Food & Drinks

Kenyans' thirst for gin soars above whisky

Hendricks Gin cocktails on display during the launch at The Den. PHOTO | francis nderitu | NMG
Hendricks Gin cocktails on display during the launch at The Den. PHOTO | francis nderitu | NMG 

Teapot. Tea cup. Gin cocktail. That’s one way to serve and quaff gin, not just from bottles and thin-stemmed glasses.

Gin brand ambassadors like Ally Martin, who was in Nairobi last week, are pushing the alcohol as a late afternoon beverage, taken with iced tea, as an alternative to the common gin cocktails like martini.

‘‘It’s the perfect soother of nerves after a busy, sweltering day and could be a better alternative to pure alcohol,’’ said Mr Martin, the global brand ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin, a scotch drink.

Additionally, several gins come complete with branded teapots and cups, making them a great gift due to their genteel appeal.

For the uninitiated, there is a little cute story behind pouring yourself a cup of gin, a clear flavoured drink, from the teapot.

In Europe, where the gin taps have been flowing ever since its invention, women served themselves gin in teapots and cups in public places. This was to avoid the peering eyes of the judgmental society in the 19th century.

“It was the best decoy, their best secret weapon,” said the Scotsman, a former bartender.

What began as a way to dodge public drink-shaming instead turned into a culture with men joining the wagon, then swiftly snowballed into a tradition that has lived through generations. It was only natural that iced tea served with a dash of gin in it later emerged and gained root, especially in Europe during summer, when days are warmer.

In Kenya, not so much. Hendrick’s is now trying to push a thicker flow of premium gin into the local market and spread awareness on gin tea drinking culture.

Kenyans’ thirst for gin tripled to 711,000 cases in 2016, equivalent to 6.3 million litres, up from 245,000 cases in 2011, according to International Wines and Spirits Record Report (IWSR).  

A case is equivalent to nine litres.

This made gin the third most gulped spirit among Kenyans, behind cane spirit whose intake stood at 2.1 million cases in 2016, equivalent to 18.9 million litres and vodka’s consumption of 1.2 million cases or 10.8 million litres.

Brandy and whisky come in fourth and fifth respectively. Millennials, especially women, have developed a sharper thirst for gin cocktails like martini, loved for its distinctive flavoured taste.

Despite the upsurge, Africa’s huge premium liquor market remains largely untapped, despite the rich and middle-class’ growing thirst.

Kenya is the second largest consumer of Hendrick’s gin, behind South Africa on the continent, according to the gin brand ambassador.

This makes Nairobi a prime market for Hendrick’s, a Scottish family-owned company with a distillery tucked in a remote seaside village. The brand is fighting for a bigger market share with rivals such as Gilbey’s, the most common gin in Nairobi’s entertainment spots.

I ask if the gin tea concept is a mirror image of the Irish coffee that has grown popular in coffee shops around Nairobi, where some Irish whisky like Jameson and Baileys are added to coffee, albeit costing more than the regular cup.

“Sort of, but not really relatable experience-wise,” Mr Martin said.

There are, however, other equally satisfying ways to enjoy your gin. Gin with tonic water, for instance, has endured the test of time, Mr Martin says.

Ultra-premium gins

Most of the gins are attracting new drinkers because of the growing cocktail culture and the emergence of a new crop of experimental mixologists and ultra-premium brands.

“Gin is the traditional base of many great cocktails, including the popular martini. You can never go wrong with the classic gin and tonic poured over ice cubes and served with a twist of lemon or lime juice,” he said.

Ultra-premium gins such Tanqueray No.10, owned by Diageo, the parent firm of East African Breweries Ltd (EABL), have also found success. EABL sells in the local market gins such as Tanqueray and Gordon’s London Dry.

What makes gin and tonic the perfect drink? I ask.

“Gin is flavoured by botanicals such as fruits, spices, nuts and scents that are used in the distillation process. But the most prominent botanical is the juniper berry in French, genièvre  from which gin takes its name,” Mr Martin explains.

“You could also say it has a little bit of medicinal value, if taken in moderation, since the quinine in tonic water is an anti-inflammatory and painkiller. Though tonic water contains only a small dose these days.”

Mr Martin said that gin differentiates itself from vodka, through its distinctive flavour.

It draws its distinctive aroma from juniper berries, but other ingredients such as coriander seeds, orange peel and angelica root are also used to add flavour.

There are two primary ways to flavouring a gin, one being adding flavours to a distilled spirit and bottling it, or you can infuse botanicals into the spirit by distilling them together.

“Depending on your chosen method, you get a different kind of gin, and a different flavour profile,” he said.

Hendrick’s gin, however, comes with an infusion of cucumber and rose petal flavour, a factor that the promoters say gives the drink an edge on the market.

It’s for this reason that the company rides on the publicity of the World Cucumber Day every June 14 to market the drink.

Globally, gin is the fastest growing drink in the spirits category, according to Euromonitor International. 

In UK, for instance, annual gin sales rose 16 per cent to cross the £1 billion barrier for the first time, leading the spirits industry to declare 2016 the “year of gin”.