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When does a gin stop being a gin…?

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By Will Lowe, WSET certified spirits educator and master distiller at The Cambridge Distillery


There’s no doubt that the growth in popularity of gin has stormed up over the past year. According to the latest sales figures from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association, more than £1bn’s worth of gin has been sold in the last 12 months, and many new gin distilleries have opened across the UK.

While this is good news for Britain’s pubs, there is confusion looming over the gin world as many new distilleries are veering away from traditional recipes and the ‘predominant flavour of juniper’ that the EU definition requires is being lost.

As a distiller myself, there’s no denying that experimentation with production methods and botanicals is what allows gin varieties to have their unique identities, and gives the growing generation of gin drinkers a world of choice. But the question is being raised again as to what does it really mean to be a gin and, importantly, what does it mean to the consumer?

The record-breaking sales, which also reflect a 40% rise in exports over the past five years, have been pinned down as a result of the rise in popularity of all things British, according to the WSTA, from James Bond to Downton Abbey. The increasing demand for British gin-based drinks and opportunity it brings for a new wave of budding distillers is something to be celebrated, but education is needed to bring clarity to the definition of what makes a gin a gin, before the bubble bursts.

As an educator for the Wine & Spirit Education Trust spirit courses, it is my duty to make sure the experimentation with new varieties is well-informed.


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WSET’s spirit courses explore the production methods and characteristics of the main spirit categories, while also exploring key brands and the use of spirits in cocktails. With hundreds of options on the market, both classic and not, it is more important than ever for bartenders and drinkers to understand the sources and processes behind the spirits they are using.

For me, without that bold juniper flavour it’s just not gin.

But I’ll gladly taste them all until I’m convinced otherwise…

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) is the largest global provider of qualifications in the field of wines, spirits and sake. Courses are available at all levels from beginner to professional and offered through over 600 approved programme providers across the world. To find a course provider near you visit wsetglobal.com