Fast becoming the UK's most popular spirit, sales of gin could overtake blended Scotch whisky within the next four years, according to a new report.

This year, sales of blended Scotch whisky totaled just over £1.25bn, while gin sales reached £1.15bn, according to data from market research and statistics website Euromonitor.

The research firm predicts that sales of the popular white spirit will continue to rise and will eventually exceed the sales of blended Scotch whisky by 2019 (which are expected to decline to around £1.17bn) where they will reach around £1.32bn.

Traditionally described as an ‘English drink’, Scotland’s heritage of distilling and the continuing growth of the number of newer distilleries popping up across the country has seen Scottish gin production take off as a by-product.

Now, over 70 per cent of all gins produced in the UK come from Scotland, where traditional gin brands like Gordons and Tanqueray are facing rising competition from medium-sized producers like Hendricks and Caorunn as well as smaller craft distilleries like Rock Rose, Makar and Pickering’s.

Sales of the on-trend spirit have risen by around 20 per cent over the last year and its popularity both with producers and consumers shows no signs of abating.

Its versatility, not only in the way it can be produced, but also in the way that consumers can customise it, through the use of garnishes, mixers like tonic and soda, or in cocktails, is also seen as a key component in its surge in popularity.

Drinks companies, particularly those already producing whisky, are also turning their hands to creating gins as they are easier to make and require little or no maturation time.

The ease of this production and the versatility of the spirit has also lent itself well to the creation of a new craft distilling sector, leading to a rise in independent start-ups and entrepreneurs creating their own gin brands.

Jeremy Cunnington, senior research analyst at Euromonitor International this is a hugely important factor in the spirit’s growth, he said: “Blended Scotch continues to suffer from volume decline thanks to an old fashioned and hence low rent image compounded by discounting.

“Gin was suffering a similar fate, but thanks to the development of the super-premium category led by William Grant’s Hendrick’s brand and the rises of the craft movement and cocktail culture, has helped not only drive volume growth but also premiumise the category.”

Tony Reeman-Clark, managing director at Strathearn Distillery which produces both hand-crafted gin and whisky, believes that much of the success is down to gin’s ease of access, relative low cost and the sheer variety of flavours available, he said: “Distilling gin doesn’t require a huge amount of equipment or investment – and you can have your product on the shelves in a week. The demand is there and will remain, that is why people are starting to open gin distilleries.”

“There is also the huge variety of flavour profiles possible – especially as European legislation has been changed to say that gin no longer has to be juniper lead – whatever that means.

The founder of the Scottish Craft Distillers Association also likens the resurgence of gin to that of real ale, saying: “Twenty odd years ago when real ale began to take off, many people from all walks of life started to brew their own real ales.

“The big brewers thought it was a fad and that it would go away – but it hasn’t, and it is still growing and the big boys aren’t really sure what to do about it.

“Hand crafted gins, like real ales, have a story, providence, and a wide range of interpretations – and that gives the category huge appeal.

“From gins like Strathearn’s Heather Rose, which turns pink with tonic and tastes like Prosecco, to Loch Ness gin which is made with local juniper berries, it is this provincial aspect and the stories attached to them that really help to selling them.

“Whisky or rather Scotch, requires a huge investment to produce a single type of drink, and though the casks make a big difference, the flavour profile can not be changed as dramatically as with gin.”

Rosemary Gallagher, head of communications at the Scotch Whisky Association, said that the market for Scotch whisky is still as strong as ever and the success of both spirits goes hand in hand, she said:

“Scotch is still popular at home, with the UK being the third largest market. Last year, almost 85 million bottles of Scotch were released for sale in the UK, up 2 per cent on 2014. This is despite the UK being a highly competitive drinks market and tax and vat on an average priced bottle of Scotch being around 77 per cent.

“The gin industry has also been given a boost by the number of new distilleries opening in Scotland. Scotch Whisky has to mature for at least three years so many new entrants are making gin while waiting for their whisky.”

About The Author

Sean Murphy

Driven by a passion for all things drinks-related, Sean writes for The Scotsman extensively on the subject. He can also sometimes be found behind the bar at the world famous Potstill bar in Glasgow where he continues to enhance his whisky knowledge built up over 10 years advising customers from all over the world on the wonders of our national drink. Recently, his first book was published. Dubbed Gin Galore, it explores Scotland's best gins and the stories behind those that make them.

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