Late last year The Herald newspaper in Scotland ran a fairly negative article decrying the fact that some Scottish craft gins are made in “English factories”. Leaving aside the use of the word factory – and that there are several very fine distilleries down south- this article certainly would lead you to believe that there was a really large issue with the gins made by some Scottish brand owners.
Provenance is massively important – having confidence in what you are drinking is a huge part of trust built between producers and consumers. It is of course a factor in Scotland itself being a trusted brand internationally and that products that purport to be Scottish in some way do in fact have at least some connections to here. We do have to be vigilant that this trust is not eroded. Indeed the work of the SWA in ensuring Scotch is protected is an important part of ensuring consumers have confidence in what they are drinking.
We do need to get this in context however. The brands mentioned directly in the Herald article account for a tiny proportion by volume of gin made in Scotland and not much more in terms gin by value. Generally they are relatively new market entrants trying to make a mark, enter a maturing marketplace and in some cases do make the information on how they are produced available to consumers. Is that enough? That is probably up to the consumer.
What the article misses to a large extent is the fact that that rules and regulations in this area are grey and open to interpretation. Businesses operate by understanding the regulatory constraints in which they are working and then set about to work within these. There is nothing in the Herald piece which says anyone has done anything illegal. Whether it’s ethical is a different matter.
Again where the article does dip it’s toe in the water is the variety of methods in which gin can be produced and the different ways this is happening. Going to the next level of how to then say whether something can be categorised as Scottish, Hebridean or Outer Mongolian is a different step entirely. A lot of gin is made from grain neutral spirit which is then redistilled, alongside botanicals, to give the gin it’s flavour. Where do you draw the cut off line; the botanical flavourings, the base spirit, the grain and water the base spirit is produced from, where it’s distilled or bottled- what would allow the product to point to it’s geographical home?
What we have to recognise in the first instance is that craft producers are doing a great job of enlivening a market that a few years ago was pretty staid and not really going anywhere. Now we have a greater diversity, more flavourings, a burgeoning cocktail scene and a real sense of excitement in the market. To set a benchmark amongst producers who are at very different stages of their business however is not easy and will undoubtedly create tensions between operators. To that end the Scottish Craft Distillers Association have started a ball rolling but it would be good to see more producers join and see the benefit of both them and their products being accredited. So in terms of New Years resolutions here’s what I suggest:
- Scottish suppliers to be encouraged, cajoled, asked into the joining of the SCDA.
- Suitable transitional arrangements to be put in place for suppliers who may not meet all the criteria that full SCDA members meet just now but are working toward them within sensible timescales.
- Furthering the understanding of what Craft Distilled in Scotland stands for- both for the trade, politicians and critically for the public.
- A willingness to self police and highlight poor practice should it exist.
- The garnering of support on a political level to find ways to ensure that when brands are trading on Scottish connections these can be demonstrated and where they are not, suitable regulation is available to any enforcement authority.
While you do not want to create rules for rules sake- indeed there is a lively debate about whether regulations stifle or enhance creativity- you do want to ensure the playing field is level and the rules of the game are sensible and proportionate. By creating a strong base from which to work, everyone can continue to make a success of this market- and most importantly that the industry can continues to delight drinkers and enjoy the trust of customers.