Boutique distilleries becoming the tipple of choice

Three Rivers Gin, which is based in Manchester

Boutique distilleries are pushing big brands off the shelves of bars and restaurants research has found.

The research by UHY Hacker Young found that an impressive 53 new distilleries opened across the UK in 2016, as artisan drinks brands continue to take market share from the global giants.

In England, there was a 25% increase in new distilleries over the last year, making the jump from 28 to 25, many of whom are taking part in the ‘Gin-naissance’ that has taken the UK by storm in recent years. Research shows that in 2016, UK sales of gin reached £1 billion in sales for the very first time. Scotland has also seen a 50% increase in new distilleries.

One of the many gin distilleries which opened in 2016 includes City of Manchester Distillery, which is located on Red Bank and is home of the brand new Manchester Three Rivers Gin. CEO Greg Hull, who teamed up with Master Distiller Dave Rigby to launch the distillery, became hooked on the idea of opening Manchester’s first ever city centre and the two entrepreneurs launched the business in August 2016.

Greg said: “We were witnessing the drinks market up close, and had passion and excitement about the potential of the new Gin market.  This passion and excitement related to the creation, creativity and history present in the category as well as the market growth potential for a super-premium product.

“Arguably the biggest influence on the change in alcoholic drinking taste was the emergence several years ago of ‘craft’ beer.  It showed people that they could re-imagine long held views on a culturally ingrained product.  Everyone knew beer, but not done in that way.  It created a wider access to the product. I feel this had a knock-on effect in many categories, especially in our market of Gin.

“People are far more willing to experiment now and try unique flavours and new experiences.  Because of this they have much higher standards of what they define as ‘good’, and are confronted with thousands of products that they are willing to try to see if they meet that standard.”

The CEO thinks that what is making independent distilleries incredibly successful is that people believe in the authenticity and quality of the product. He said: “Long gone are the days where a very large company could bring out a product, whack it with cute branding and in essence try and fool consumers into buying it.

“When we started Manchester Three Rivers Gin we only cared about creating something that was 100% us. Made by us, to our very high standards, and never to compromise.  I believe people now understand that independent brands can deliver quality products that they want to support, that they want to be part of.”

But who are the people opening these distilleries and does it take certain qualities to succeed? Greg said the main quality needed is determination. He said: “The people in the Gin world are what make it such a great place to be right now. They are some of the most eclectic, hardworking, bold, creative and eccentric people in the world.

“Running a full legitimate distillery operation is not an easy thing at all, it is fun, creative and rewarding but also very challenging, and incredibly difficult.”

However, there is the concern that boutique distilleries could be just a fad and that the trend will eventually run its course. Greg believes that independent distilleries have got what it takes to continue the ‘Gin-naissance’ for years to come. He said: “The short term will be driven by economics, and the long term will be driven by quality.

“Gin is entering a boom phase. By default, this will mean that at least for the next 2 years many independent producers will look to enter the market of all shapes and sizes.

“Looking at it in regards to quality and the long term, as with most boom products, you will see a thinning out of brands over the next 5 years. But what will be left is the independent distilleries who stuck to the driving ethos’ of quality and authenticity, leaving a core of fantastic products who want to create legacies and continue to grow in the right way alongside the big brands.

“As a collective we will always look to forge ahead, creating the next product, taking on the next challenge. I honestly believe the future is bright and always exciting.”