Stephen White: The gin industry is booming but we now need to define what a Scottish gin is

The idea of foul play in the Scottish gin industry has been grossly exaggerated - but it is time we defined what truly makes a Scottish gin, writes The Scottish Gin Society’s founder Stephen White.

Published 26th Jan 2018
Updated 21 st Sep 2023

Here at The Scottish Gin Society, we’ve only been around just under two years, bringing news of all things Scottish Gin to thirsty consumers – not only in Scotland but much further afield.

The rise of our informative platform has been stratospheric and it mirrors the explosion of interest from the consuming public and the ‘boom town’ style expansion of the Scottish Gin industry itself.

Early in 2017, we decided to work on the most comprehensive Scottish Gin Map yet to be published.

We tracked down every gin, consulted every expert, questioned where the gin was made, how it was made and looked at the stories behind the people making it.

We even conducted our own independent market research into what defines a Scottish Gin – involving all of the distilleries, key influencers and industry bodies.

Yet here we are in 2018 and the map is still not published. Why?

There are two main reasons.

First, it’s been a real struggle to keep up with all of the new gins coming out.

By the fourth quarter of 2017, we were facing a new gin appearing
almost every week.

Second – and this is the real problem – has been trying to define what is truly a Scottish gin.

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There have been numerous recent articles calling out so called impostors who, it is claimed, are unfairly profiteering from genuine distillers who have invested heavily here in Scotland.

Gins made in England purporting to be Scottish; Gins made in Scotland but with raw materials all imported from abroad; Scottish Gin brands made under contract somewhere else in Scotland.

All of these have been called out by many commentators as fakes and frauds.

The industry needs regulation in order to survive. Hysteria may be creeping into the debate.

Some would say that to be truly Scottish, every element of the gin needs to be made and produced here in Scotland. But that would narrow the field down to almost none.

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And our experts at Scottish Food and Drink will tell you that how to define what is a Scottish Product is a problem in almost every product category.

In my keynote speech at our very first Scottish Gin Awards, I emphasised the need and the opportunity to create ‘Scottish Gin The Brand’.

The interest in gin is huge; the permutations for drinking it are limitless; the industry is expanding at breakneck speed; but it’s obvious to me that the consumer interest in Scottish Gin continues to outstrip the speed at which we can produce it.

‘Scottish Gin The Brand’ has the chance to become the next Scotch Whisky Industry. Tourism will be massively enhanced by its worldwide appeal.

Thousands of jobs will be created and Tax revenues will spike.

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But to achieve this, we need clarity on what is a Scottish Gin.

Those so-called impostors either need to bring their production to Scotland or be totally transparent about where they are produced.

This way, our Gin Distilling industry will flourish and the consumer will make informed choices about what gin they like to drink –Scottish or not.

It’s regularly quoted that 70 per cent of all UK gin production happens in Scotland.

What is less quoted is that much of that comes from the two major products that we are all well acquainted with – Gordons and Tanqueray.

Are these Scottish Gins? You decide.

What is certain is that 2018 will see this debate crystallise. The Scottish Gin Society will stay firmly at the centre of things – working with distillers and other industry stakeholders, and also keeping our ever growing body of members informed.

And perhaps we might get that Gin Map finished soon!

• Stephen White is founder of the Scottish Gin Society

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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