Where is the Craft Gin Craze Headed?

dunnet bayDunnet Bay Distillery is now into its third year after an unbelievably busy time, producing award-winning spirits in the wilderness of the far north of Scotland. Set up by husband and wife team Martin and Claire Murray, the distillery uses local hand-foraged and home-grown botanicals for its spirits, celebrating the heritage of Caithness. One ingredient, Rhodiola rosea, which gives Rock Rose Gin its name, was said by the Vikings to promote good health and allow you to live to the ripe old age of 200, while the Holy Grass used in their vodka is special to the area and was said to leave a vanilla-sweet smell as it was strewn over church floors.

The North Coast 500, Britain’s Route 66, has had a positive impact on the business with about 80% of the distillery’s visitors arriving while taking in the tour. Dunnet Bay is the route’s only gin distillery and, with its beautiful surroundings, the chance to stop by is an attractive proposition for gin connoisseurs. With the NC500 still relatively new, word-of-mouth recommendations are bound to attract new visitors to the north, and hopefully they’ll stop by to say hello to the Dunnet Bay team.

Craft gins

Scottish craft gins have emerged over the last two years, with distilleries such as Strathearn, NB Gin and Eden Mill joining Dunnet Bay Distillers. However, it’s only in the past year that they’ve become more widely known, and of course the rise in the popularity of gin has helped enormously.

Many people assume that craft spirits are predominantly whiskies, but the popularity of gin has created a new generation of craft spirit producers. Using local ingredients, distillers are passionate about their product and clients become proud ambassadors of the brand as they reconnect with, and take pride in, their surroundings.

The rise in craft gin production can be seen as a by-product of the recent microbrewery revolution. However, generous tax relief for microbreweries means they have fewer units to sell before a profit is seen – small craft distillers pay the same tax as large multi-nationals, meaning expansion (and profit) is slower to achieve. But the spirit drinker will remain loyal to their brand, seeking it out and spreading the name when away from home.

Interaction with consumers is important; they want to know the people behind the brand, what they are drinking and who made it. Today provenance is important.  A small craft distillery can provide an authentically local drink and give those long distance buyers a sense of belonging. And people are willing to pay for a quality product – £30–£40 for a bottle of small-batch craft gin is a small price to pay for a pure drinking experience.

What’s next

Over the next year expect to see more local ingredients being used by distillers, with a move towards more unusual botanicals. Weird and wonderful additions will create more unique flavour profiles as the need to be different and stand out from the crowd becomes more important.

Barrel-aged gins are also likely to make an appearance. This technique changes the appearance, flavour and mouth-feel of the gin as using sherry and wine casks alters the flavour profile of each spirit as it’s produced. Some companies are already experimenting, and the more experimentation, the better the results will be.

Seasonality is something that Dunnet Bay Distillers has already experimented with – being the first distillery to produce a full set of seasonal gins. Expect to see a lot more being created and why not have seasonal gins to complement seasonal cuisine?

There’ll also be experiments as the lines between the spirits blur, and vodka will move into the craft movement. We are also likely to see the emergence of spirits not usually associated with the UK, for example the Dark Matter Spiced Rum now being produced in Banchory.

Collaboration may be more prolific. Dunnet Bay has always welcomed collaboration between companies, e.g. last year’s collaboration with Strathearn Distillery, but it’s expected that more craft gin suppliers will collaborate with other distilleries, breweries and food producers to create unique additions to their portfolio.

As for the Dunnet Bay Distillery, 2017 will see the building expand to make way for a visitor centre and shop, to cater for the rising number of visitors. Gift packs have been a huge success, as have the seasonal editions, which will continue – the Winter Edition is due to go on sale in early December.

Next year will also see the launch of Lassies Toast gin, Scotland’s only Burns gin, to be released in time for Burns Night, along with distillery-only editions in limited batches of 50/60 bottles dependent on ingredients. Export is also on the cards, with bottles being shipped worldwide direct to customers via the website.

Dunnet Bay Distillers want to be seen not only as a manufacturer, but as a place for people to visit and feel welcome. As an independent, young, family business the community is at the heart of what they do and they want to show the world that small, local businesses are good for the local economy and something to be proud of.

Dunnet Bay Distillers will be exhibiting at The International Food & Drink Event, ExCeL London, 19th – 22nd March on stand N2044.

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