As country manager for Brockmans Gin in Spain and Portugal Rob McArdle has seen first hand how gin, and particularly gin and tonic, has become a cultural phenomenon in both countries. Here he shares that amazing growth story and the lessons to be learnt for gin in the premium on-trade.
If we think the UK is enjoying a gin boom, then Rob McArdle says you only have to look at its phenomenal rise in Spain and how its bars and restaurants have made gin and tonic their hero drink.
Let’s rewind to 2010 when all wines and spirits categories were struggling to stop declining sales in Spain. This was a stark contrast from a decade earlier when Spain was widely considered to be the European spirits paradise with over 250,000 on-trade premises, the channel where most brands generated over 70% of their sales. Back then most categories looked forward to positive growth.
But by 2010 an alarming number of distributors, wineries, bars and restaurants were being forced to close their doors permanently and there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. This destructive wind of change was of course the cruel economic crisis, which was indiscriminately affecting all segments of the market and indeed society; or that’s how it seemed.
Out of the dark emerged a new style of bar and restaurant, to which consumers began to flock.
Most of these new fashionable bars described themselves as cocktail bars, but in reality only a small percentage of their business came from the sales of cocktails.
It was the service of high quality gin and tonics that was seducing consumers and was soon to turn gin into the only spirits category with significant growth.
At the time of writing, gin has risen not only to become Spain’s second largest spirits category, having overtaken rum, but to be the only significant category with growth. Gin boasts almost 20% share of all spirits categories (compared with 6% in UK and US) and is growing total volumes annually at double digit growth rates (source: DJ 16, Nielsen). Given the harsh economic backdrop, this trajectory has been far from faddish or trivial. So, how did all this begin and why Spain?
Thanks to the Basques
Even before the gin craze erupted, a longstanding tradition existed amongst influential chefs and Basque gastronomic societies (as far back as the mid to late 1990s). The tradition would be to finish the night’s arduous and artful work over a relaxing G&T. Interestingly, they mostly chose gin above all other spirits for this special moment. This proud adoption and iconic advocacy was a great source of influence for the premium bar and restaurant trade and included conversations on service, balance and temperature of tonics (never warm – must always be chilled).
There were also other influential cyclical factors. Gin always enjoyed a considerable latent consumer base in Spain, but skipped a generation (making this appealing for the next generation).
Last but by no means least, during the early 2000s and towards end of that first decade, the gin arena suddenly began to witness the first serious fundamental product innovation since the mid 19th century when London Dry Gin started to replace the Old Tom style.
Only now, the innovation was, and continues to be, on a much greater scale. New gin brands appeared with different botanical mixes, flavours and taste profiles. Most of these new gin brands offered higher quality, more complexity and commanded higher prices. Innovation included minor tweaks on the London Dry Gin style, to completely different flavour profiles.
Whilst it is not clear which strand of influence happened first or had the biggest impact, it seems that all these aforementioned currents gained pace at a similar time and at some point, further downstream, converged to form this new premium gin boom.
The larger glass
Larger glasses are now the norm in many bars or restaurants in Spain. But the large ‘Copa’ glass is not to accommodate more alcohol. It is used to provide room for the rest of the elements that will together deliver balance.
Large ice cubes are used to chill the balloon glass – then emptied along with the remaining liquid using a cocktail strainer, before filling again.
Quality ice is of utmost importance for a for a bar tender.
5cl of Gin is poured from the jigger. More than this gives too much alcohol on the nose and palate.
Premium tonics in 33cl bottles are pre-chilled. Never will you be served tonic from the pistol or warm tonics from a shelf. If you do, leave; you are in the wrong bar. All tonics come straight out of the fridge and are ideally served by gently pouring over a bar spoon to preserve the effervescence.
Then the final touch is the garnish. Some bartenders unwittingly distort or suffocate important flavours with the inappropriate tonics or garnish, whilst others cleverly enhance key notes to achieve persisting balance hence guaranteeing pleasure until the last drop. We undertook numerous taste tests before settling on our Brockmans G&T Perfect Serve: premium tonic with subtle citric flavours and pink grapefruit zest and blueberries, to protect and enhance the existing balance of flavours present in the gin itself.
Beyond a shadow of doubt, the advent of the gin craze has already left an indelible mark on consumer and trade behaviour. Spaniards have always been spoilt by a sophisticated food culture experienced first and foremost at home. Evidence to support this is the fact that home cooking continues to be the key source of inspiration for many Michelin star chefs in Spain. But never before has so much meticulous and discerning attention been paid when it comes to serving spirits.
Or as ISWR puts it: “The emergence of the super-premium gin trend has not only impacted other categories, but also changed attitudes towards spirits consumption as a whole, and perception of quality in terms of product image and serve.”
The Brockmans experience
Meanwhile at Brockmans Gin we continue to work hard.
Brockmans has enjoyed healthy demand since its launch and is currently ranked third in market share of the super-premium segment in Spain (Source: ISWR 2016 Gins priced above 30€ RSP)). We have recently signed a distribution agreement with one of Spain’s largest premium family importers (Osborne) to increase national availability.
We can attribute our quick growth, at least partly, to the enthusiastic word of mouth that Brockmans has enjoyed amongst influential bar trade and consumers.
The creators of Brockmans Gin dared to create a completely new gin experience, setting out to create a gin that was “so smooth it could be enjoyed neat over ice”. The traditional resinous or piney notes from juniper berries were balanced by violet floral notes coming from blueberries and blackberries, which in turn combine with refreshing citrus tones from bitter Valencian orange peel and subtle citrus and spice from coriander seeds. Other more traditional botanicals add further depth and balance to the original taste profile.
Botanicals and tasting notes aside, the important fact is that Brockmans delivers a completely unexpected, thoroughly enjoyable and memorable taste experience which creates very passionate responses whenever tasted.
From the start we have placed much emphasis on understanding the best way to preserve this original balance and complexity when serving in a gin and tonic (especially important for Spain). We actively share this information face to face, via social media, events and training.
From day one, we have striven for creative originality and excellence but above all, consistency in communicating luxury, seductiveness and sensuality through every detail, big and small. We express this intriguing sensuality through the sleek and tactile lines of the bottle and the night time look and feel which is omnipresent in all our communication and marketing activity: be it in our original art films, educational films, photography, social media channels or the content in our exclusive live events.
In essence, we strive to match the marketing of our brand to the unexpected sensorial experience that our gin delivers anytime someone tries it for the first time.
I’m happy to say, so far so good for Brockmans. According to the latest IWSR data, Brockmans Gin was the fastest growing super-premium gin in Spain and in the UK in 2015. Long may it continue!
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