Is Metro Manila Ready for the Gin Craze?February 22, 2020
Could artisanal gin be the next big thing here in Manila? Well, why not? Over the past few years, craft distilleries in the UK and the US have started creating a new wave of gin that, simply put, isn’t your daddy’s Gilbey’s. While lagging behind whiskey and vodka in terms of production and penetration, there is a growing market for artisanal gin worldwide, and distilleries are popping up left and right to give that market what they want.
So is the Philippines ready for artisanal gin? Sure looks like it on the surface. After all, it’s a pretty exciting time to be a foodie in this country. We have opened our arms to various food trends over the past decade, and the food and spirit culture in this country has grown by leaps and bounds. As far as alcohol is concerned, we’ve jumped into wine, craft beer, and high-end whiskey.
And according to The Economist, the Philippines IS the number 1 consumer of gin in the world, consuming a staggering 1.4 liters per person on average! The next on that list is the US, with a paltry 0.3 liters per person. It does look like a big market, from the onset. So gin must be the next big thing here, right?
Not so fast.
Before you plan that market research trip to the UK, you may want to back off a bit and really look at the current scene.
“When it comes to the consumption of high-end gin, I don’t think we’re at that level that people are expecting (us to be) pa,” Jericson Co of Curator and EDSA Beverage fame states. “When you say high-end gin kasi, people buy it to make gin and tonic, which is not in the regular Philippine lexicon yet. Also, you need to study how gin is consumed in the Philippines in the first place.”
Think about it, which among you reading this has actually gone to a bar and ordered a shot of gin? High-end gin consumption in this country is pretty much relegated to cocktails, where it’s a great base spirit. Jericson continues, “One of the more popular brands of gin here is Gilbey’s, which is very bitter and strong. Which now gives you a perfect excuse to put all your sugars and stuff into it.”
“As far as creating a (high-end) gin culture here, it won’t be that simple. One, we would need to teach the market how to drink gin in the classic ways. Two, we would need to build up that market so it can be viable to bring in more varieties of gin here. We’re not there yet.”
Jericson further states that most of the food and spirit trends we experienced over the past decade came from a process of replacement. We were already beer, wine, and whiskey drinkers before the crazes started. “It’s really just giving the market more options. You love San Miguel? Why not try a Craft Beer? Your dad drinks Johnnie Walker? Maybe you want to try out a Glenfiddich or a Yamazaki? We have a wine culture, a coffee culture even before we brought in these crazes. Our gin culture is… different, basic.”
But what about that bit about Pinoys being the world’s leading gin drinkers? We can attribute that to the staggering popularity of Ginebra San Miguel. It’s an everyman drink, very cheap and it packs a punch. GSM has such a stranglehold on the masa as far as gin is concerned, and that market is not the same market for high-end gin, not by a long shot.
“The way it stands, you’d have a bigger shot of winning by bringing in artisanal flavored vodka, if that was actually a thing. Kasi nga, at least sanay na tayo dun”, Jericson concludes.
So are we ready for a artisanal gin craze? Not yet, from the looks of it.
But is the door closed? Not really. For one thing, we have a growing cocktail market, and gin does factor heavily into it. We also have a pretty nifty selection of really good gin in the country right now. One look at the drink menu of any decent bar will show you that. You could give it a try, maybe with a splash of tonic, or a squirt of lemon. Whatever floats your boat.
As for having a selection of artisanal gin everywhere you go, as well as a collection of proper gin bars, that will take a bit longer. Jericson wraps it up nicely. “At the end of the day, it’s all about education. We need to create opportunities to educate people on gin and gin drinking. But you can’t rush this. Slow and steady dapat. After all, the other trends had decades of head start before they exploded.”