Scottish gin proves real tonic for UK exports

Pickerings started production in Edinburgh last year, one of many newcomers. Picture: Jane Barlow
Pickerings started production in Edinburgh last year, one of many newcomers. Picture: Jane Barlow
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IT HAS long been regarded as the quintessentially English drink.

But Scotland could be about to capitalise on a surge in popularity of gin and tonic, thanks to an explosion of gin producers north of the Border.

There’s no good reason why it should not be as successful

Miles Beale

The UK government is predicting gin exports could even overtake the value of the whisky industry, saying there is “no reason” why it could not be just as lucrative.

And with 70 per cent of the UK’s gin made in Scotland, including some of the biggest brands in the business, that may mean a huge boom for the 16 distilleries where it is produced.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has revealed that exports of gin have now reached £390 million in 2014 – an increase of 37 per cent in the space of five years.

Premium brands like Hendrick’s and Tanqueray – both made in Scotland – now account for more than a quarter of the gin market in the UK, the world’s biggest exporter.

Sales of premium bottles, which are being made in locations as diverse as Islay, Speyside, North Berwick and Shetland –have shot up nearly 40 per cent in the space of just two years.

Last year saw the creation of a Scottish Gin Club dedicated to celebrating the 30 different varieties made north of the Border, while tourism agency VisitScotland has a dedicated section of its website devoted to gin.

The UK’s gin exports were worth more than £390m last year, up from £288m in 2010. However, the value of the UK’s whisky exports dropped from £4.26 billion to £3.95bn in 2014, out of total food and drink experts valued at some £19bn. The government hopes cutting duty on gin by 2 per cent will further boost sales and a new wave of expansion for the industry.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “There is a huge opportunity for British gin makers to export more of our first class products across the globe. The UK’s reputation for excellent quality means our gin is the first choice for martinis in bars the world over.

“This is fertile ground with enormous opportunities. There’s absolutely no reason why our gin trade can’t be as successful as whisky, which made £4bn for our economy last year. I want to harness the ambition of our gin-trepreneurs and see them match that in years to come.

“We will continue to unleash the creative spirit of our food and drink entrepreneurs by giving them the freedom, the technology, the research and the people to think big, take risks and build profitable businesses.”

Wine and Spirits Association chief executive Miles Beale said: “There’s no good reason why [gin] should not be as successful as Scotch.

“The number of craft gins, the way they differentiate themselves and the strength of demand is huge.

“If you look at population and by age there are gin drinkers in every category and that isn’t true of other spirits. Gin is very trendy and there are young people who are drinking gin.”

Iain Stirling, commercial director at Arbikie Highland Estate, which recently launched the “super-premium” Kirsty’s Gin, said: “There is no reason why gin exports cannot continue to grow, especially if single-estate distillers like ourselves continue to develop innovative spirits with true authenticity and provenance.”