A hard Brexit 'could wipe gin out'

By Nikkie Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

Tricky situation:  the nation's smaller craft gin distillers could face testing times, according to the WSTA
Tricky situation: the nation's smaller craft gin distillers could face testing times, according to the WSTA

Related tags: Gin

The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) has warned the UK could be faced with a gin drought if a no-deal Brexit comes to pass.

The trade association said the Government has drawn up a scenario for a no-deal Brexit that paints a frightening picture of food and ingredient shortages. The WSTA claims that if the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, it could lead to a juniper shortage.

British distillers rely on juniper and other botanicals being shipped to the UK each year, predominantly from the Mediterranean.

Other commonly used botanicals found in gin, such as orange and lemon peels, liquorice, orris root and angelica root, are all generally imported, according to the WSTA.

The trade association claims that if goods can’t get through to the UK, some smaller craft gin distillers will face extremely testing times.

A report from the WSTA showed UK sales of gin have hit another record high: in the 12 months to the end of March 2018, almost 55m bottles of gin, worth nearly £1.5bn – up 28% in volume on the same period last year and 33% in value.

This is just one example of the headaches facing the wine and spirits industry, a trade that relies on the smooth transition of goods across the border.

Higher prices

Wine businesses face similar issues, with almost all (99%) the wine sold in the UK imported. If stock cannot get in, this will lead to higher prices.

According to the WSTA, the UK wine trade is worth £19.9bn in economic activity, with just under 1.8bn bottles imported into Britain in 2017, of which 900m (50%) come from the EU.

This leaves the wine trade facing a dilemma of needing to have a contingency plan to double their wine stocks, which means finding extra warehouse space and cash flow, at a time when banks are being more cautious with lending to British businesses.

WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said: “The British gin industry is a great example of a booming trade that could be severely hampered if the so-called ‘Brexit Armageddon’ scenario strikes.

“Doomsday Brexit could have a catastrophic impact, certainly on some of the smaller gin distillers which are likely not to have the capacity to buy in and store reserves to make their products. This could lead to a shortage or even wipe out your favourite craft gin.

“The whole of the UK wine and spirit trade relies on the frictionless movement of goods in and out of the UK. We have been warning our members to prepare for the worst for the past 18 months.

“Government seems to have only just woken up to facing the bleakest outcome. The harsh reality is that 'Armageddon' risks companies going under, jobs being lost and consumers facing price hikes."

Successful trade deal

He added: “Parliament needs to debate and pass the EU withdrawal bill and the Government needs to get on with negotiating a successful trade deal with the EU that can be delivered in time for the end of the transition period. Businesses in our industry need a frictionless, fudge-free fix and they need it fast.”

Warwickshire-based business Cotswolds Distillery called for clarity from the Government in order to plan for all eventualities. 

Founder Dan Szor said: “If we are faced with a trade dead-stop at customs, it is going to cause chaos at UK ports.

“Businesses like mine will find it very tough. We need clarity from Government so we can start to make a plan.

“At Cotswolds Distillery we rely on juniper berries from Macedonia which come into the UK via Calais. Without juniper, there is no gin.

“Juniper grows wild and the success of the harvest is very much weather-dependent. If we have a bad season and distillers are being forced to stockpile, I can see a juniper war kicking off.

“It is not just small and medium-sized enterprises like ours that will suffer if the situation isn’t resolved, it is millions of gin lovers who might not be able to get hold of their favourite tipple if juniper is in short supply.”

Related topics: Spirits & Cocktails

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