How does craft gin compete against big brands? "Create weird and wacky stuff," says distiller

Courtney Goldsmith
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Warner Edwards focuses on exciting consumers with unique flavours (Source: Warner Edwards)

Yesterday, gin stole the show as 2016's most profitable spirit as the sector passed a £1bn sales mark for the first time ever, six months ahead of schedule.

Today, craft distiller Tom Warner, co-founder of Warner Edwards, gave City A.M. the low-down on the artisan industry.

Warner Edwards was founded just over four years ago by Warner and Sion Edwards in Northamptonshire.

With nearly 100 gin distilleries opening in Britain in the last two years, that means the company is one of the more established brands.

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In 2010, when the friends were looking to get involved in the craft spirit business, experts were starting to predict gin's rise to stardom.

For many craft distillers, gin is a good option because it doesn't take a long time to age like dark spirits, and unlike vodka - which is primarily mixed with other drinks - gin is drunk for its flavour, meaning distillers can experiment with new creations.

Warner Edwards makes botanical-inspired gins using fresh ingredients like rhubarb and elderflower, and Warner said the innovation of flavours is a big part of craft gin's success.

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The company's rhubarb gin, which was first launched as a temporary special, is its biggest seller, currently accounting for 65 per cent of volume.

With the growing popularity of the spirit, Warner admits larger, more established companies benefit more from the trend because of their extensive distribution networks, but growing popularity in artisan spirits is causing a "headache".

All together, the craft distilleries are "starting to bite a big chunk out of the big guys" who have been selling for decades and spend huge sums of money on their brands, Warner said. "Now we're pulling the rug out from under them," he said, with fresh ideas and experimental flavours.

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Warner said the market doesn't show signs of stopping, but the big question is whether the it will become oversaturated with too many craft players, as it may be doing for the craft beer market in the US.

"All of us idiots at the craft end will continue to create weird and wacky stuff. Some if it will probably bomb, some will be the next big thing," Warner said, shrugging it off.

With sales set to continue rising and reach £1.3bn by 2020 and export providing a big area for growth - Warner Edwards are predicting a rise from five per cent to at least 20 next year - it looks like, for now, the only way to go is up.

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