirits base and juniper berries; however, it lightens the emphasis on juniper while accenting citrus flavors. The name, New Amsterdam, is meant to highlight the Dutch origins of gin, while at the same time recalling the Dutch settlement in the New World, called New Amsterdam (Manhattan, New York). And the sleek package is meant to play off of the Manhattan skyline. Available in 50 ml to 1.75 liter packages, the 750 ml carries a suggested retail price of $13.99.


The brand’s new promotional effort centers on the mixability of the gin, with the creation of several signature cocktails.


Peter Finkelstein, general manager for Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits, in Annapolis, MD, said that he is watching New Amsterdam closely. “It will be interesting to see what Gallo is going to do to market the brand. Certainly the quality is there and the price is right.”


New on the gin scene as well is Pinnacle Gin from White Rock Distilleries. The success of Pinnacle Vodka, combined with the gin category’s comeback, led to the “next logical step” of launching a gin line extension, according to White Rock. The English gin shares the upscale packaging of its sister spirit. Distilled five times and infused with botanicals and traditional juniper flavors, the 80 proof spirit is available nationally in packages ranging from 50 ml to 1.75 liter; the 750 ml has a suggested retail price of $15.99.


Also supplied by White Rock, “Q” Quintessential Gin was re-launched in 2005 and appeals to consumers who prefer a lower proof gin; it combines exotic botanicals like lotus leaves and lavender, making it smooth and mixable.


Small-batch distilled Aviation, named for the classic cocktail, was introduced in 2006; the dry gin highlights its botanical mix of cardamom, lavender, coriander, anise seed, Indian sasparilla, dried orange peel and juniper. Martin Millers Gin is distilled with juniper, cassia bark, Florentine iris and coriander, then shipped off to Iceland to be blended with glacial water; its producers describe the gin as lacking the “bite” of other gins. Death’s Door Gin, from Washington Island Brands, involves wheat and wild juniper from the forests of Lake Michigan’s Washington Island.


     Hendrick’s Gin, marketed by William Grant & Sons, also is decidedly different. Distilled in Scotland with coriander, orris root, meadowsweet, cubeb berries, orange and lemon peel, angelica root and juniper, then infused with Bulgarian rose and cucumber from Holland, the boutique spirit is an herbaceous gin with crisp flavor and finish.


     On the fringe of traditional gin making is G’Vine, from EuroWineGate. The first grape-based gin, it involves green grape flowers macerated in ugni blanc grapes from Cognac, then distilled with nine botanicals.


     From the more mainstream brands, Tanqueray Rangpur joined the popular gin brand’s family, highlighted by Rangpur limes in its botanical mix. It has seen real interest in its initial year on the market. And while it may seem eclipsed by the brand’s broad offering of flavored vodkas, Van Gogh Gin, featuring a smooth finish and 10 herbs and botanicals from Europe and Africa, is a strong seller in that brand family.


According to Seagram Gin’s brand manager, Abby Domond, “The premium and superpremium segments are experiencing growth as consumers are trading up to higher priced, more stylish brands that make a statement.”


And this growth is being seen in retail stores. “There has been a lift in superpremium gins, such as Plymouth, Q and Seagram Distiller’s Reserve,” said Brad Rider, president and ceo of United Package Liquors, based in Indianapolis, IN.


     But gin is also leveraging the U.S. consumer’s infatuation with flavor, best evidenced by the success of the Seagram’s Twisted lineup.


     Domond said, “Flavors play a major role in spirits in general. Flavors are driving growth of vodka and rum and are beginning to have an impact on the gin category as well. The addition of flavors has been a very positive catalyst for growth for the Seagram’s brand through the Twisted Gin line that includes Lime Twisted, Orange Twisted, Apple Twisted and now, Raspberry Twisted gin.” The Twisted products have become an integral part of Seagram’s recruitment strategy of bringing new consumers into the franchise through a mixed drinks approach, she said. “They appeal to a younger consumer [Legal Drinking Age-plus] and female consumer and have helped rid the gin category of the old stodgy ‘that’s your father’s drink’ stigma.”

     Different gin styles, premium brand launches and flavor extensions, mixologists’ exciting new twists on gin cocktails, summer promotions and catchy ad campaigns – all of this bodes well for the gin market, and for retailers, too, as they gin up sales of this mixable, “other white” spirit with gravitas to spare.

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