An interview with Paul Jackson, editor of The Gin Guide
If you haven’t spotted our latest social trend, March is all about gin. Why? Have a read of our blog on it. We’ve looked at the data, but to get further under the skin of this trend we’ve been chatting to the Editor of one of the most comprehensive and interesting guides to all things gin in the UK. Otherwise known as The Gin Guide.
Said Editor, Paul Jackson, spends his days running a digital marketing agency, but his nights (and some of his days…) delving further into the world of gin.
First up, tell us a bit more about The Gin Guide and where it all started?
I became a big fan of gin quite a few years ago – my friends and I got into the habit of going to a different gin bar every couple of weeks and searching out new ones to try. When I went online to see what other people were recommending I found two types of websites – those that went into great depth about gin – where you really needed to know your stuff – then blog posts that didn’t go into enough depth. Neither were what I was looking for so I thought there was a great opportunity to fill the gap with something digestible but interesting. And The Gin Guide was born!
We want to get more people drinking gin, so it’s where you can discover new gins and how to experience gin in different ways – be that with garnishes, cocktails, gin bars or distillery tours..
So what evidence have you seen that gin has really grown over the last year?
It’s everywhere! On the trade side you just have to look at shop shelves, the backs of bars and cocktail menus – they’re full of gin. There’s also been gin events, dedicated gin bars, new brands and distilleries springing up everywhere. It really has been an explosive rise!
Any area of gin that’s seen bigger growth than others?
We’ve seen a huge amount of new brands and new gins come onto the market – both independent and larger brands who are diversifying. I can think of 60-70 distilleries I’ve spoken with in last 6 months that have launched recently or are launching soon. Many of the people launching gin brands are new to the industry too – either they’ve never worked in distilling or spirits before or, quite interestingly given your stats on gin overtaking whiskey, whiskey brands are moving into gin as well.
Do you think our love of gin is just a fad, or is it here to stay?
Other drinks are trying to mirror what gin is achieving – Tequila for example – and I do think growth is sustainable because so many people have really got to know gin. It says something to be more of a gin connoisseur, people want to be educated about it and try new styles and combinations. That kind of immersion means it won’t tail off over night.
I do think social media has played a role in this growth as well. Whiskey grew quite sustainably and traditionally. Gin has had a rocky road but it’s booming with an audience that is very active on social media, and a gin and tonic does take a very attractive Instagram photo…
What barriers are there to the industry’s continued growth?
The amount of competition is a both a benefit and a challenge – there’s so many people entering the industry and the choice of gins is incredible, we just have to be careful to not overwhelm consumers. Some bars and pubs running gin tastings and events also don’t always have the knowledge or experience to show off a gin in the best light, but it’s still great in the sense that it introduces more people to gin.
Are the bigger brands changing how they approach things?
Yes, some are certainly trying to engage more with gin drinkers and to diversify to compete with the newer entrants offering more small batch, premium and unusual gins. Hendrick’s and Bombay Sapphire have been doing more immersive gin events and experiences for example. Bombay Sapphire and Beefeater both run popular distillery tours and have each brought out new gins in recent years, Star of Bombay and Beefeater 24, that give them a presence in the premium market too. There’s always a market for the big guys though, in the UK and internationally.
If you’re new to drinking gin, where should you start?
I do still here a lot of people say, “I don’t really like gin” or “I don’t like tonic”. We all have different tastes and some can’t be converted, but others just haven’t had the right gin and tonic yet! If you’re just starting, head to the supermarket and look for gins like Opihr (garnish with ginger), Martin Miller’s (perfect with cucumber) or Whitley Neill (really affordable but great tasting with some orange peel). Then match it with high quality tonic like Fever Tree, and garnish. You’ll quickly see gin can be a whole range of different drinks – from sweet and smooth to savoury and spiced. If you’re not sure about gin, give it a second chance and you might just find the perfect combination!
And what about for those committed gin drinkers?
There’s so much choice! There are some really interesting gins coming out of Germany – they’re experimenting a lot with their flavours, botanicals and distillation techniques. One of my recent favourites is Siegfried Gin. But the best advice I can give you, is keep trying new gins and discovering which styles you like.
We have heard it’s as much about the tonic…
It really is, which is why tonic is booming as well. Within the last three years you’ve seen Schweppes tonic start to lose market share and Fever Tree and other challenger brands are rapidly on the rise. There’s around 25 different tonics on my desk right now! And let’s not forget the garnish, that can make or break a gin and tonic. Sometimes a garnish can take away from the quality and skill that has gone into the gin itself, but good combinations can really bring out the flavours beautifully and create a perfect match. My advice, don’t be too elaborate with garnishes – harmonise rather than overwhelm!
Where are you seeing growth internationally?
UK distilleries export a huge amount across the world. There’s a lot of growth in Western Europe, North America, Australia, South Africa and even Japan. Some countries such as Australia and New Zealand are building a reputation for more contemporary styles and flavour profiles, almost like with Old and New World wines. Many of these modern gins are really taking off at the moment and it’s interesting to see how they’re different to more traditional gin styles, with more floral, sweet and bold flavours. Then looking closer to home, I had an interesting conversation with a distillery the other day and one of their biggest export markets is Denmark – gin really does have almost global appeal!
So if that’s inspired you to pour yourself a G&T, head over to The Gin Guide first to get some added inspiration. It also has a very useful guide to garnishes, which is well worth a read.