Sticks and Stones…

Examining the phrase ‘Gin Snob’

There has been a recent trend for the use of the phrase “Gin Snob” or “Gin Snobbery” online and it’s an interesting turn of phrase. If you read on you may detect that I have the propensity to linger on words, meanings and purpose of phrases.

My understanding before reaching for a dictionary is that a snob is someone that believes that there is a better version of something and that better version is the only version that they believe is worth talking about, owning, using etc. The inference also being that that better version may be out of reach for the majority of people.

Snob: “a person who respects and likes only people who are of a high social class, and/or a person who has extremely high standards who is not satisfied by the things that ordinary people like”

ref: Cambridge English Dictionary

As is my way, I like to examine the use of words and in this case the word snob in relation to the drinking and enjoying of Gin. Clearly, it is a divisive term set out to mark out a person or group of people from others. In fact, in using the phrase you could argue that it is a form of ‘reverse’ snobbery itself.

So where have I heard it being used?

I have listened to the phrase being used in podcasts (more than one), online in reviews and posts (several) and also in person. Why does it appear to be used more often in the past months than previous months? I have a theory and for this I will crudely define a few types/scenarios (fictitious) as aids in my thinking for use later:

  • Accusatory: You are a Gin snob – you look down on everyone that likes Gin that isn’t to your taste
  • Self Deprecating: I’m such a Gin snob I cannot stand the flavour of those fruity flavoured Gins
  • In Denial: I am not a Gin snob, how dare you call me that just because I believe that London Dry is the only Gin worth drinking, especially with Fresh Juniper picked on the Inca trail
  • The Conformist: It’s not snobby to call something by its name. I can’t just ignore the rules
  • The innocent: Look at you, you Gin snob with your bitter G&T, have some fun and come and try some with Lemonade or juice

So why am i hearing it more now?

Behaviours and fashions go through many phases and the fashion for drinking Gin and being associated with Gin is no different. Perhaps it is simply the phase where divisions are drawn up in order to enable them to be brought down in an abrupt way, and for the cycle to restart again.

Early Gin drinking went through the phases of mass consumption, profiteering, mass producers, and misuse to then be controlled by regulation and taxation and subsequent mass production by a few. It then ebbed away until the regulations on the size of still were tested by Sipsmiths, and the rise of the small producer was ushered in. This rise in numbers of smaller producers brought with it very different tastes and popular acceptance and Gin as a popular drink rose again. Along with its popularity came the opportunity and the inevitable pushing at the boundaries of what is accepted by regulation. The popularity of Gin rekindled, it would appear that these regulations have been seen as restrictions to trade and have therefore been ignored by some, to produce a spirit that holds little taste resemblance to Gin other than containing some Juniper.

I believe we are now in the phase of this current cycle where clearer divisions between people are drawn up right before the barriers are brought down or completely ignored) – sounds dramatic but it need not be. Unfortunately for Gin there is no governing body that represents the producers of Gin and that wishes to protect its definition (unlike Whisky) and so the change will be organic until the point that the regulations are truly broken and worthless (ignored fully) and something else takes its place.

I tend to love all spirits (I don’t get Whisky – but keep trying) so I can say honestly I have enjoyed many drinks fruity and coloured that have been labelled as Gin – are they Gin as defined by the regulations? – I am afraid my opinion and my taste buds tell me “No” – put simply, if Juniper is not the predominant flavour, under the current regulations it just is not legally allowed to be called Gin (I don’t make the rules). However the weight of popular opinion is such that botanical spirits distilled or compounded that start off as regulatory Gins but are adapted to make them not Juniper forward, now have the de facto title Gin regardless of predominant flavour….

So am I a “Gin Snob”

This one is an easy question to answer: “Yes and No”. It depends on the definitions that you are applying:

I consider myself a “conformist” (remember my crude definitions above). And as such, I am currently terribly torn. I want to comment on a style of spirit that I love, and help promote great examples of it. But I also want to support great producers that wish to explore alternative expressions and through popular demand but not regulation remain labelled “Gin”.

It would be so much easier if Gin producers made a fruity botanical spirit and shied away from calling it Gin, but these are businesses and I understand fully the rationale behind such labelling decisions, and I can imagine the tortured discussions that take place behind closed marketing doors on the subject.

Unfortunately, I suspect that labelling someone that has a love for Gin as it is regulated, in this way, could possibly be a distraction technique rather than facing up to the regulations. A combination of “Accusatory” use and the “Innocent” use of Gin Snob. one being deliberate to close down on the discussions and curry favour with drinkers who are not aware or do not care for the regulations, and the other innocently not knowing about the regulations, and thinking me a kill-joy.

Gin is dead – long live gin?

“The funeral procession of Madamme Genever – 1752
(image taken from York University history of art web site)

I am also acutely aware that the erosion of the regulation surrounding Gin may eventually render the term “Gin” useless and merely a style of flavoured Vodka (of which it is already legally a subset) and this makes me want to fight for it, but alas I am weak and am unable to stand like Canute and deny the change that is happening in the climate of the Gin world.

So, if the majority of people that drink spirits that are labelled Gin (I have only anecdotal evidence by looking on social media and what supermarkets are stocking) are uninterested by the regulations or the prominent taste of Juniper, does this mean that the regulations are no longer fit for purpose, and the people it was originally drawn up to protect (producers and consumers) just do not care? After all, the regulations surrounding Neutral Spirit (the base that all Gins start) will remain, in order to keep customers safe from poisoning. We appear to be talking about regulations put in place to ensure that there was an even playing field and consumers knew what they were getting, for drinkers and producers that largely no longer care.

The barriers still stand in the form of the regulations, but are so eroded and singed, that although monumental they stand largely as a reminder only that they existed. There appears to be little effort to shore them up or make them good again. And as one commentator stated recently “the horse bolted a long time ago”

(I note it is almost 2 years to the day when the “Great Gin Debate” took place on 6th September 2018 at Hayman’s Distillery)

Will anything change in The Ginasium?

Again the answer is simple “Yes” and “No”

No: I am going to continue to try to avoid accusatory remarks of Gin Snobbery and simply call a Gin that in my opinion is a regulatory Gin a “Gin” and I will refer to anything that is not a Gin (according to current regulations) a “Spirit”, even when labelled Gin. I will continue to not call it out as ‘not a gin’ and be respectful of the efforts of producers and individual drinking habits. So no change there then.

Yes: I will however, be posting more about excellent spirits that may be labelled as Gin but not technically Gin (rather than simply ignoring them) – so the change is there – albeit subtly and I will continue to be respectful.

Remember, I remain torn between conforming to regulation and promoting good spirits as a whole and hope that the category of Gin does not become diluted in the same way as some bars serve their G&Ts that it is simply a juniper offshoot of flavoured vodka. In this respect, you may be permitted to think me a snob, but only with regards to the use of the label “Gin” and never the contents of a bottle or what you mix it with in the glass.

Can you tell that I am missing my pub and bar talks on these sort of esoteric subjects?

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