Gin – the ugly truth!

Gin is Gin is Gin…Well actually no, it is not!

Before I go any further I think it’s important to make a clear distinction between ‘Gin’ and the Artisinal version of the spirit namely ‘Craft Gin’!

For most of us in South Africa, Gin has always been considered to be that drink your grandmother drank. Usually with the good old Schweppes Indian tonic water. Descriptive words that come to mind are, bitter and dry. Most people somewhere in their reckless youth have had at least one bad experience with Gin..either they had way too much or it just tasted vile. This often left people ‘scarred’ for life and when you mention Gin to them now, they are quick to fob it off, even denounce it with a kind of vigour you would expect from an offended Millennial. Yes, that is the reputation of Gin in these parts.

And then came along the craft Gin revolution. Suddenly the spirit was back in the headlines..and this time not for being the drink coined “mothers ruin”. Vodka had to reluctantly take a back seat for the past few years as Gin made a comeback and seemed set on taking over the world, which in my opinion, it has! Small Batch distilleries can now be found all over South Africa and the once dry and bitter spirit now comes with herbal, floral and fruity notes.

How does any of what I’ve said so far tie in with the title of this article?
I’m about to explain.

You see with most things in life there’s always someone out there wanting to make a quick buck. Music Piracy in America costs the industry over 12 billion dollars annually. It is projected that Hollywood will lose well over 20 billion dollars to worldwide piracy in the year 2020 and that figure will be double that of losses in 2016. Counterfeit Wines and spirits cost the European economy 2.7 Billion Euros in 2018. I’m not going to get into the implications of this for now. But the repercussions are substantial, to say the least!

Gin sadly has not escaped this phenomenon.

The ugly truth is that Companies will slap a label on a bottle and make it look appealing (like the real thing) and even follow that up with irresistible prices, and consumers, in their constant search for a good deal, will fall victim to the Fraud!
Much worse than a cheap price tag is the substandard liquor parading as craft Gin and being sold at similar prices to actual proper distilled craft Gin.
The ugly truth is that you, the consumer are the ones being duped. Taken for a fool in the name a good deal and in so doing you are enabling the fraud to continue. You should be angry about this…because you are for the most part unaware.
The ugly truth is that some Gins will say they are naturally infused when actually artificial sweeteners and colourants are added to them and the flavour notes are actually achieved by the use of flavour essences. To add insult to injury, the base spirits used in some of these ‘wannabe Gins’ are not even good enough for human consumption.


So who should take responsibility for this?

I believe the liquor stores and establishments selling you the product should do a bit of research before endorsing a poor quality product, the promise of a good return or a ‘special deal’ should not be their only motivation!
I see far too many liquor stores proudly promoting a poor quality Gin all for the sake of having a big range, or they are simply just oblivious!

The Distributors of these fake Gins should not be out there selling them into the market. A Gin brand known as ‘Tundra’ is sold at R149 (impossible selling point for a botanically distilled Gin) in a Nationwide liquor retailer (purchased by me for the sake of research). I called the distribution company to ask a few questions about their Gin knowing full well that the chances they distill it are few to none. I imagined perhaps I could get details of who distills it on their behalf but every question was met with the answer “I don’t know”
I’m sorry, but Ignorance is unacceptable when your company is promoting this product to the market!

The Government should regulate the industry properly! I can only speculate but I’m pretty sure some ‘Egyptian handshakes’ have been used to approve some of these cheap liquors. Perhaps even plainly turning a blind eye to the abuse of the system, and the ‘willy nilly’ categorizing of Gin by its true definition is also to blame!

Influencers in the Gin space should promote only Gins with a reputable reputation. I myself, in my naivety, have had some questionable Gins on my platforms well before I knew what I know now. I have close to 20 000 followers on my social media platforms. I see now that I have a duty to conduct myself with integrity because there are consumers out there who trust what I say! That is why I am speaking up! Simply because I have realised that my loyalty lies with my following, and my duty is to promote only proper Gin!

I feel like it is our collective responsibility to preserve our small batch, hand made, proper craft distillers! Can you imagine how demoralising it is having to compete for shelf space against inferior products who are placed in the same category as you? Passion is what makes a good craft Gin. People who create amazing Gins literally live Gin. They breathe it and Dream it. How much passion do you think a major corporation puts into the creation of a Gin they have someone else make for them? Without mentioning names…I have some inside information that a major liquor retailer is set to launch about 20 ‘ house brand ‘ Gins into their stores. By no means does this mean it will be inferior or fake gin, but where is the passion in that. Where is the pride in having a clause on the bottle that says, produced and bottled for (insert liquor retailer name here), all in the name of profit while taking advantage of a category created and bolstered by truly passionate people who in most cases invested their whole lives into their craft Distillery?

Visit the distilleries yourself. Treat yourself to seeing how Gin is made and meet the people behind the Name on the Bottle. One of my favourite #GINventures was to Wilderer along the spice route in Stellenbosch!


It’s not all doom and gloom!


People are taking notice! People are speaking out! since I first mentioned my findings and started raising questions about the issue, there has been a lot of noise made.

Here are a few tips to note when looking at purchasing proper craft Gin

  • A world of information is at your fingertips. A simple Google search can give you plenty of information on a reputable Gin brand!
  • Steer clear of cheap looking labels. Most craft distilleries will pay special attention to detail and display a lot of information on their bottles and its not a rule…but, more often than not the distillery name (and the name of the legal business entity) will match the name of the Gin or at least be very prominent on the label. (craft distillers are proud of their creations). * bare in mind ‘contract distilling’ is common practice, so research the distillery who makes it to see if they are The real deal.
  • Visit the distilleries yourself. Treat yourself to seeing how Gin is made and meet the people behind the Name on the Bottle. Seeing is believing!
  • Attend a Gin tasting and learn the stories behind the Gins!
  • If the price is too good to be true…it is too good to be true!
  • unnatural colours usually indicate artificial colourants. Also, look very closely to see if there is some sort of residue or ‘cloudiness’ or ‘foreign particles’ in the liquid. It doesn’t belong there!
  • overly sweet Gins are more than likely liqueurs or fake, and Not proper distilled Gin.

Your spirits guide and author of Booze Blah Blah-The Bearded Gin Guy

Trust me I’m a GINius!