Is the SA Gin Industry still booming or drowning in gin?

Craft gin spirits have gained considerable popularity in SA over the last couple years, but have we reached saturation? With over 250 different SA craft gins available, can this small niche market sustain this growing category?

It appears as though gin is not a passing fad in South Africa. It doesn’t look as if it’ll be knocked off its fashionable high ground by rum or any another spirit as predicted by many. It is still very much trending in the UK, and here in SA we have not only discovered the effects of our diverse range of fynbos botanicals on the spirit, but we have also exploded onto the market with hundreds of different variations in a very short space of time.

Gin has so much to offer a casual G&T lover

SA entrepreneurs have risen to the occasion and produced a number of really interesting tonic waters to accompany this growing category. Clearly there was a need in this country for bespoke spirits made with tender loving care and a warm, fuzzy backstory because we took on this new hype with an intensity that not even the craft beer guys got to enjoy!

With millennials increasingly being exposed to international trends, manufacturers are restructuring their ranges in response to demand for lifestyle products. Pink gin is in and we have black, shimmer, colour-changing and hemp-infused gin, so heaven help you if you only have Gordon’s in your drinks cabinet. You should be ashamed of yourself!

Even my local Italian restaurant has started stocking SA craft gin for fear of losing customers who are insistent that they wanted local gin. So there is no doubt that SA has caught gin fever. 

Local gin is lekker

The fashion for premium gin has even attracted winemakers, many of whom have increased their portfolio to include craft gin. Regional gins are fast becoming common practice with Knysna enjoying 2 different gin brands, Prince Albert with its own gin, even Evita se Darling now boasts her own gin, aptly named Darlington!

With contract distilling (where a brand outsources the making and distillation of the gin to a big spirit company like Oude Moulen), becoming common practice, it feels a bit like anyone with a sexy bottle, savvy branding and a bit of cash can now launch a gin. The crazy flavour profiles of these new gins are a stretch, as they often skip the traditional distillation process that dictates using a variety of botanicals to introduce flavour profile, opting instead for a quick adding of artificial flavourants. So, SA’s loose definition of what constitutes a gin is enabling this category to become rather messy and overrun with overrated gins.

Are all these new gin brands going to survive?

We may be seeing signs that this market is saturated so it’s time we take a hard look at the SA gin industry and try to unravel whether it will continue to be a booming success or a bursting bubble.

Looking at the UK’s market for comparison and a clue as to where our trajectory may lie, it would appear that for companies who look to grow too quickly, problems are far more likely to occur. Those who remain focused on quality and grow more organically are more likely to weather the years. And although the SA gin drinking public appear to be rather lacking in education on what a gin should taste like, at the end of the day we do still insist on quality and taste. So let’s hope that those that are taking the modern route and often producing inferior products will be the first take heed and adjust their methods accordingly.

Will it still be so trendy to have a gin bar next big party in 2 year’s time?

I really do think so! Many more people are now drinking gin. People who used to drink wine or bubbles have switched to gin, which boasts less allergens and leaves one with a lesser hangover. Sugar-free tonic waters are ensuring the calorie counters are kept happy and the garnish in a G&T ensures all the food groups are covered! 

Even non-gin drinkers are insisting on a good craft gin collection on their liquor trays. It’s a talking point at Sunday lunch: “Can you taste that botanical?” and “Is this floral, citrus, spice?”. And the simple act of making a G&T has become an art form. It gives us something to show off and talk about, sample and taste. And all those little bowls of fresh garnish options are so pretty and inviting.

Yes, the gin trend is here to stay. Gin is way too fun to be a passing fad. There will definitely be a few drop offs along the way but I think the SA gin shelves are going to offer us ever-increasing diversity – and hopefully, increasing quality! –  for a long time to come.