It’s almost as if these turbulent political times don’t matter to the world of spirit making in the UK, such is the rise in distillery registrations in the UK. 49 new ones opened in 2017 alone, with numbers doubling in the last five years.
Firstly, let’s get the numbers right; 49 is the new number of distilleries registered with HMRC to produce in the UK in 2017. However, 7 operators deregistered so the UK actually boasts 42 additional players to the spirit market for 2017. The number registered in England was 22, which means it tops the list for number of new entrants with 20 opening in Scotland but, with 5 deregistrations in England and 2 in Scotland, the number of new players for each is 17 and 18 respectively. Readers can decide who wins that particular battle. Wales gained 4 new distilleries bringing its total to 17 and Northern Ireland are up to 14, up 3 on 2016.
In total the UK now has 315 distilleries online (see above), up 172% from 116 since 2010 when the WSTA first started collecting the data, so 199 in just 7 years. The graph above shows very well the acceleration of growth in the last 5 years, where percentage growth hasn’t even threatened to be lower than double digits since 2013 and total growth has been more than double since then (127%) compared to the 21% between 2010 and 2013. Compelling numbers.
149 distilleries are now online in Scotland compared to 90 in 2010, so even the land most famous for distilled products has grown by nearly 2/3s. Northern Ireland had only 2 when Clegg and Cameron were canoodling in the Rose Garden, but has increased its distilleries 6-fold since and Wales has added 16 more from its 1 in 2010. The most curious region of the UK, though, is England who in 2010 has only 23 but as of 2017 now has 135, meaning of the 199 registered since 2010, England alone accounts for 56% of them. To add further context, London alone now has more than the whole of England did in 2010.
It is easy to point to the gin explosion as the reason for this boom in online distilleries and undoubtedly this will be a factor. In 2010 there were estimated to be around 40 UK gin brands in the UK, as of 2016 the best guess is around 75 (though another 20 exist on the UK market) and the majority of these will be UK based brands, though part of this may be also down to improvements over time in data collection. Add to this the wealth of impressive UK sales and export numbers and you have a compelling case. But there is more: the same data states that since 2010 the number of Scotch brands in the UK market has more than doubled to 246 from 119. UK vodka brands went from 20 to 32 in the same time frame. The fact that the overall market for the latter two is fairly flat in recent times suggests that any new entrants are merely eating market share of others but, with gin’s exponential UK sales and exports, new entrants appear be adding to the pie.
While no one should assume that there are many who are out solely to make great gin and lots of it, there are incidents of gin producers making gin but also biding their time until the brown stuff is ready for sale. This means that it can’t be taken for granted that all new distilleries are solely for the purposes of growing the gin category, though it has clearly helped, nor does it mean that as new whisk(e)y brands come on to the market, that growth in gin will slow. But it does imply that more brands in other categories will become available in the not-so-distant future, something that has already been happening in all spirit categories for a number of years. The question then is: will new whisk(e)y eat into existing market share, or will it increase the pie?
All this shows the UK spirits markets is in rude health, the latest HMRC figures show this at grassroots level, and remains an exciting industry to be in. It will be interesting to see how all spirit categories develop over the next few years, as there are some potential market disruptors in barrels, and signs are all categories will witness some movement in one way or another.