Upscale entries and citrus flavors herald a new era for gin.
By Nicolas Furlotte
Like a rising tide, a flood ultra-premium offerings is beginning to flow into the mainstream of the gin category. An increasing number of decidedly upscale gins has recently surfaced — with more likely to debut over the next 12 months — marking the development of new market segments and, quite possibly, a change in the category’s overall fortunes.
Gin consumption is down almost 18%, or more than 2 million nine-liter cases, since 1990. However, in a sign that gin consumption may be close to bottoming out, the annual rate of decline slowed markedly last year to less than one-half of one-percent — essentially flat compared to the previous 12-month period. Perhaps more important, and clearly indicative of the trend toward upmarket brands, consumption of imported gin grew by more than 6% last year to almost 2.8 million cases, or one-quarter of all the gin consumed in the U.S.
For example, Tanqueray, the best-selling imported gin and the second best-selling gin overall, gained more than 2% to more than 1.3 million cases last year. And Tanqueray Malacca, a gin designed to mix with ginger ale, juice or be consumed straight up, posted substantial gains and appears to be appealing to younger drinkers.
Earlier this year, Tanqueray introduced its “No. Ten,” a high-end entry representing a fusion of upscale pricing, elegant packaging and popular citrus flavoring. The 94.6-proof import retails for about $25 per 750 ml. Positioned as a small-batch gin made with fresh, hand-picked, whole-fruit botanicals and tasting of citrus, juniper and chamomile, Tanqueray No. Ten is distilled four times and packaged in a sleek, multi-faceted green bottle.
“The best thing about Tanqueray No. Ten is that there’s a real reason for being. It’s beyond packaging. It’s in the liquid,” says Leah Russell, vice president and group product director for Tanqueray at Schieffelin & Somerset. “The fresh lemon, grapefruit and orange really provide for a different tasting gin.” Russell adds that there is a “renewed interest in gin in general. Consumers are experiencing wear-out with vodka because it doesn’t offer enough taste, character and flavor.”
One of the reasons gin fell out of favor with consumers over the years is because it offered too much taste, character and flavor. Its pronounced juniper essence was a polarizer: consumers either liked it a lot or didn’t like it at all — there was no middle ground. As a result, younger consumers flocked to vodka (neutral taste but eminently mixable) and gin foundered. Today, there’s a bit of a turnabout. Vodka is racing to enhance taste by adding flavor while gin makers have been tamping down its distinctive juniper profile by blending in more palatable undertones.
The common denominator? Citrus, which is also making a splash in rum (as in Bacardi Lim