How Gin Can Stage a Comeback (Really)

For how long have adult-beverage industry watchers and cocktail enthusiasts been looking for gin to make a comeback?

The botanicals-enhanced spirit has seemed at least in some respects to be well-positioned to take advantage of recent cocktail trends; most notable among these are renewed enthusiasm for classic cocktails and consumers’ growing interest in exploring spirits that are new to them—especially those that carry some cachet of sophistication. (What other spirit is more associated with the decadence of the Jazz Age?)

And yet gin, on the whole, has stalled. Gin volume slid a little more than 1% in 2012, according to Technomic’s Spirits TAB Report, while most other spirits segments posted at least small gains. Retail sales of the spirit nudged just barely upward (0.2%) to $2 billion, with gin accounting for 4.7% of retail sales among all spirits. Gin’s share of spirits volume shrunk slightly, to 5.2% from 5.4%.

Where there are opportunities for growth in gin are in the same areas that have proved ripe with potential for other adult-beverage segments:

First, in the higher price tiers. This echoes what we’ve seen in beer. Gin’s overall performance in 2012 was weighed down by a 5% loss in volume and sales for segment-leading Seagram’s Gin, a value brand. In contrast, among the 20 leading gin brands, the strongest performers were Broker’s, a premium brand, and Hendrick’s, a super-premium offering. The two saw their retail sales climb nearly 31% (to $71.3 million) and 26% (to almost $4.1 million), respectively. Worth noting also is that both brands are imports—although imported gin has a smaller share of the segment than domestic gin, imported brands have outperformed domestics for the past several years. Overall in the gin segment, value brands recorded the largest volume and sales losses in 2012, while high-end, premium and super-premium brands posted the biggest gains.

Second, in craft offerings. Many American consumers are less familiar with gin than they are with other spirits, but they’re avid fans of “buying local” and are eager to connect with brands that have a strong story, personality or sense of place. Fortunately for them, craft gin distillers across the country are offering a gin education through distillery tours, sampling events at local grocers and markets, and active social-media use. In explaining the nuances of their products through these avenues, upstart distillers of gin brands such as Letherbee (Chicago), Death’s Door (Middleton, WI) and Genius Gin (Austin, TX) are introducing new generations of adult-beverage consumers to gin as a spirits segment. Producers large and small stand to benefit from this.

Gin may not be looking to claim the title of Amerca’s spirit of choice anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have room to expand. Its floral and herbaceous notes make it a flavorful alternative to traditional vodka for consumers (and Millennials in particular) who are eager to broaden their spirits horizons. It mixes well with a variety of fruit juices and purees, helping to create approachable, fresh-flavored cocktails, and it’s a friendly pairing as well for two adult-beverage products riding a wave of popularity: elderflower liqueur and sparkling wine.

And lest anyone think that gin is inspiring contemporary cocktails only at upscale independent bars in urban centers across the country, here’s a taste of how chain restaurants and bars have highlighted gin in new cocktails introduced since this summer:

  • The Hampton Cocktail, Boston Blackie’s: Nolet’s Gin, St-Germain, blackberry preserves and fresh blackberry, offered on the rocks or straight up
  • Berry Bramble, Asia de Cuba: Bombay Sapphire, fresh lemon, raspberry puree, blood-orange liqueur and blood-orange syrup
  • Ramblin Rose, Bar Louie: Hendrick’s, St-Germain, lime juice, pure cane syrup, fresh raspberries, egg white and mint
  • Bill Murray, Claddagh Irish Pub: fresh watermelon puree, squeezed lime, mint, agave nectar and gin
  • Cuban Milk, Cuba Libre: Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, condensed milk, white crème de cocoa, Combier and nutmeg
  • The Book Store, Fox and Hound: Bombay Sapphire gin, basil, fresh-squeezed lime juice, simple syrup and cherries
  • Cucumber Sage Martini, Joe’s American Bar & Grill: Hendrick’s, muddled cucumber and sage, and lemon juice

Technomic projects that gin will record a slightly improved performance for 2013. With big-name on-premise operators revisiting gin and new craft gin distillers helping to build awareness of the spirit through targeted sampling events and local retailer/operator partnerships, gin may be better poised for growth now than it was even just a few years ago.


Christine LaFave Grace

Christine LaFave Grace writes for and produces Technomic's Trends & Directions e-newsletters. She joined Technomic in 2013 as an associate editor. Her previous roles include assistant digital editor for Crain Communications’ Modern Healthcare magazine and associate editor at Reed Business Information’s Restaurants & Institutions magazine.

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