A decade ago it was rare for a gin producer to have more than one offering, but lately the opposite is true: It’s rare for a producer to offer only a single expression of the spirit. As premium and super-premium gins drive global growth of the category, the boom is starting to show breadth.
Worldwide, gin sales rose 2.5 percent, to about 52 million cases, in 2015, according to the most recent numbers available from the IWSR, an organization that conducts analysis of the drinks industry. While volumes of lower-priced gins are expected to drop over the next five years, the report explains, those losses are expected to be offset by gains of higher-priced gins over the same period.
Today’s premium bottlings show unparalleled diversity from that of decades past. Brands used to offer simple options like a navy strength version, as was the case with Plymouth’s and Martin Miller’s gins, or premium upgrades, such as Bombay Sapphire and Tanqueray No. Ten. Now we’re seeing a broader range of products, including sloe gins, annual “distiller’s edition” bottles, barrel-aged gins matured in a variety of former wine or whiskey casks, softened Old Tom gins, genever-style gins, seasonal gins, and gins with different flavor profiles from a brand’s core product.
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While many companies have a flagship offering, with other products supporting it, producers are increasingly releasing multiple gin flavors at the same time. St. George Spirits of Alameda, California, launched three gins at once in 2011 (a botanical gin, a regionally inspired gin, and a genever-style gin), and the Russell Henry line from Mendocino County, California, shortly thereafter launched a London dry, a ginger, and a lime expression. Both these brands offer three-packs of 200-milliliter bottles to encourage sampling.
The Automatic Gin line of Oakland Spirits Company, based in Oakland, California, also includes three expressions: Uptown Dry Gin, Gin No. 5, and Sea Gin. Michael Pierce, the company’s head of sales, says, “We always planned to do three expressions. My business partner comes from the design and tech world, where the ‘rule of three’ lords over most activities. The Sea Gin [made with foraged seaweed] hogs all the press, but in the aggregate, we get more [sales] than we would if we only did one expression.”
The just-launched brand Tinkerman’s Gin from the A. Smith Bowman distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is available in three different flavor profiles: Citrus Supreme, Sweet Spice, and Curiously Bright & Complex. In a promotion to foster the idea of “gin flights,” the brand will offer restaurant and bar accounts tasting paddles that hold three small glasses, according to Tracey Clapp, the marketing director for the vodka and gin categories at the Sazerac Company, which owns Tinkerman’s.
Of course, not all brands produce more than one bottle. “I see [launching multiples] mostly as an attempt to offer a point of difference in an ever-crowded market,” says Dave O’Brien, the director of Flight Plan Trading Company, the U.S. importer and marketer of Bobby’s Gin from the Netherlands. “Unless these line extensions are truly different and engaging enough for consumers to want them—beyond the novelty of a different expression to try once, or a different bottle to collect—they are mostly shifting focus away from the core SKU in an effort to grow recognition and sales for the overall brand.”
Tony Bagnulo, the founder of Bulrush Gin in Greenville, South Carolina, released a barrel-aged gin at the request of some bar accounts, in addition to the distillery’s standard product, but seems to regret the decision. “It’s been a tough lesson in teaching people what to do with it, particularly if they know and love the mother brand,” Bagnulo says. “When we launched [the barrel-aged gin], we were able to sell a few bottles to a few accounts, but most of these accounts were moving very small volume, even when [the gin was] featured on the cocktail menu. The negative side was that the novelty of playing with a barrel-aged gin took away from the opportunity to use our core product … We have no intentions of expanding the offering.”
You & Yours Distilling Co. in San Diego also released a second gin, partly based on bartender input as well, but is so far happy with the decision, according to the founder and distiller, Laura Johnson. Sunday Gin is a “bright, juicy, fresh Western gin with a ton of citrus up front and a nice round floral finish,” she says. “Winter Gin is my take on a London dry. It’s much spicier, pinier, and warmer. It’s also slightly higher in ABV, a note we were getting from a few bartenders.”
Among international brands, many producers offer a range of expressions in the home market but export only one or a few core products. The German Black Forest–made Monkey 47 only offers its flagship Schwarzwald Dry Gin stateside; in other markets it sells a sloe gin and several annual distiller’s editions. The London brand Sipsmith offers its London Dry, V.J.O.P. (“very junipery over proof”), and Sloe Gin in the U.S., but it also produces Lemon Drizzle, London Cup (a take on a Pimm’s Cup), and Sipping Vodka.
The British gin brand Whitley Neill, which is “inspired by Africa,” offers just a dry gin in the U.S. so far but at home sells Blood Orange Gin, Raspberry Gin, Rhubarb & Ginger Gin, and Quince Gin, among other products. The brand’s founder, Johnny Neill, says, “We’re bringing in the dry gin first because this is the foundation brand for Whitley Neill. The newer SKUs naturally follow on from this original gin.”
Glendalough Distillery, located outside Dublin in Wicklow, Ireland, launched its Wild Botanical Gin in the U.S. last June, but in home markets it offers a Winter Gin, Sloe Gin, Beech Leaf Gin, and Wild Blackberry & Mountain Heather Gin. Gary McLoughlin, Glendalough’s founder, says that the distillery’s seasonal gins are best suited only to local U.K. and some European markets, because Glendalough can get them on store shelves before the end of the current season.
Four Pillars Gin from Australia’s Yarra Valley offers more varieties than most—at least in the home country. It has a flagship Rare Dry, a Bloody Shiraz (its unique take on a sloe gin), a Navy Strength, a Spiced Negroni Gin, a Modern Australian Gin, gins aged in Chardonnay and sherry casks, and a Christmas Gin. The first three only are available in the U.S. “We think as a newcomer to the market, having a few different iterations is probably an advantage,” says Four Pillars cofounder Stuart Gregor. “We have launched in a couple of markets with just one product but quickly added a couple more, because if an influencer happened not to have a space or a particular taste for that one single gin, we were kind of stuffed right from the beginning.”
Though Four Pillars initially launched in the U.S. with the Rare Dry, Navy Strength, and a Barrel Aged expression, it replaced the latter with the Bloody Shiraz. “It is genuinely unlike anything on the market right now,” Gregor says. “So that’s a real gift for us and for salespeople and retailers and bartenders who do have to look at a lot of same-same products day in and day out. And then in Australia we also do a few other odds and sods that keep people interested, keep the fans of the brand coming back for more, keep the social media channels busy, and keep our retail and bar partners happy.”
While there’s no doubt about the increasing numbers of new gin brands and brand extensions hitting the shelves in bars and stores, there seems to be no one path to success for any particular brand. While some producers launch multiple expressions all at once, others choose to fill out a gin portfolio around a core bottling. Some dip a toe into the market one gin at a time and expand later, while others have had success plunging headfirst into retail with a fully formed gin line. Time will tell how it all shakes out, but in the meantime there’s a lot more gin around for us to try.
Camper English is an international cocktails and spirits writer, speaker, and consultant, with a focus on the science of booze and big clear ice. His work has appeared in Popular Science, Cook’s Science, Whisky Advocate, Saveur, Details, the San Francisco Chronicle, and many other publications.