Gin distilleries continue to pop up all over the world and Australia is fast catching up, with 96 distilleries currently making gin (and that doesn’t include the many produced under contract). We’re making a mark on the local and global stage with increasingly original gins, using botanicals unique to the country.
But are we losing sight of what makes gin, gin?
I am genuinely excited at the vast array of gins available, however in the UK, there seems to be a frightening race to the bottom in terms of what you can label as gin:
Is it time we regulated gin?
The issue has become so heated that recently Hayman’s gin created Call time on fake gin set out a campaign to encourage people to put an end to products being marketed as gin, when they clearly aren’t.
Currently, there is an EU regulation that applies to London Dry gin. It states it must be over 37.5% ABV, have all the botanicals must be present at the time of distillation and distillers can’t add post-distillation, other than water.
In Australia, the production of whisky, rum and brandy, must abide by certain rules, and yet there are no rules around gin.
Recently, I saw a social media post from an Australian retailer, who confidently stated that gin had to have 51% juniper in its botanical mix to be called gin.
Wishful thinking! A distiller can put as much or as little juniper in the recipe as they like, and still call it gin. I have heard of spirits where gin ‘flavourings’ in lieu of actual botanicals are simply added to ethanol, and labelled gin. The cynic in me is wondering is slapping gin on the label is little more than a marketing exercise.
The Ginasium has created an amazing graphic designed to really help people understand the different types of labelling and how easily we can be fooled into thinking something is gin, when it isn’t
Does the average consumer care?
I get to spend time with lots of savvy gin-lovers who I think could spot a fake gin fairly easily. These are people who get out to distilleries, are avid collectors of gin, and are most likely to come and say hello to me at Junipalooza. I did a quick Instagram poll to get people’s thoughts on whether gin should be more regulated or at least have clearly defined rules on labelling. Most responded “yes”.
Key people in the Australian gin industry have mixed views on increased regulation:
Stuart Gregor, founder of Four Pillars said, “The last thing we need in this country is more regulation. We already can’t drink spirits after midnight in Sydney plus we have taxation that makes it hard for producers. Further unnecessary regulation would be yet another impost we don’t need.”
He thinks that if products are blatantly being passed off as something they are not, then we have Consumer Affairs to turn to. “Consumers can vote with their feet and their wallets and the best products ALWAYS win out at the end. The dodgy producers will be found out by clever, informed retailers, bartenders and consumers.”
Matt Bailey, Scottish Malt Whisky Society Ambassador for Australia concurs:
“People often don’t call for better regulation of product until it’s already being abused, but by the same token, the growth and strength of a product sector is often because of that lack of red tape to begin with, so one must tread carefully here. Ensuring provenance in a spirit comes from us working closely with the distillers a to avoid any mishaps or dodgy claims, but as the market grows, the concern is that some gins shouldn’t have been labelled as such. The movement towards transparency, authenticity, and integrity in message is just the tip of the iceberg in what should be the goal to create the best spirits we can, always. In the end the consumer will decide.”
Sean Baxter from Never Never Distilling Co., takes a different view. “There are strict rules in this country for the production of rum, whisky and brandy, why should gin be any different?”
He continues “There are regulations on labelling the number of standard drinks, the ABV% etc., but nothing about what’s actually in the bottle. All we expect is that we align with pre-existing European and American legislation which at least defines what actually makes a gin, a gin. Defining it as a juniper-flavoured spirit would be a great starting point, that’s without even touching on various production methodologies.”
Consumer Affairs and Food Standard ANZ, offers regulations around geographical representation, but only this definition of ‘spirit’:
A spirit is defined in Standard 2.7.5 as:
‘a potable alcoholic distillate, including whisky, brandy, rum, gin, vodka and tequila, which, unless otherwise required by this Standard, contains at least 37% alcohol by volume, produced by distillation of fermented liquor derived from food sources, so as to have the taste, aroma and other characteristics generally attributable to that particular spirit.’
So according to this, if it smells like gin and tastes like gin, it doesn’t matter whether there is juniper in it or not!
We are dependent on reputable distillers to do the right thing and stick to the basic tenet that gin is a juniper-based spirit. I’d like to think if you are dropping close to $100 on a bottle of “premium” gin, you are getting the genuine article.