Gin has traditionally been seen as a drink your father enjoyed — a reliable staple, but not something that newcomers to the world of spirits gravitate towards. But, in recent years, the spirit has grown in popularity as newer and younger drinkers (18 to 35 years old) take to this venerable drink and more brands and varieties come to market. Today’s gin aisles feature a wider selection of products from around the world, as well as a growing number of small local distillers. This appeals to the younger millennial and Generation-X crowds, who otherwise wouldn’t drink gin.
“Consumer choice today has never been as great as it is now,” says Jeremiah Soucie, president and head of distilling with Kinsip House of Fine Sprits in Bloomfield, Ont., (formerly 66 Gilead Distillery). “If you look at the LCBO, one of the largest purchasers of spirits and alcohol in the world, five years ago they may have only had a half-dozen [gins], and they would have been the big brands. Now, you see them bringing in smaller and more interesting brands from around the world and within Canada.”
Alanna Bailey, category manager of White Spirits with the LCBO, says gin has been growing steadily in Canada. “In Ontario, we have had compounded double-digit growth over the last several years,” she says. “The great thing about gin-category growth is we have seen strong growth in all areas of the category.”
According to the most recent LCBO Year in Review, 2016-2017, gin ended the year at $84.2 million in sales, gaining 9.2 per cent. The report also showed gin consumers continue to gravitate to premium- and deluxe-priced products, which rose eight per cent and 31.5 per cent, respectively. This is mirrored in other provinces, such as B.C., where gin recorded sales of $11,701,294 in the fiscal 2017/2018 Q1 — up from Q4 sales of $7,928,163. Bailey says while premium brands continue to do well, one of the great stories for gin is the growing popularity of varieties made by small, local distillers across Canada.
Peter Hunt, president and master distiller with Victoria Distillers in Sidney, B.C., says drinkers are attracted to smaller, artisanal distillers such as his because many are open to trying the unique flavours. Take its popular Victoria Gin, which balances its flavour of juniper with notes of citrus, floral and spice, or the company’s Oaken Gin, which takes the classic Victoria Gin and matures it in oak to give vanilla and caramel notes.
Soucie works with local growers of grains and adds local herbs, lavender and hops to the Juniper’s Wit Gin. Nova Scotia’s Ironworks Distillery’s gin uses Nova Scotia juniper berries, and rosehips, combined with an infusion of balsam-fir bud eau de vie. Quebec-based Ungava’s gin uses Labrador tea, cloudberry, Nordic juniper and other botanicals. “Customers want to see and try more complex flavour profiles with their gin, similar to the whisky category, where you can taste the differences in the source of origin and the flavours the distillers bring to their product,” adds Bailey.