Exports of British gin surged to record levels last year, reaching nearly £500m.
Figures from HMRC show exports of the juniper-based spirit rose by 12% to £474m, outperforming exports of British beef and soft drinks.
The increase is mirrored in domestic gin consumption and a rise in the number of new distilleries, a trend noticeable enough to spark a gin-based storyline in BBC Radio 4’s rural soap The Archers.
“The quality of the gin combined with the world’s love for brand Britain has seen British gin breaking records both at home and abroad,” said Miles Beale, chief executive of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association. “Britain is by far the biggest exporter of spirits in the world.”
Gin exports have risen by 32%, or £114m, over the past five years. The WSTA predicts that 2017 exports will pass £500m within the year at the current “meteoric” growth rate.
The US displayed the biggest thirst for the spirit, with Spain the largest importer in Europe, although Britons still drank most of it.
Domestic gin sales hit £1.1bn last year, with the equivalent of 34m bottles sold last year, an increase of 12% on 2015.
Beale called on the government to capitalise on the increase by offering the industry a 2% cut on excise duty for spirits in next month’s budget.
The WSTA points to figures that show UK drinkers pay the fourth highest duty rates for spirits in the EU, accounting for more than a quarter of all spirits duties in the single market.
The sales and export figures for last year confirmed the WSTA’s assessment in December that 2016 was a “year of gin”, and was unparalleled since the body began recording sales of alcoholic drinks.
The growing popularity for a drink once maligned as the cause of Britain’s worst social ills has also convinced budding distillers to take the plunge.
Last year 44 new distilleries opened in the UK, taking the total openings in the past two years to 100, including a fictional distillery illegally opened by Toby Fairbrother in The Archers.
Neil Everitt, who co-founded Brockmans gin in 2008, said much of the growth was being driven by demand for upmarket brands.
“Drinking habits have changed dramatically in the past five years and the premium gin market has been one of the biggest winners,” he said. “Younger customers are falling in love with new-style gins and premium mixers, extending its popularity from the golf and cricket club to restaurants and nightclubs.”
The love of gin also spilled over into products themed around the spirit, with online retailer Not on the High Street reporting a 51% increase in sales of gin-related products.
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