Gin lovers might be holding out for summer’s last hurrah, but you can bet your sweet copa glass that alcohol marketers have their sights set firmly on what you’re going to be warming up with this winter. And I think conditions are set for the spectacular return of a Dickensian favourite.
You don’t need to take an interest in gin. Or even in the alcohol market. A passing awareness of the existence of liquids will do to know that gin is booming. Even the national press has been all over the Interminable Rise of Gin this year and – look around – it is just bloody everywhere. Even Good Housekeeping emphatically declared the UK “a nation of gin lovers [sic]”, as gin sales in 2017 grew 27% on 2016, with a massive spike at Christmas.
But, thing is, it’s obviously not all that interminable.
WE’RE REACHING PEAK GIN
Breathless coverage of WSTA figures in March (aping a doubtless-even-more-breathless press release) announced that Brits bought a bottle of gin per adult at Christmas 2017. If those bottles have all been polished off by now, it would be equivalent to every adult in the UK drinking at least one (generous) gin and tonic a fortnight. Which is not unimaginable. But, given that, for all gin’s meteoric rise, it obviously can’t sustain this growth long-term. Add the fact that gin has already leapfrogged vodka and whisk(e)y to become the UK’s most popular spirit, and the ceiling looks ever closer.
Yes, June saw World Gin Day and Mother’s Day combine to boost sales even further (cue ‘Mother’s Ruin’ headlines across the trade press; sigh), according to the WSTA, but the gin market’s recent trajectory has been so steep that it’s going to be a very tall order to maintain it.
SO WHERE NEXT?
Accordingly, producers and marketers will be getting increasingly inventive. We’ve already seen the first wave of this with new product development; Adnams (which, laudably, follows its brewing tradition to distil from grain – but let’s not get into that debate) was the latest notable producer to jump on the pink gin bandwagon – a trend so thoroughly arbitrary it might genuinely have been inspired by a game of Pin the Tail on the Dulux Catalogue. The next theatre is the pub. New sales and new routes to market mean new product on the bar. And, for my money, that new product is the thoroughly old-fashioned gin toddy.
BUT WHY HOT BOOZE?
I can understand if you’re sceptical. The combination of heat and booze tends to go firmly one way or the other: spectacular, Christmas market-drowning success or sad, bartop urn-stewing failure. Mulled wine and mulled cider – bang on. Apple whiskey punch – not so sure. But there are two interesting differentiators for success: firstly, simplicity and clarity of product. Mulled wine: hot wine. Spices, yes; sugar, yes. But recognisably hot, sweet wine. Easy. Mulled cider: well, it’s like mulled wine, but with cider, isn’t it? Hot, sugary cider. Yes please. And secondly: tradition.
It’s always about the story in alcohol marketing. Mulled wine found its way into winter tradition through the ubiquity of glühwein at ‘German’ Christmas markets, helped along by the middle-class predilection for a vin chaud of a skiing holiday. Mulled cider sensibly rode its coattails in more recent years, making a savvy nod to West Country wassail tradition. It’s got bona fide historical creds. That goes a long way in making it stick.
ENTER, THE GIN TODDY
The gin toddy ticks both boxes. Basic proposition: sugary, lemony hot gin. Laaarvely. Its provenance is a tad hazy, but it’s probably sufficient that it’s referenced in a song from Oliver! (“gin toddies, large measures”). And, as a bonus, let’s not forget the fact that it gives gin marketers yet another opportunity to wax lyrical about the botanicals. Because it’s always about the botanicals (read: stuff you’d normally either a) go out of your way to avoid in a bag of Allsorts, b) put in a curry or c) spend an ill-tempered afternoon ripping out of your driveway).
Is this an earth-shattering prediction? Not particularly – but I hope you’ve enjoyed coming along for the ride on my semi-informed, ad hoc reckon again. Come back next month and some other booze hack might even have published the season’s first ‘perfect hot toddy recipe’ article – I promise I’ll try to rein in the smugness.
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