Voices of Gin

Paul Jackson, The Gin Guide.

Published: 26th September 2019

In Voices of Gin we interview influential individuals in the global gin community. We meet the people whose activities and businesses play a role in telling the wider story of gin and help support gin makers. We wanted to highlight some of the people we see as being key figures who drive forward the discussions surrounding the gin category and whom we see as adding value to gin.

In this Voices of Gin feature we meet Paul Jackson of The Gin Guide. Paul Jackson founded The Gin Guide in 2014 as a resource for both consumers and gin makers to help promote and support the global gin industry. Along with The Gin Guide website, The Gin Guide provide a variety of services including a membership package, created to help showcase gins and the people behind them. We caught up with Paul to learn more about The Gin Guide and get Paul’s insight and thoughts about Scottish Gin and the wider gin category. 

What motivated you to establish The Gin Guide?

Going back 5 or 6 years, The Gin Guide was born out of a passion for gin, excitement about the increasing diversity in the gin industry, and not being able to find the information I wanted to know about the wide range of gins that we were starting to emerge.

Back then there was largely only either retail information available (e.g. ABV and a line or two of top level brand information) or long-form content that at the time was a little overwhelming and jargon-filled for me to be able to easily take in and enjoy reading.

Assuming that other consumers and trade professionals may be looking for the same information as me, I created The Gin Guide with the aim of presenting unique, independent, concise, factual and transparent information about each gin and distillery, with no marketing blurb and everything you’d want to know to decide if you’d like to try or buy that gin. Plus there’s always been a goal to include some interesting and lesser known details that readers could perhaps share at a dinner party, when hosting a gin tasting, or when putting together a gin menu.

What were the objectives of the business and have they changed?

The Gin Guide mission is to enable consumers and the trade to discover new gins, distilleries and ways to enjoy and serve gin, whilst providing a platform and channels for gin producers to reach new audiences, tell their stories, sell more bottles and achieve more tour bookings.

The idea and format seemed to really strike a chord with consumers, the trade and gin brands alike. Now with hundreds of thousands of website visitors per year and being around the top 10 largest Instagram followings for any gin brand or gin-related organisation, in many ways the objectives are unchanged after all this time. It’s all about providing valuable, transparent and useful content that supports the gin industry.

Who’s supported you and The Gin Guide?

The gin brands that backed The Gin Guide from the early days gave me belief in the concept and I’ll always be grateful to them and continue to work with them and support them. The likes of Colonsay Gin, Malfy Gin, Pinkster Gin, Old Bakery Gin, Kirkjuvagr Gin and Orkney Gin Company, as well as many others, have all been wonderful advocates and have seen various iterations of The Gin Guide offering over the years and always got behind it.

The community of gin bloggers and enthusiasts has also been incredible. I’ve made so many great friends and there’s such a sense of collaboration and mutual support. From simply sharing each other’s content, being a sounding board for ideas, or contributing comments for each other’s articles, through to a number of this wonderful group being on the judging panel for The Gin Guide Awards, it’s a special community of be part of.

What’s been the highlight of your gin journey so far?

The Gin Guide Awards is the source of a lot of highlights. When I’m at events or in spirits retailers and I see The Gin Guide Awards logo brandished on bottles, marketing materials and exhibition stands, it’s still always exciting. But the biggest reward has been seeing how a growing group of gin producers have used their success in The Gin Guide Awards to really accelerate their growth and achieve distribution contracts, export accounts and new listings. When something you’ve created and dedicated yourself to has a real outcome of actually enhancing people’s businesses and lives, it’s so rewarding and I’m so thrilled for them.

What challenges have you had to overcome to get to where you are now?

Finding where to store my gin collection! London house prices really don’t accommodate the need for a gin cellar. I’m fairly certain that the postman thinks I have a problem, but there’s so many stunning gins and so little time…

The number of gins on the market is both an opportunity and a challenge, and my inbox is always bursting at the seams each morning! One of our key values is that we always do a structured tasting of each gin we feature and we review each gin ourselves and experiment to find serving and garnish suggestions. It’s a more thorough process than we could opt for, and it’s not the most time or cost efficient, but it’s crucial to building and maintaining our reputation, transparency and credibility.

What’s the best thing about working in the world of Gin?

It’s difficult not to say ‘the gin’ here! The reality is that the best thing about working in the gin industry is the people, as they make it such a special industry. As well as there being the aforementioned community of gin bloggers and enthusiasts, I travel all over the UK and the world to meet the people behind the gins and distilleries, so that I can hear their unique stories, see what they have created and what they do, get to know them and expand my knowledge to share on The Gin Guide.

What’s your favourite cocktail and why?

At the moment, I love a Gimlet and a Martinez, having gone through a Martini obsession and then a Negroni obsession in recent years. A Gimlet is short and simple to make, but summery and flavoursome. Most Gimlet recipes use lime cordial, but swapping that for fresh lime juice and sugar syrup makes a beautifully fresh, fruity and zingy version. And the Martinez is such an underrated and underused cocktail, so I feel like I’m always going around recommending it – join the movement!

What makes Scottish Gin “Scottish”?

It’s a simple sounding question that is in reality rather complex. To one person this may simply be a gin that is distilled in Scotland. Another person may also expect the use of Scottish water, a percentage of Scottish botanicals and for bottling and labelling to be carried out in Scotland too. And another may be willing to call a gin ‘Scottish’ if it is distilled in England but the founder/company is based in Scotland and the gin features at least one Scottish botanical. The latter certainly doesn’t sit comfortably with me due to the potential for consumers and trade buyers to purchase something that they believed to have a different source.

There is a question as to which stage ‘production’ starts and ends at. Should Scottish water be used? Should bottling and labelling be carried out in Scotland? As a minimum, I feel that for a gin claim to be ‘Scottish’ the distillation or cold compounding of the gin should take place in Scotland, which remarkably isn’t always the case for gins labelling themselves as ‘Scottish’. The rest is open to interpretation on just how ‘Scottish’ you’d like your gin to be!

Which Scottish Gins are on your wishlist?

I’ve had the great pleasure of trying well over a hundred gins produced in Scotland and there are so many more I’m keen to try. At the moment I’m particularly looking forward to trying Pentland Hills Gin and Kirkjuvagr’s new ‘Beyla Gin’, and I’m long overdue trying Wild Thyme Spirits’ Bramble Liqueur too.

Would you like to see clearly defined geographical categories in gin?

There is value and importance in transparency about the distillation location of a gin, especially if a gin brand is tying itself to a specific location or country that is different to the distillation location. As for more clearly defined geographical categories in the sector, I don’t feel that this is something that requires formalising.

There are so many factors that impact the quality, character and flavour of a gin and geographical location is not necessarily high up that list. A connection between a geographical area and any of these qualities cannot be assumed or enforced, so I believe visibility on distillation location is as far as it is necessary to take it.

Do you feel more regulation and protection of gin as a spirits category would stifle innovation?

There’s no doubt that the loose nature of gin regulation has resulted in unprecedented innovation and pushing of the sector’s boundaries – sometimes in a way that’s widely accepted as positive and other times not. This innovation has been the source of huge success for the industry but also a lot of disgruntlement within it too. I do not believe that regulation or protection of gin is imminent, likely or realistically enforceable at present, so I see innovation continuing at full pace.   

What are your thoughts on contract distilled gins?

I could write an essay here! In short, if there is full transparency and disclosure on the distillery being used to produce the gin then I have no issue with contract distilled gins. This allows consumers and trade buyers to make their own decision. As such, The Gin Guide always states the name and location of the distillery that makes each gin.

I love to visit distilleries, see the different set ups and hear the insights of the self-made distillers and their latest tinkerings. It always oozes passion, stories and personality. But I also acknowledge that contract distilling is often a logical business choice, especially when starting up, and can sometimes be in the best interest of ensuring that a high quality and consistent product is launched. 

One point to highlight is that a contract distilled gin or in-house distilled gin does not come with an automatically higher or lower quality compared to the other. There are some truly wonderful gins that are contract distilled and where the experience of an expert distiller has been used to great effect. Meanwhile, there are some less impressive and less consistent gins distilled in-house by distillers with limited experience and more basic and variable equipment and ingredients. Equally, there are some contract distilled gins that are somewhat generic and disappointing, and some in-house distilled gins that are out of this world.

It is important to understand the situation and plans of each business, and as long as there is transparency, judge each gin on its merit.

What’s the best piece of advice you could give to someone who wants to make gin?

Firstly, be aware that the market is heavily saturated and that distribution and listings beyond a local market are increasingly hard to achieve. There are many gins achieving these things, but it’s a smaller and smaller percentage of the total market. Starting to make gin is also not the dream of escaping the 9 – 5, creating a gin and selling your produce at your leisure. I can’t think of any small gin producers that aren’t working flat out, all hours of the day, all days of the week. 

If you’re happy with that, you then have to have both the product and the presentation. A beautiful bottle with a disappointing gin inside will only see customers buying one bottle, and it’s hard work and expensive to be continuously replacing your customer base. Meanwhile, a beautiful gin with disappointing presentation and branding faces other challenges and is more likely to create enthusiasts for your gin but in smaller numbers. There’s a long, long list of other recommendations and advice I’d give and that I work with distilleries and gin brands on, and the summary is that it’s not easy and it’s not a quick way to make your fortune! 

Which bloggers or other gin related websites do you think people should be following?

I could go on all day here! The Gin Guide has an interview series that features some of our favourite gin bloggers and writers, so a more extensive list can be found on our blog section, but I’d love to give a shout out (in no particular order) to those below. Each has their own different style, approach and opinions, so check them all out and see which floats your boat:

Where would you like to see the gin category in 10 years?

With the rate of change and development, it’s difficult to think what the gin industry will be like in 1-2 years even. A lot of people talk about the ‘gin bubble’ bursting and for many years now I’ve talked about there being no bubble and therefore nothing to burst. As in any rapidly growing industry, the growth rate will slow and there could be decline in the not too distant future, but gin still has a very strong future ahead.

Ultimately, in 10 years time I’d like to see the gin industry still being exciting, still innovating and still enthusing consumers. For all the wonderful, genuine and passionate people that I’ve worked with and supported in the industry over the years, and who have been dedicated to the sector in all the right ways, I’d love to see them being successful and still enjoying what they’re doing.

What’s next for The Gin Guide?

There’s so many exciting plans in the pipeline, I can’t wait! Also, The Gin Guide Awards 2020 is rapidly approaching and is open for entry in January (in fact you can register your interest now to be notified here. www.theginguide.com/gin-awards It’s a mammoth task that takes the best part of 6 months from start to finish, and each year we work hard to make improvements and offer more benefits and value for all entrants and winners. Perhaps we’ll see more Scottish winners in 2020! 

We have some really exciting publications, resources and content coming up too. There’ll be some engaging, fun and interesting ways for consumers to discover new gins and new ways to enjoy gin, and for gin producers to tell their stories and keep consumers and the trade up to date with what they’re up to. Working increasingly closely with gin producers has made for some great relationships and a few collaborations for the future. Stay tuned!

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