So let’s talk 'craft'. The most recent figures from the American Craft Distillers Association show that the number of craft distilleries in the US has grown by 20% year on year. The Wine and Spirits Trade Association puts UK distillery growth at 15%. But what makes a craft distillery?
'Craft' might well be a marketing term which can be slapped on any old bottle to shift stock, but real craft, true craftsmanship is more than marketing. Philippa Gee, founder of London-based Fatty’s Organic Gin says that the term ‘craft’ means “exactly that. It is a craft, made with passion, dedication and attention to detail.”
She goes on to state that ‘craft’ and ‘small-batch’ are often used interchangeably, and Allen Katz, Distiller and Owner of the NY Distilling Co. says “Craft most certainly refers to size of production but I also believe that it should refer to recipe that is singularly unique to the brand.”
Katz doesn’t believe it’s necessary for someone to own their own distillery to create a Craft Gin, but there still needs to be the knowledge, passion and care; Olivier Ward, Editor of GinFoundry.com believes that a truly authentic Craft Gin "is as much about the people behind the product as it is the finished spirit." He continues, "the ethos of care and attention goes from grain to glass, where at each stage, the distiller will personally know the farmers, growers, pickers, etc. Everything is traceable. Each ingredient has provenance and is made by people who share similar values and are all working towards the same goal."
Fatty's Organic Gin is made in very small batches of 100 bottles at a time. As well as being a Craft Gin, Fatty's is 100% organic too - even the ink on the bottle is organic. Gee believes that the time and effort put into the creation of Fatty's, as well as the ingredients and attention to detail, is what makes it a Craft Gin.
The main flavour profile of Fatty's is dill, which is unsurprising when you know that it is made in Dulwich, South London, meaning 'meadow where dill grows’. This distinctive botanical gives Fatty's it's unique herbal flavour, and makes provenance an integral part of the brand’s story.
With such a crowded market, it's imperative that Craft Gins in particular bring products to market which are quality and have stand out. Katz agrees; “The market is most certainly saturated, a sign that the Gin craze is strong and there is always room to stand out if you can present a product that is purposefully different but still accessible”.
There's proof in Katz’s pudding; the NY Distilling Co.’s primary offerings are Perry's Tot, an incredibly smooth Navy Strength Gin which belies it's 57% ABV, and Dorothy Parker New York Gin, which combines traditional botanicals with contemporary - hibiscus, juniper, cinnamon and elderberries, for example.
“Both recipes include nearly 65% juniper berries in the botanical build in order to keep a traditional backbone to the Gin, yet they feature attributes that at once are wholly original and work in the construct of classic Gin cocktails”, says Katz.
But does all this really matter to the consumer? Katz and Gee certainly believe so, arguing that consumers are more aware than ever of what they're buying and how their spirits are produced.
Alyssa Sartor, Owner of August Laura, a cocktail bar in Brooklyn agrees; “The average consumer is way more educated these days, especially in New York City and other large cities at the forefront of the cocktail revolution.
We are so saturated with bars and restaurants with amazing cocktails, if you don't have what they want, they’ll go next door to get it.” Up and coming Craft Gins still need to beware of the big players, though “People can be very particular about their spirit choice and brand loyalty plays a part.”
While it's true that the majority of cosmopolitan cities across the world are enjoying the cocktail revolution, there are still significant points of difference between countries, too. From the drinking culture (cocktails in the USA versus G&Ts in the UK), to styles of Gin. “While the American affinity for Gin continues to grow at a steady clip, it is not nearly as ingrained as it is in British culture”, says Katz.
It's clear that UK Craft Gins are often seen as more traditional due to the focus on the juniper flavour (which Gin must have to be called a Gin), and until recently, fairly standard distilling methods. “When I think of UK Gins I do think of more of an old school approach. Their London Drys and Old Toms will always be a staple for the Gin scene”, says Sartor.
Katz believes that US producers have a certain freedom from this sense of tradition, and Gee agrees; “With different laws and restrictions, it is often much easier for producers in the US to make their own base spirit than in the UK.”
And the impact on flavour? That's where you'll really notice a difference between the two markets. The UK, while juniper-led (for the most part), has many Gins made with botanicals from the English countryside, whereas the American market sees more Gins made with local herbs, crops and botanicals indigenous to their area, that give a brand a sense of originality.
So while the main differences in Craft Gins between the two countries comes down to flavour profile and provenance, Katz sums it up best: “We are both steeped in cocktail traditions and a Gin, on its own or mixed, must perform well in a variety of tests in the hands of bartenders.”
With the growth of Craft Gins on both sides of the Atlantic, it's clear that producers will have to keep innovating to create new Gins that have a point of difference, but can hold up in a variety of mixed drinks to fit in with our cocktail culture.
- US: Barr Hill Gin - utilizing the farm to table approach that Vermont is famous for.
- UK: Bulldog Gin - uses 12 different botanicals and 4 time distillation for a unique flavour profile.
- US: Deaths Door - they have just three botanicals in their Gin and there's something refreshing about a Gin with so few.
UK: Plymouth Gin - it is what I grew up on in my education of Gin and Gin cocktails.