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Repaving Gin Lane

From the October Zeitgeist…

Repaving Gin Lane

Vodka recently pushed scotch off its perch as preferred UK tipple. Another equally  delicious libation, gin, is perceived as being old and stuffy and part of the cocktail your grandmother enjoys when the sun is past the yardarm. What can gin do to regain a foothold in the marketplace?

It has a fascinating history, as recounted recently by a Claridge’s bartender to your correspondent. At its inception in the Netherlands the spirit was 80% alcohol, hence ‘Dutch Courage’. Upon arriving in England it was quickly legalised and reduced to 40%; hence ‘London Dry Gin’. As depicted in Hogarth’s Gin Lane, the spirit was much imbibed. Unlike vodka, which can be made from different ingredients (by no means exclusive to potato or rye), gin must include juniper berries as a base ingredient. With such a distinctive history and distinctive ingredients, it is a wonder that these tenets have not been exploited more. Johnnie Walker and BBH made a great ad with Robert Carlyle recently. Where is gin’s version?

In an internal survey, respondents were 25% more likely to be able to name a vodka than a gin brand. On a recent trip to Gatwick Airport, your correspondent was surrounded with Bailey’s and Absolut stands. In July, Heathrow travellers were plied with free Pimm’s. No gin in sight. With no brand activation, it is no surprise gin is suffering from lower recall than vodka. Vodka has expanded both in off‐sales and the premium market, having done an impressive job of creating associations with provenance and prestige. Grey Goose, Belvedere, Oval et al. are fighting for market share, promoting themselves in experiential events at premier nightclubs. In the gin market, Bombay Sapphire has upped the ante, installing an outdoor bar this past summer at London’s Somerset House. It also sponsors Design Week in Ireland. Otherwise, evidence of gin sponsorship is rather sparse. Tanqueray used to sponsor an AIDS bike ride, and Beefeater, The Boat Race, but both brands have since pulled out of their events. Plymouth and Hendrick’s are currently sponsoring relatively esoteric events.

Global gin sales rose by 0.6% in 2008, the first increase since 2000. Euromonitor estimates “mainstream highend brands” account for 30% of sales. This sector is expected to grow at about 5% p.a. New brands like Hendrick’s have helped raise awareness. But to paraphrase Mark Twain, news of gin’s resurgence are greatly exaggerated. It has the support of many a barman, but recent sponsorship opportunities have mostly been half‐hearted and tentative. Gin can follow a premium trend a la vodka, but the spirits are not imbibed in the same way. They share values of heritage and good taste. Vodka though has also managed to dumb itself down; gin, conversely, could exploit the relatively refined and arcane reputation it has to carve a unique position for its future.

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