Sales of pink gin have rocketed in the past year.
There are now upwards of 150 pink gins on the market and sales show no sign of slowing down in 2019. But not everyone is happy. The boom in pink gin seems to have sparked controversy among the gin community.
A Bit of History
In the past pink gin referred to gin and a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters which turned the spirit into a pale blush pink. Now out of fashion, gin and bitters has been replaced by something much sweeter and more defiantly pink.
For those of you who are not familiar with pink gin, and I can’t believe there is a single one among you who hasn’t sipped a Barbie-pink G&T, I’m talking fruit flavoured gins, typically strawberry, raspberry, grapefruit, rose and rhubarb among others. Although pomegranate and hibiscus are edging their way into the category too.
Classic vs Contemporary
The style of this type of gin is labelled contemporary. Simply put this means that although the gin has juniper as its lead botanical, and by EU law it has to to be called gin (more of that later), it is less dominant than a classic gin where the flavour is juniper-forward. The term juniper-forward means that when you taste a juniper-forward gin, juniper will be the dominant flavour you taste.
Pink gins are often by their nature juniper-behind, if I can coin a phrase of my own (I say this very tongue-in-cheek).
The star botanical of these gins is very often a fruit, flower or berry. Sometimes this fruit, flower or berry is distilled with the other gin botanicals which results in a clear spirit.
Most often they are infused in the gin post-distillation. Infusing post-distillation gives the resulting gin a pleasing (depending on your opinion) pink colour ranging from the palest of baby pink to lurid flamingo. After all, what kind of gin connoisseur would drink a strawberry gin that wasn’t a luscious strawberry pink?
Sugar is sometimes added to supplement the sweetness of the fruit. Typically pink gins are sweeter than traditional London Dry gins.
The Beginning of the Trend?
Edgerton started the trend in 2011 but it was the big brands Gordon’s and Beefeater who took up the pink baton and ran with it. Gordon’s Pink in September 2017 and Beefeater following in February 2018, claiming fruity gin was nothing new as their founder James Burroughs’ raspberry gin was the inspiration for Beefeater Pink.
Indeed it seems as if every distillery last year brought out a pink expression. Adnams, Asda and Collagin to name but a few.
And why wouldn’t they? According to WSTA (the Wine and Spirits Trade Association) sales of flavoured gin (well, yes, not necessarily pink) made up a fifth of the total sales of 66 million bottles of gin up to 3rd Nov 2018. That’s a whopping 13.2 million bottles in the UK.
Pink gin has also been doing its best to boost export trade in Ireland. And at home Irish gin drinkers quaffed (love that word) half a million bottles of pink gin last year according to figures published in January by the ABFI (Alcohol Beverage Federation of Ireland) .
At the tail end of last year, Cambridge based Pinkster, a brand that could quite feasibly claim to have popularised pink gin, privately raised £1.1 million to boost production.
Pink is big business.
So Who is Buying Pink Gin?
Consumer organisation CGA have identified these new drinkers as being predominantly young and female. These young hipsters are dictating which way the market goes.
A Terrible Year
But all this popularity for pink has attracted a certain amount of flack. Some gin drinkers claim that these new pink gins are just flavoured vodkas, no different to alcopops, masquerading as gin for the swank of the label and that they are bringing the category down. And some bartenders are disgruntled at having to serve sweet gins that are no more than fruit liqueurs. I love this article in The Guardian where one barman claims that 2018 has been a ‘terrible year’.
Admittedly, some pink gins on the market are very lacking in juniper and won’t satisfy a real juniper junkie. I would be just as quick to shout cheat if I felt I was being hoodwinked. There are some pink so-called gins I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot long swizzle stick. But not all pink gins lack juniper and there are some in which the juniper and key fruit botanical are crafted very nicely.
I think the reason pink gin as a whole comes in for so much flack is that unlike other contemporary gins on the market, which contain to my mind the merest whiff of juniper juice and don’t deserve the label gin, pink gin doesn’t fly under the radar. By being so obviously out there on the gin shelf it makes itself an easy target. The fact that the pink sector is led by the big brands and not craft distillers is enough reason for some of its critics. There are just as many awful clear gins on the market as there are pink. But it’s difficult to herd them all together in one easily identifiable group.
The Wider Debate
This pink gin thing is part of a wider debate about fake gin which has been rumbling on for some time now. Hayman’s Call Time on Gin campaign was initiated to put pressure on The Gin Guild and the WSTA to enforce the already in place EU legislation that clearly states that gin should predominantly taste of juniper.
And while taste is subjective, given the number of gins on the market which even to the most casual of gin drinkers appear to have minimal juniper, this campaign appears to be having little effect in galvanising these toothless organisations.
Now I don’t want to get stuck in a rut with the whole pink debate but I do think there is a bit of macho posturing going on here as well as a bit of gin snobbery. The gin snobs will say that the distillers are pandering to a market with uneducated palates. Those who don’t want to be seen as gin snobs will say that these gins will lead people on to drink more classic gins.
I don’t think they will. People who say they don’t like gin but are happy to drink a fruity pink gin with little juniper flavour will stay with their preference.
A Little Clarity
I think this pink debate will rumble on for as long as the fashion for pink gin lasts and then it will be something else. In the meantime, it is deflecting attention away from the real issue here: that of clarity.
Gin brands need to be upfront about where their gin brands are produced. If your gin is a contracted gin then say so on the label AND your website. Don’t mislead the consumer with misty-eyed romanticism about your grandmother’s recipe for gin that you are recreating in a 100-year-old copper pot still called Florence. When in fact its made in a huge industrial distillery. A little honesty, please.
And if your gin is only 22.5% ABV then it’s a liqueur. And don’t go calling it a gin liqueur either with the word ‘gin’ all big and bold – as if you think it will fool anyone.
Also, if your gin is only 30% ABV it is not even a spirit let alone a gin.
And never, never, never (need to calm down a little here – deep breaths) put glitter in a gin. Glitter is for 4-year-olds to paint with.
My Top Pink Gins
So what do I have in my gin cabinet? Well, anything and everything from juniper robust gins that would make a pine forest weep to a few of those pink fruity delights (with a respectable amount of juniper) for occasions when I don’t necessarily want the full-on juniper whack of a pine tree on my palate.
I think they are great in cocktails. And yes, I even mix these frivolous pink gins with lemonade. How girly of me!
For those of a nervous disposition look away now. There are some photos of my pink gin collection coming up.