From pink to alcohol free, a plethora of fruity flavours, to hyper local ingredients, the popularity of gin is showing now signs of slowing. Though launches are coming from across the globe, in established markets such as the UK, the rate of acceleration of new producers has not been slowed by the pandemic.
According to WSTA, the number of UK distilleries alone grew by 124, up 28% on 2019. While the number of distilleries in England has almost tripled since 2016, the year the gin boom helped the number of English distilleries overtake Scotland for the first time.
Now, the continued consumer intrigue with all things gin – alongside an increased need by brands for differentiation in a crowded market – has once again spurred yet another iteration; savoury flavours.
In fact the recent launch by Portobello Gin of its very aptly named Savoury Gin has brought to focus to a trend that has steadily been emerging as a slow-build counter movement to ever sweeter, more heavily fruited, and brighter coloured liquids that have begun to dominate the market.
It’s no secret that certain factions of the industry have been decidedly unhappy with the direction many of the ‘me-too’ and flavoured spin-offs from established brands, have taken. Hayman’s ‘Call Time on Fake Gin’ campaign, launched in 2018, urged tighter regulation across the gin category in response to the “growing issue of products marketed as gins that have little to no juniper character”.
And of course, when it comes to gins that are savoury-leaning, there have long been a few. Spanish brand Gin Mare for example uses rosemary, basil and thyme botanicals, alongside a maceration and distilling process that keeps their flavour prominent in the finished liquid.
Why are these product emerging now? With little else by way of entertainment, there has been greater home culinary and drinks exploration during lockdown, with intrigued consumers on the look out for new taste and sensorial experiences. For those that have rejected the pink gin movement, such savoury products are the anti-fruit, the anti-brash flavours, and perhaps, the ultimate food pairing tipple.
In April 2021, Audemus Spirits, makers of Pink Pepper Gin, added the very culinary-inspired Umami Gin to its range. According to the brand, the product “takes the definition of gin and expresses it very differently to what consumers would have tried before, through infusing unique ingredients to create a savoury – or umami – flavour”.
Umami Gin’s base flavour comes from hand-picked Sicilian capers, distilled under vacuum at 45 degrees and after which they are combined with an infusion of Parmigiano-Reggiano, Italian parmesan cheese, which is glutamate-rich – the molecule which is responsible for our tongues’ ability to taste umami. The liquid is then combined with bergamot and juniper distillates, and the blend is then left to rest in cognac barrels for several months. The result is a liquid with a “fresh and lightly savoury quality with an entirely unique flavour profile”.
Another recent launch comes from Southwold-based distiller and brewer, Adnams. Inspired by Mexico, the gin uses a rare ingredient to the UK, avocado leaf, which is used in Mexico in tea, as an antioxidant, and for its mood enhancing properties.
According to Adnams: “The inescapable avocado trend of the past few years has brought avocado face masks, avocado latte and even avocado proposals – not to mention the brunch icon, ‘smashed avo’ – but the avocado leaf has yet to make waves on these shores, until now.”
The leaf is said to add subtle notes of anise and liquorice, which are then blended with a mix of classic and Mexican-inspired botanicals, such as epazote, smoky chipotle chili, lime peel, Mexican oregano and coriander. To sip it is described as fresh and zesty. John McCarthy, Head Distiller at Adnams, says: “I first discovered Avocado leaf on a trip to Mexico where it was the secret ingredient in a plate of black beans. I was blown away by its delicate anise quality which paired so beautifully with classic Mexican flavours of lime, chili and coriander and was determined to recreate this in gin form.”
A slightly older release, this gin from the Cambridge Distillery deserves a mention here, for it’s unique take on savoury flavours. Using the prized culinary ingredient, the white Piedmont truffle as the basis for its flavour. Distilled to preserve that flavour, it is described as having a profile and depth of flavour that is more usually associated with mature, aged spirits. It is recommended to be drank as a digestive over ice in a brandy glass.
Perhaps one of the most savoury flavours of them all, and often used in cocktails, it’s perhaps not surprising it has now been used in a gin. In fact Jin Môr has been made by famed Welsh salt producer Halen Môn and takes local terroir seriously. Distilled in Snowdonia using water from the mountains, this ‘gin of the sea’ uses classic botanicals and a pink of sea salt. Taste wise it is described as having pepper, pine, juniper, with a touch of citrus and a pinch of salt on the finish.
Portobello Road’s Savoury gin uses rosemary, basil, bergamot, and green olive, with a pinch of sea salt added after distillation to convey a hint of “coastal air”. It is inspired by historic names for gin in London, including ‘King Theodore of Corsica’, and takes its cue from botanicals of Corsica and the surrounding Mediterranean. On the nose it is described as still clearly being a gin, with lots of juniper and citrus, and a hint of basil and rosemary, and to sip, there’s some nutmeg heat and a hint of dryness.
As this trend gains momentum – and it will – expect it to merge more tightly with another trend emerging in these strange, not yet post-pandemic times; our need for travel. Need is a strong word, but nevertheless, for broad swathes of consumers used to escaping at least once a year to more exotic, sunnier climes, there is a hell of a lot of pent-up wanderlust.
It’s for this reason ever more brands are launching that overtly target this. Brands such as Smirnoff have added tropical variants to seemingly dormant brands such as Smirnoff Ice, advertised on social media with lines such as “Forget far-off destinations”. Man brands are working hard to tap into either exotic ingredients or locations with new launches, flavour extensions, and marketing
campaigns that push their powers to transport imbibers – metaphorically at least – to somewhere else.
For gin, look for continued launches inspired by specific and surprising locales – Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, alongside the more expected locations such as the Mediterranean – and their culinary traditions.