Gin has been around for hundreds of years. Most know that it is a spirit flavoured with botanicals and that the key botanical is juniper.
Having a long and varied history however meant that, when it came to preparing regulations to cover the category (as was the case with many other spirit categories being regulated across the EU at the same time), the provisions had to reflect and cover (and standardise), the production and key requirements in place at that time.
Since 2008 the gin category has seen something of a renaissance and participants in the category have been competing for sales. The category regulations are detailed, but do allow scope for interpretation and development, not least of course being the ability to use the many diverse botanicals available to distillers to supplement juniper. This allows creation of differing flavour profiles, along with more extensive interpretations (some of which may cause concern for traditionalists), yet, where firmly rooted to the key requirements, are legally compliant.
Distillers have created some imaginative and novel expansions of the ‘traditional’ gin profiles, of which ‘pink’ gin, ‘fruit gins’ and ‘gin liqueurs’ are examples.
Knowledge of the details of gin, the specific category requirements and more are issues for both producers and brands as well as retailers.
Under the Consumer Rights Act, retailers have certain obligations when they supply goods to a consumer, as, under the legislation, the products they sell must match the correct description. Retailers have a direct responsibility to ensure accuracy of description. This applies in store (including shelf edging notes), as well as on-line. It is not sufficient defence to merely rely on the manufacturer’s description.
Further guidance can be obtained from www.theginguild.com where Assured Advice notes provide details of how to correctly label and describe A) ‘gin liqueurs’, and B) no/low alcohol products aimed and marketed at gin drinkers, but which do not conform to the required category requirements, and which therefore cannot use ‘gin’ as part of the The 2008 EU spirit regulations are the keystone to gin in the EU/UK. The regulations were updated in 2019, however UK EU Brexit provisions operate so that where provisions were not yet implemented on 31 12 2020, certain 2008 regulations remain in place for UK use).
Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 has (for UK purposes), been part replaced by Regulation (EU) 2019/787. The new EU Regulation entered into force on 25th May 2019, with the provisions relating to Geographical Indications (“GIs”) becoming applicable from 8th June 2019, meaning that provisions on GIs in the Spirit Drinks Regulations 2008 (and Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009) must be amended to reflect the new applicable legislation.
The remainder of Regulation (EU) 2019/787 applies from 25th May 2021, so will not be applicable in the UK, and, as a result, the Spirit Drinks Regulations 2008 (and Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009) will need to retain references to Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 for the non-GI provisions, with the EU (Withdrawal) Act retaining applicable EU legislation. It is understood that DEFRA is to review the above.
The key requirements for ‘gin’, as set out in the above, are by and large also reflected (but not by any means identically), in local regulations across the world.
Not all gins are however produced in the same way. Careful label reading and a basic understanding of the variations in production methodology is needed to appreciate the full range of available options.
This guide (reflecting the EU/UK regulations as at 04/2021), endeavours to highlight the principle area of focus and to clarify and demystify the category.
Gin distilling is part science and part craft and artistry. It is never merely a mechanical process. The level of essential oils in botanicals varies from one harvest to another, depending on the weather, so botanicals always have to be assessed prior to each distillation and recipes carefully adjusted to suit and to ensure consistency of product.
Distillers often blend botanical batches to even out any variations, and to ensure consistency of the final product. So long as the production of each batch is consistent, i.e. the same method is deployed, that accords with the regulations.
The first key requirement for gin is juniper. All of the gin categories lay down a fundamental ‘predominant taste’ juniper element, but this flavour profile element remains purely subjective. There is no definitive test of flavour/strength of the juniper as the lead botanical. This is a source of much debate, particularly given the increasing number of gins with strong additional flavour profiles. The intensity of juniper varies from brand to brand and indeed the type and geographical source of this natural product.
The Regulations specify the species of juniper required (Juniperus communis L.) but if that is used (so as to be compliant), then, assuming other variants are safe to use (care is required, not all are safe to use), it is understood that some distillers may have also chosen to add other varieties.
It is the breadth of possible flavour profiles that has led to significant innovation and growth in gin (as well as practical difficulties in restraining brands that seek to play too far from the recognisable juniper core identity).
Arguably, brands that have no discernable juniper lead should not be permitted to describe themselves as ‘gins’ purely to identify as part of the gin category for marketing purposes. The regulations have effectively been in place in the current form since gin first evolved, but the question of possible enforcement, or indeed the need for enforcement, has not, until recently, been a perceived issue.
The ‘predominance’ issue has not (to date), been able to be resolved by science, but, given the pressure on the category envelope by brands going beyond the core norms, it is anticipated that the future may see challenges being made as to whether products comply.
4. Base Neutral Spirit v. Grain to glass
The second key requirement for gin is the base alcohol used in the distilling process.
The majority of distillers buy in the base neutral spirit (GNS), required for gin production, before they redistill, with the required botanicals, to make their gins. The regulations reflect the need for this to be at a required high level of purity of 96% ABV or above. This proof requires a complex and costly production process to achieve that base purity.
If all of the base spirit is not initially rectified to 96% ABV, the requirements are not met. The product would not be gin under the regulations.
The use of third party produced GNS neutral spirit (used by most gin distillers), reflects the history of gin production in the UK, where, historically, H M Revenue and Customs required the process of alcohol production to be separate and distinct from the gin makers redistilling/rectification of that spirit, so as to ensure maximum control (and maximum revenue control), as to both processes.
Today there are several gin producers who seek to differentiate their product by adding the element of their own production of the base spirit to their production process. Not all use grain, which normally means wheat, as a base, with potatoes, molasses, grapes and apples for example being options.
Production of the base spirit enables a brand to be able to claim local provenance and specific character to their base spirit and thus their gins. It allows them control over the whole process, and to potentially promote claims of a super-premium or exclusive production process for their product, and to legitimately use the description ‘field to bottle’.
The purity of the base spirit is key to the distilled gin categories, so a a key point that should be emphasised is that, under the Regulations applying to the Distilled and London Dry categories, any subsequent dilution of the initial distillation (itself using 96 + % ABV spirit), other than by water, i.e. by the subsequent addition of spirit, which is obviously the case in multi-shot production, requires and restricts such additional spirit to being of ‘the same composition purity and alcoholic strength’ as that initially used. Using other spirit/alcohol, in all or part, would not be compliant with the Regulations.
5. Compounded/Cold Compounded Gin
The Gin Guild as a gin industry body has chosen not to recognise Compounded/Cold Compounded gins as suitable for Gin Guild membership, as a key objective of the Guild is to promote excellence in gin distillation. This is however a recognised production method and the first of the three regulated gin spirit categories, as regulated by Regulation 20 of (EU) 2019/787 – Annex I, Categories of Spirit Drinks.
Gin, under Regulation 20, can be produced by simply flavouring suitable and qualifying base alcohol, with flavouring substances which give a predominant taste of juniper. This method is technically known as ‘compounding’. This method is a cheaper method of producing gin, as producers do not need to distil.
Many cheap brands used to employ cold compounding when producing gin on a commercial scale. With much cheaper production costs this resulted in larger profit margins.
Compounding, rather than distilling, was also common in bootleg/underground production and similar operations during the US period of prohibition. The nearest to ‘bootleg’ today (thankfully using appropriate grade base spirit as a base), is probably where compounded products are produced by adding distillates etc. to GNS. These are often marketed with hyped up presentation, to unsuspecting consumers (unaware of the production differences), often in tourist destinations, with marketing terms such as ‘locally produced/created’ or ‘handcrafted’ and similar (as they cannot be described as ‘distilled’, nor imply in any marketing that this is the case).
Compounding means that essential oils are either extracted from botanicals by distillation or pressed out and then added to base spirit. The product of this ‘cold compounding’ may be called ‘gin’ under EC rules, but not ‘Distilled’ or ‘London’ gin.
A distilled gin has a deeper and more concentrated flavour than a compounded product and the botanicals will not dissipate as easily (as is generally the case with a compounded gin), once the bottle is opened. In simple terms, by analogy, it is the difference between a cup of tea made with cold water and a tea bag (similar to compounded), and a cup of tea made with boiling water and quality leaf tea, or tea bag, properly ‘infused’ (similar to distilled).
Just to confuse things a little further, post distillation some distilled brands of gin also add ‘compounded elements’, to add specific additional flavour profiles (but which still qualify as Distilled gin).
The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of distilled gin has to be 37.5%.
6. Distilled Gin
Regulation 21 of (EU) 2019/787 – Annex I Categories of Spirit Drinks lays down the requirements for gins described as Distilled Gin.
Distilled gin is a juniper-flavoured spirit drink, produced exclusively by distilling ethyl alcohol (of agricultural origin – a defined term in the regulations) with an initial alcoholic strength of at least 96% vol. (i.e. a sprit that has been distilled to that ABV so as to ensure its purity, and must be certified to that standard, however often subsequently diluted down with water to a lower ABV for storage/safety and/or transport, before being redistilled with the required botanicals) in the presence of juniper berries (Juniperus communis L.) and of other all-natural botanicals, provided that the juniper taste is predominant.
The above, depending on the type of production, as set out above can be combined with other ethyl alcohol (subject to that, as indicated earlier, being of the same composition, purity and alcoholic strength) and (unlike London Dry Gin), can include flavouring substances or flavouring preparations (as specified in point (c) of category 20), which may, post distillation, be used to flavour distilled gin.
The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of distilled gin has to be 37.5%.
7. London Dry Gin
Regulation 22 of (EU) 2019/787 – Annex I Categories of Spirit Drinks lays down the requirements for gins described as London Dry Gin.
This is the narrowest and most strict of the distilled gin categories. It is not a geographical designation (it can be made worldwide), but is a narrowly defined production methodology. This category prohibits post distillation additions (only permitting post distillation cutting with neutral spirit (subject to the specific restriction detailed in 22 (A) (iii) and Article 5), and/or water, as required for bottling).
The London Dry Gin process specifies that this is, as with Distilled gin, a juniper-flavoured spirit drink, produced exclusively by distilling ethyl alcohol (of agricultural origin – a defined term in the regulations), with an initial alcoholic strength of at least 96% vol. It lays down that the gin [flavour] has to be entirely created in the distillation process.
A distilled gin seeking London Dry Gin status cannot be enhanced or expanded by any post distillation process. Due to this restriction, the production art, and process has always been held up (always assuming the distiller has been successful in creating a quality beverage), as the pinnacle of gin distilling practice.
Merely being a London Dry Gin is obviously not the be all and end all. The product has to be attractive to drink (regardless of process), nor indeed is it the case that a London Dry Gin is, of itself, necessarily superior to distilled gins. Flavour and the successful and sympathetic application and combination of botanicals to create a quality beverage are of course ultimately a matter to be judged by the consumer.
Creating a gin within the narrow category provisions of London Dry does however put an additional pressure on distillers, who, being unable to use any post distillation additions, are thus wholly reliant on using their skills to create their gin exclusively via the distillation process.
London Dry Gin designation for a gin is acknowledgment of these set production process and methodology. Other than the fundamental juniper element required by all gins, a London Dry Gin designation does not denote or designate flavour.
The regulations provide that the term ‘London Gin’ may be supplemented by or incorporate the term ‘Dry’. This reflected the history of this gin style, when cleaner spirit became the norm, and distillers were able to cut the level of sugar and sweeteners, which in years gone by were added to lesser quality spirit so as to mask unpleasant flavours.
The terms ‘London Gin’ and ‘London Dry Gin’ or Dry London Gin are therefore exclusive to gins produced in full accordance with Regulation 22.
Again, reflecting the number of brands seeking to differentiate themselves from one and another, there are a number who distil using the London Dry method, but who describe their brands by referencing their location (rather than ‘London’), and include the word ‘Dry’. The word ‘Dry’, subject to compliance with the regulations, may also be used to describe Distilled gin. Brands that use geographical descriptors but which do comply with the London Dry process should ideally clearly reference that at some point on their labels so as to differentiate their products from the ‘Distilled’ category.
The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of London Dry Gin is 37.5%.
8. Sloe Gin (and ‘Gin Liqueurs’)
The exception (the only one), to the minimum 37.5% ABV requirement, is sloe gin.
Given the historical nature of sloe gin, when the regulations were first formulated, like many other spirits at that time, a special provision was made for sloe gin.
The full specifications for Sloe Gin are at category 37 of Annex II of Regulation 110/2008 (Regulation 35 of (EU) 2019/787 was not implemented pre Brexit 31 12 20, so the 2008 regulation applies), provides that this name can be applied to a liqueur produced by maceration of sloes in gin (with the possible addition of sloe juice) and subject to there being a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of sloe gin of 25%.
Only natural flavouring substances and flavouring preparations may be used in the production of sloe gin.
No other fruit gin liqueur option is permitted to be described as ‘gin’.
Other fruit gin liqueur options can only ever be described with the name of the fruit added to the words ‘gin liqueur’. Marketing and presentation must make it clear to consumers exactly what it is that they are purchasing, and must not mislead them to think that the product is a gin, rather than a Liqueur.
Liqueurs are covered by EU Regulation 22 and, amongst other requirements (note that there are specific exceptions), have to have a minimum content of sweetening products, expressed as invert sugar, of 100 grams per litre and a minimum alcoholic strength by volume of 15%. Careful reference, for those seeking to produce these options, should also be made of the permitted flavouring substances and flavouring preparations.
For those seeking more guidance on labelling and descriptions for this area, reference should be made to the Gin Guild Assured Advice Guidelines for gin liqueurs. These can be found at www.theginguild.com.
9. Single shot and multi shot distilling production
When looking at the detail of the two distilled gin categories, it is necessary to explain the key terms of ‘single-shot’ (also expressed as ‘one-shot’) and ‘multi- shot’, as they define different approaches to producing gin.
Single-shot distillation means that once the botanicals have been distilled, the resulting high ABV spirit is diluted with water, and nothing else, in order to reduce the spirit down to the alcoholic strength required for bottling.
The multi-shot method utilises a greater quantity of botanicals than single-shot. It produces a ‘concentrate’ (spirit), distillate (i.e. a spirit with a more concentrated flavour). Once distilled the concentrate is diluted twice. The first dilution is with spirit (see above for the limitations as to what spirit can be used), usually the same spirit used for the distillation, and water.
This adjusts the flavour profile of the concentrate, and increases the volume of liquid. The subsequent dilution is with water, as with single shot, which ultimately reduces the blend down to the alcoholic strength required for bottling. Distilling multi-shot gin is different from single-shot, but the challenges are the same and working out the optimum balance of flavours applies to both production methods, just on a different scale.
Which of the above options is most appropriate includes consideration of the production capacity and the production capability. This is in turn determined by the size of still, and the number of stills available.
Whether the approach is single-shot or multi-shot, the distillation process sees flavours created in the same way. It is the concentration of flavours that differentiates the two options.
Multi-shot and single-shot can produce the same quality, and at blind tastings no one can usually identify the method used. Each method does however have its own parameters and practicalities.
Multi-shot takes about the same amount of time as single-shot, though multi-shot allows a distillery to produce more gin, use less energy, and use the still for far less of the time.
The size of the still determines the amount of concentrate that can be produced, and this determines the ratio of GNS added. The ratio can depend on a number of variables, from the number and type of botanicals in the gin recipe, to the concentration of flavour levels in the distillate, and the character wanted in the final bottle of gin.
The option of multi-shot also ‘future proofs’ new gins. These typically begin their career as a single-shot. As sales grow, production capacity can be increased, either by installing a larger-sized pot still, or a larger number of pot stills, or by moving to multi-shot. The latter requires careful ‘scaling up’ of the quantity of botanicals and a balancing, given the volume, of the potential of different interaction between the botanicals.
As a further option, some gins are created by utilising both single-shot and multi-shot production, or combinations and then blending the resulting distillates.
10. Flavoured gin
An area that has seen considerable growth is that of flavoured (and often sweeter style), gins. First and foremost, such products have to be gin and must comply with the gin definition. Most of these gins require post distillation additions, so can only ever be described as Distilled gin (not London Dry), even if a London Dry gin is used as the base gin spirit.
All such products (unless clearly sold and marketed as liqueurs), require a minimum ABV of 37.5%, and compliance with the juniper predominance requirement. A genuine gin has to be the core spirit. Adding fruit, for example, of course may well obscure or mask the juniper.
The relevant provisions covering these can be found in Article 3 of the EU Spirit Drinks Regulation, which provides for ‘compound’ terms. This means, in relation to the description, presentation and labelling of an alcoholic beverage, the combination of the legal name provided for in the categories of spirit drinks set out in Annex I of the same regulation (e.g. in this case’ gin’), with the name of one or more foodstuffs other than an alcoholic beverage and other than foodstuffs used for the production of that spirit drink in accordance with Annex I, or adjectives deriving from those names.
Article 11 of the EU Spirit Drinks Regulation provides that all the alcohol used in the production of such an alcoholic beverage must originate exclusively from the spirit drink referred to in the compound term.
Article 11 also provides that the terms ‘alcohol’, ‘spirit’, ‘drink’, ‘spirit drink’, and ‘water’ shall not be part of a compound term describing an alcoholic beverage and that compound terms describing an alcoholic beverage shall:
- appear in uniform characters of the same font, size and colour;
- not be interrupted by any textual or pictorial element which does not form part of them; and
- not appear in a font size which is larger than the font size used for the name of the alcoholic
Examples of the above include ‘Rhubarb Gin’ and ‘Saffron Gin’.
If extensively flavoured post distillation, such as to obscure or largely mask juniper, such a gin is a compounded product and should not be described merely as ‘gin’ as that is inaccurately describing the content. The addition of the compounded flavour element in the product description is required.
11. Non-Alcoholic and Low Alcohol Spirits
There is no such thing as ‘Non-alcoholic gin’, just as there is no such thing as ‘Non-alcoholic whisky’.
Gin (as are many other spirit categories), is a defined and regulated term protected under EU and UK Regulation and in particular requires a minimum ABV of 37.5%.
There is no problem with non-alcoholic/low alcoholic drink brands being produced, but, if a beverage does not meet the relevant category requirement, the regulation also provides that a category name should also not be used and qualified with words such as ‘type’, ‘style’, ‘like’, or similar qualification”.
For those seeking more guidance on this area reference should be made to the Gin Guild Assured Advice Guidelines for non-alcoholic/low alcoholic drinks that can be found at www.theginguild.com.
REGULATION (EU) 2019/787 – ANNEX I CATEGORIES OF SPIRIT DRINKS
19. Juniper-flavoured spirit drink
- A juniper-flavoured spirit drink is a spirit drink produced by flavouring ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin or grain spirit or grain distillate or a combination thereof with juniper (Juniperus communis L. or Juniperus oxicedrus ) berries.
- The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of a juniper-flavoured spirit drink shall be 30%.
- Flavouring substances, flavouring preparations, plants with flavouring properties or parts of plants with flavouring properties or a combination thereof may be used in addition to juniper berries, but the organoleptic characteristics of juniper shall be discernible, even if they are sometimes
- A juniper-flavoured spirit drink may bear the legal name ‘Wacholder’ or ‘genebra’.
- Gin is a juniper-flavoured spirit drink produced by flavouring ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with juniper berries (Juniperus communis L.).
- The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of gin shall be 37,5%.
- Only flavouring substances or flavouring preparations or both shall be used for the production of gin so that the taste is predominantly that of juniper.
- The term ‘gin’ may be supplemented by the term ‘dry’ if it does not contain added sweetening exceeding 0,1 grams of sweetening products per litre of the final product, expressed as invert
21. Distilled gin
- Distilled gin is one of the following:
- a juniper-flavoured spirit drink produced exclusively by distilling ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with an initial alcoholic strength of at least 96% vol. in the presence of juniper berries (Juniperus communis L.) and of other natural botanicals, provided that the juniper taste is predominant;
- the combination of the product of such distillation and ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with the same composition, purity and alcoholic strength; flavouring substances or flavouring preparations as specified in point (c) of category 20 or both may also be used to flavour distilled gin.
- The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of distilled gin shall be 37,5%.
- Gin produced simply by adding essences or flavourings to ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin shall not be considered distilled
- The term ‘distilled gin’ may be supplemented by or incorporate the term ‘dry’ if it does not contain added sweetening exceeding 0,1 grams of sweetening products per litre of the final product, expressed as invert sugar.
22. London gin
- London gin is distilled gin which meets the following requirements:
- it is produced exclusively from ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin, with a maximum methanol content of 5 grams per hectolitre of 100% alcohol, the flavour of which is imparted exclusively through the distillation of ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin in the presence of all the natural plant materials used;
- the resulting distillate contains at least 70% alcohol by ;
- any further ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin that is added shall comply with the requirements laid down in Article 5 but with a maximum methanol content of 5 grams per hectolitre of 100% alcohol;
- it is not coloured;
- it is not sweetened in excess of 0,1 grams of sweetening products per litre of the final product, expressed as invert sugar;
- it does not contain any other ingredients than the ingredients referred to in points (i), (iii) and (v), and water.
- The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of London gin shall be 37,5%.
- The term ‘London gin’ may be supplemented by or incorporate the term ‘dry’.
23. Sloe gin
- Sloe gin is a liqueur produced by maceration of sloes in gin with the possible addition of sloe
- The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of sloe gin shall be 25%.
- Only natural flavouring substances and flavouring preparations may be used in the production of sloe gin.
- The legal name may be supplemented by the term ‘liqueur’.
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