Posted April 2013
Youth Cultures - Why
does the passing of Margaret Thatcher on 8April 2013, aged 87,
make me think of gin? Don't get me wrong. I did not plan to join
the hundreds of opponents of Margaret Thatcher for a "mass
party" in Londonís Trafalgar Square to celebrate her death on 13
April with a G&T (Gin and Tonic). I don't think it tasteful or
called for to rejoice in her death, irrespective of what you
think of her politics or legacy.
The reason I thought of gin
was cultural. I have been wondering for a while why it is that
gin is having a big renaissance of late? As far as I can see,
it's become cool again to be seen drinking a G&T or a Martini,
which is the classic gin cocktail with
In the UK, gin sales are
growing at 12 percent in pubs, bars and restaurants, and by 5
percent in off-licences and supermarkets, according to data from
research group Nielsen. Especially artisanal gin seems to be the
dernier cri as people in the UK have recently realised that gin
can be a far more interesting drink than vodka.
The art historian and spirits
consultant Owen Barstow says that London is having a gin
revolution, not unlike the craft beer revolution. But while
craft beers, on the whole - and I am phrasing this very
cautiously - tend to go with a more progressive outlook on the
part of the consumer (as well as their late-hippie brewers), gin
- again, to me - in the UK mixes with a more conservative
In the case of the young, who
drink gin, "conservative" is probably mostly a fashion
statement. In the UK's very dynamic, fluid and pluralist popular
culture, Mr Barstow says, "trends move into a reactionary mode
especially in times of economic hardship, like ours today.
That's why you will find a certain group of young, middle class,
informed young people who define themselves as away from the
mainstream by drinking gin, real ale, and tea; by wearing suits,
ties, tweeds, and brogue shoes; and by listening to music by the
male duo Hurts, who are an exact copy of Spandau Ballet, aka the
brothers Kemp, from the 1980s."
In the 1980s, this group of
youngsters would have been called "young fogeys" because of
their vintage dress style and their erudite, conservative
cultural pursuits. I don't know if the young fogeys of today
would call themselves thus or know about their 1980s
predecessors. Youth tends to have a short memory.
Whatever the case, there is no
denying that currently in the UK among certain young people, the
tastes, fashions and music of the 1980s, which was a decade of
severe economic hardship for many Britons, are being
appropriated. Hence the surge in gin consumption. Mr Barstow
tells me how recently he went to a London pub with his best
friend and his son who is now at university in London. While the
elders drank real ale or wine, the young man had three G&Ts made
with some trendy gin. He actually asked in the pub which gins
they stocked. He's 20 years old.
Those of us who remember the
1980s in the UK vividly, the decade will always be associated
with Mrs Thatcher, or Mrs T as we called her, who was Britainís
prime minister from 1979 to 1990. Although the familiar
landmarks of her tenure will surely loom largest - the savage
battle over the economy in the early 1980s, the victory in the
Falklands war in 1982, the bitter struggle with the miners in
1984/85, the deregulation of the City in 1986, the disastrous
introduction of the poll tax, and the high drama of her
resignation in 1990, according to the historian Dominic
Sandbrook - it is for the effects of her divisive policies on
social life in Britain that we cannot think of the 1980s without
thinking of Mrs T. Let's face it: Because of her politics, in
the north of England, whole communities died with the closing of
industries, such as mining.
Already Mrs Thatcher's death
has triggered a highly emotional debate over the lasting merits
or damages of Thatcherism. Therefore, many suspect that the
1980s revival will cease to be merely a lifestyle thing and go
much more mainstream, putting all those 1980s political and
cultural issues back on the agenda.
I am not sure that marketers at Diageo, the
world's major drinks group with gin brands Gordon's and
Tanqueray, will agree to my cultural analysis as to why gin is
so popular among the young. But they have certainly latched on
the category's rising appeal.
Diageo have embarked upon an
innovation drive behind Gordonís. In March this year they
launched a collection of flavoured gins, such as Gordonís Crisp
Cucumber. The group is also bringing back a limited edition
version of Tanqueray Malacca, which it discontinued last decade,
following demand from bartenders. As part of the marketing
campaign, Diageo at the end of March had a two-day "pop-up"
Tanqueray Gin Palace in an old store in London's Covent Garden.
Not to be outdone, France's
Pernod Ricard group will open the Beefeater gin distillery
experience in Kennington in South London later this year, which
will offer visitors to the capital a chance to see the famous
gin brand being made, as well as learning about the history of
London gin. Pernod Ricard said sales of its Beefeater gin brand
reached a record 2.5 million nine-litre cases last year .
By my last count, at least
three microdistilleries have opened up in recent years in
London: Sacred Microdistillery, The London Distillery Company
and Sipsmith. Incidentally, Sipsmith turned the office of the
late beer writer Michael Jackson into their gin distillery.
PS. Michael Jackson, being a
Yorkshire man and member of the Labour Party, did not approve of
Mrs T's politics. But he would secretly have approved of her
fondness for a fortifying glass of whisky in the evening.
∑ may ∑