The future of Gin in South Africa
2018 was one of those both up and down years that saw loss and gain, good and bad and everything in between. For me, I was finally able to launch my very own company which has been growing significantly since I took the risk of putting it on the market.
And as the Gin Queen (PTY LTD I’ll have you know) I thought it only right that I take a moment to weigh in on my take on the gin industry. The gindustry if you will.
As most consumers would have noticed by now, South Africa has seen a major resurgence in the gin world which I feel has been the most incredible ride as distillers flex their muscles and come up with new ideas on what feels like a weekly basis.
Long gone are the days when all that was available was Gordons, Tanqueray and if you were flush and feeling fancy – Bombay Sapphire. I can still vividly remember when Bombay was the most expensive gin available and not to be shared with just anyone. And since we are throwing that far back, I may as well be honest and admit that I was a Gordon’s, Strettons and Gilbys drinker myself, never willing to part with much more than R100 for a bottle of gin.
Then began the Gin boom and suddenly there was a wealth of fine craft gin available at prices that were far higher than what I was used to. Yet somehow, that level up came far too easily for me and dropping R400 on a bottle of gin became commonplace. I’ve been called a gin snob many times since the changeover and I am proud of that title because it means that my palette has developed from what it was.
To be honest, one of my favourite things to do is go to the liquor store and eye out all the sexy new gins because it is guaranteed that there will be a brand new gin on the shelves each time. There are so many in fact, that I am lightly out of touch with all of them and will have to spend some time reacquainting myself with the freshest juniper spirits that are now available. I will also be bringing back a number of American gins from my trip which, so far, have a completely different taste to what is produced at home.
Tom Cat - an American Old Tom gin that is most unusual
Back to the Gin bubble.
Now this is an opinion piece as I don't have the exact numbers of growth or of gins that are waiting to be approved but it is a mind boggling amount that means 2019 will be even more gin soaked than last year.
What I love about the South African palette how ours differs from those across the world, particularly with the heavy fynbos influences. We are lucky to have the fynbos biome which is exclusively South African.
That being said, I do think that we are coming to the threshold with fynbos gins because the flavour has gotten to be a little tired for my personal taste anyway. Obviously fynbos still has its place with the staple originals such as Inverroche Amber which is their best seller, but I feel that there is room to experiment if the complimentary botanicals are a little more unique and unusual.
Liquor City's own fynbos gin
But there are still new prospects on the horizon in terms of gin flavours because I recall reading last year (though I am battling to find the article) that the law regarding Old Tom gins has been lifted. The liquor industry has very particular laws when it comes to the production of alcohol so as to protect the different types of alcohols.
The gin resurgence has also seen some bending of the rules such as aging gins in casks – again something that is technically not allowed in the gin industry, but distillers have taken some risks that have paid off.
An Old Tom gin simply refers to a gin that is distilled with sugar which up until recently was not legal in South Africa.
This opens up the avenues for gins to be distilled with sugars and more importantly honey. In fact it could have such a positive impact on the honey industry that distilleries might begin to keep their own bees, having them near their own bespoke botanicals and then using that honey in the gin. It’s simply brilliant! I think that in the foreseeable future, we can expect a number of Old Tom gins to hit the shelves too.
Finally, I have to say that I do believe there will come a time sooner or later that the gin bubble will burst, at least a little.
There are a large number of gins that are crafted through contract distilling because the cost of owning and running a distillery is too large for many individuals to undertake themselves.
Contract distilling is when a distiller or even an individual approaches a distillery and requests that a gin be made on their behalf. This can occur with as much or as little input as that individual desires. I have seen a large number of local distilleries taking on contract distilling and there have been some real bangers that have come out of those stills.
However, the cost for those individuals is far higher as they have to pay for someone else’s labour and then still make their own profit on top of that. There are a number of contract distilled gins that are extremely high in price for this reason and I know for myself, as a discerning gin drinker, I do think twice before buying those particular gins. Not because the quality is bad but because I am lightly poor and can’t afford to pay for two sets of profit.
I’m not saying that all contract distillers will disappear, hell I could be entirely wrong and they could remain even longer because they do also bring in additional revenue for the distillers after all.
But if it no longer becomes viable for those individuals, it will be the owners of stills and licensed distilleries that remain behind.
Many people have said that craft rum will be the next big thing which I can agree with only to an extent because unlike gin, rum has to be aged which takes time. I think that gin is here to stay for a long time.
At least some of the gins on the shelves will begin to dwindle but a core range will remain. I feel like this gives me permission to try out every single gin that I see because there is no guarantee of how long they will be there. Either that or I have a gin buying problem...
So that is my opinion of the gin boom in a nutshell. If you have any ideas or inside knowledge that you would like to share, please feel free as I am always keen to hear what other people think!