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With Flavors And Barrel Finishes, Gin Distillers Innovate To Reinvent The Category

December 28, 2018

The U.S. gin category is led by million-case brands Seagram’s, Tanqueray, and Bombay, which account for a combined 40% of the 9.3-million-case U.S. market. While those top players occupy a huge slice of the total pie, smaller labels are innovating and gaining followers in the mixology community, laying the groundwork for future growth.

Biggar and Leith’s Malfy gin ($30) is finding success in the super-premium segment, selling around 90,000 cases globally this year—just two years after it launched. “Malfy’s Italian provenance has great consumer appeal, which is a differentiator for us in the world of gin,” founder Elwyn Gladstone recently told SND. “If you look at brands like Hendrick’s, Sipsmith, or Bulldog, they took many years to get to 100,000 cases, so we’re much further along at this point than we initially expected.” In addition to its standard offering, Malfy also has its Con Limone expression, made with lemon. This year, it added Gin Rosa, a pink gin made with Sicilian grapefruit and rhubarb, and Con Arancia, made with blood orange.

Davos Brands’ Aviation Gin is also carving out a niche, and is currently at around 40,000 cases in the U.S., according to Davos CEO Andrew Chrisomalis. Aviation has doubled over the past two years and Davos believes it could potentially double again in 2019. Chrisomalis says the on-premise will be key to Aviation’s progress, adding that its partnership with actor Ryan Reynolds is helping to bring new visibility to the brand.

Playing in the craft space is Captive Spirits’ Big Gin, which retails at around $30 and includes a London Dry offering as well as innovative barrel finishes like Bourbon Barreled and Peat Barreled. The Bourbon Barreled gin is rested for six months in barrels from Heaven Hill, while the Peat Barreled gin rests for four months in barrels from Westland Distillery. Seattle-based Captive has a distribution partnership with Oregon’s Hood River Distillers.

Fort Collins, Colorado-based Dry Town Gin takes a local angle, seeking a balance between the London Dry and American styles while highlighting locally grown sage in its recipe. Distributed to 21 states, the brand is growing from a small base, particularly in the on-premise, according to Luis Gonzalez, CEO of producer Old Elk Distillery. Mixology outreach will continue to be crucial for the brand moving forward, Gonzalez notes.

Other gin distillers are launching experimental expressions to tap into growing niches of the market. O.R.E. 118 is a raw vegan gin produced in California from Chardonnay grapes. “Most of the distillation is done below 100 degrees Fahrenheit using vacuum distillation,” says founder Robert Elder. The low temperature ensures that the product meets raw vegan requirements. Elder says O.R.E. 118 has been making inroads in the New York City on-premise, and is planning further expansion for the new year. —Shane English

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