Considering all the interest in classic and craft cocktails, the gin category did not seem to catch fire with consumers in past years. Total gin volume in the U.S. was nearly flat in 2019, posting a scant decline of .07% to just under 9.89 million 9-liter cases. But that’s a slight improvement from 2018 when it fell 1.1%.
So what happened in 2020? The overall gin category increased 1.4%, according to the Beverage Information Group’s 2021 Handbook Advance, reaching 9.99 million 9-liter cases.
It’s somewhat surprising that gin started to turn around during the pandemic, since many consumers learn about gin cocktails at bars, and the on-premise was shuttered for much of the year.
And when people stocked up to stay in during the spring of 2020, they tended to reach for big bottles of popular vodkas, bourbon and tequila for making Margaritas at home, as well as cases of beer and boxes of wine. It did not seem to be the time to be experimenting with gin.
But consumers may be getting tired of drinking what they always drink and opting for the safe choices. And as more Americans get vaccinated, and guest feel more comfortable venturing out, some beverage professionals expect to see people getting into gin this year.
“Right now I would say that gin is most popular among our ‘in the know’ cocktail drinkers,” says Nicole Lebedevitch, operations partner and beverage director of Forget Me Not, a new Denver-based cocktail bar. “I hope that by the end of 2021, we are crushing through gin.”
Forget Me Not, which takes its name and inspiration from the location’s former flower shop tenants, currently stocks 18 gins on the back bar, ranging from London Dry to navy strength to Old Tom, New American or botanical, and Genever. “Our most popular brands are the new American-style gins, Hendrick’s in particular,” Lebedevitch says. The William Grant & Sons brand, launched in 1999, incorporates distinct botanicals, with flavors of Bulgarian rose and cucumber.
“I think our guests like the less aggressive approach to juniper, but we also see Monkey 47 gaining a ton of popularity,” Lebedevitch notes. Monkey 47, acquired by Pernod Ricard last year, is made from 47 botanicals sourced from Germany’s Black Forest.
Sear + Sea Bar, the lobby bar at the new JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek in Florida, boasts a portfolio of more than 100 gins displayed on its floor-to-ceiling back bar. “Because gin is still trying to muscle its way into the spirits market with the likes of vodka and bourbons, the mainstay gins are still the most popular,” says bartender Thomas Greene.
For example, many customers call for Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater gins, Greene says. But in the past few years, Hendrick’s and Nolet’s have been more popular with guests.
More recently, Sear + Sea Bar has been getting calls for Aviation gin, due to its popularity with the actor and brand owner Ryan Reynolds, as well as Monkey 47 and Gray Whale gins, Greene says. The small-batch Gray Whale uses six botanicals foraged or farmed along the migratory path of the Pacific Gray Whale down California’s coast.
“As the market evolves,” Greene notes, “gins have been created using a number of new botanicals, as well as some flavors to mask some of the juniper taste, including Beefeater Pink, which has a strawberry flavor, and the Malfy line that has grapefruit and blood orange flavors.”
Gin Trends in Cocktails
Classic cocktails are by far the most popular go-to for gin drinkers at Forget Me Not, “but I’m always looking to encourage guests to drink a well-made Martini or Gibson,” Lebedevitch says.
The number-one gin cocktail on the bar’s menu is the Nobody’s Angel, which uses a local Earl Grey-infused gin from Family Jones, bergamot liqueur, lemon juice, egg white and elderflower tonic. Priced at $14, “it’s taking a Gin and Tonic to the next level and bringing texture and depth to the cocktail,” Lebedevitch explains.
Her favorite is Forget Me Not’s Alpine cocktail (shown atop), which uses Hendrick’s gin, manzanilla sherry, dry vermouth and amaro nonino, with a touch of bitters and sage. “It’s a balance of a low-ABV meets the pleasure of a Martini, with just a hint of savory,” Lebedevitch says.
Guests at Sear + Sea Bar still order some of the classic gin drinks, including the French 75, Ramos Fizz and Gimlet. The bar has developed several gin-based craft cocktails, including Rosemary Beret ($17), made with Hendrick’s Gin, torched rosemary, raspberry, lemon and aquafaba; Key Lime Gimlet ($16), with St. Augustine gin, Mrs. Ginger’s local key lime jam, egg white and lime; and Livin’ on a Prairie ($16), with Prairie organic gin, Earl Grey tea, rosemary and lemon.
Ditching the Gin Stigma
Many consumers seem to have a bias against gin — often due to experimenting with more traditional or lower-end gins in their younger days. What’s the best way to help guests get over that?
“I think a lot of people are hesitant from bad experiences when asked if they would like a gin,” Greene says. “I’ve found that if you explain the nuances of the products and what botanicals are present, you can persuade them into trying it again.”
The Sear + Sea restaurant has even incorporated gin into some food items. The peppercorns for grating table side are gin soaked and dried before being put into the mills, and the tuna crudo appetizer is infused with gin during preparation.
Lebedevitch believes that the gin stigma is fading, but she also thinks it’s about finding a balance, and finding the right type of gin — floral, herbal, juniper-forward, or not.
It’s also about having the conversation about flavors and textures that guests like, honestly listening to guests and then gaining their trust in making a balanced cocktail. “And when all else fails, add fresh cucumber,” she jokes.
That’s the Tonic
“Our goal at Sear + Sea bar for 2021 is to continue to both educate ourselves and our guests on the gins we offer,” Greene says. The bar is also working on creating gin flights and developing new recipes for cocktails.
“We will continue to be on the lookout for some new and interesting items coming into the market, like our recently acquired 6 O’clock line of gins that we are experimenting with now,” says Greene. The 6 O’clock gin, from Bristol, England, is available in its flagship London Dry style, Brunel, Damson and Sloe gins.
“Gin is still perceived to be consumed with tonic primarily,” Greene says, “so there are a number of bottled tonic products coming out; we use the Q line inclusive of their grapefruit tonic.” The newer flavors make a Martini an easier sell, he adds.
The Gin and Tonic is such an iconic cocktail that glassmaker Riedel has developed a special Gin and Tonic glass. Similar to a stemless wine glass, the glass has a bulbous bowl that enhances the characteristics of the cocktail, the company says. The larger bowl allows ample space for accoutrements to the cocktail, garnishes pairing with the juniper and spice notes of certain gins or the floral and fruit-forward notes in others.
Lebedevitch is excited to launch a Gin and Tonic patio in Forget Me Not’s outdoor space, with “big bulbous glasses, bouquets of botanicals, selections of tonics and flights of gin to enhance the Gin and Tonic into the patio sipper it should be,” she says. “I want to give our guests an opportunity to experience gin in a new way, and to make many different styles accessible to them.”