It’s been called a gin-aissance and a re-gin-eration but what is really behind the boom of the botanical spirit? Rupert Holloway, founder of Dorset based Conker Spirit, takes a look at how the gin industry is evolving and how start-ups are holding their own against the established brands.
Last year gin captured the nation’s taste buds. As Britons downed 40 million bottles of the stuff, bartenders and industry experts across the land declared 2016 the ‘year of gin’.
Sales surpassed the £1 billion mark and figures from the Wine and Spirits Association (WSTA) suggested UK exports rose to around £500 million, an increase of 32% in five years.
The number of distilleries more than doubled from 128 in 2012 to 273 -between them producing 500 different gins.
Tax revenue from the so-called gin boom made the government nearly £3.4 billion last year alone, overtaking beer for the first time ever and proving we are no longer a nation of lager louts.
But, perhaps most interesting of all, is the meteoric rise of craft gins, meaning not massed produced and often locally created on a small scale-like Conker Spirit.
I’m increasingly asked how a two-year-old start-up can compete with the established multi-million brands. For me, the single most important factor in launching Conker Spirit was the internet. In fact, Conker Spirit simply wouldn’t have happened without it.
When I were a lad, the products and brands you knew about were those pumped through the four TV channels. This monopoly on direct access to the consumer meant that only the big boys could afford to market to the masses.
But today, Joe Bloggs can set up shop in his garage armed with just a laptop and can not only appear to be an organisation infinitely bigger than himself, but can also reach the same customers as the mega brands. And with overheads consisting of a £350 laptop and an electric heater at his feet, he’s laughing.
From the comfort of your sofa, you’re able to reach a global market and trade side-by-side with multimillion pound organisations – they must miss the old days…
In the same way the internet has enabled me to bring Conker Spirit to market on a shoestring budget, it’s also created the very market in which products like Conker Spirit thrive. It has created a transparency that removes marketing’s façade – something the big brands can only fear and yet Conker Spirit thrives on. We actually want you to see what we do day-to-day.
And that’s just it; from distilling, to bottling, labelling and even botanical foraging we make the gin.
The spirit has been catapulted into the forefront of the nation’s mind by creating a conversation between the seller and the consumer, ultimately changing the way people buy.
Like its craft beer predecessors, craft spirit makers are going through a period of intense creativity. While taste and branding are essential ingredients, it is a sense of place and provenance which is helping modern gin brands prosper.
Local identity has become synonymous with craft spirits, whether it’s distilled in a London warehouse or bottled in the rolling countryside, drinkers are no longer opting for the best deal, instead they are investing in a story.
Conker Spirit distils Dorset Dry gin in batches of just 60 from a modest distillery in the sandy back streets of Bournemouth. It is created from ten different botanicals, including hand-picked New Forest gorse flowers.
Up until two years ago you would have found Rupert donning a hard hat and hi-vis jacket in his previous career as a chartered surveyor. After realising his career hadn’t evoked a smile out of him for as long as he dared to remember, Rupert decided it was time for a drastic change and Conker Spirit was born.