The Rest of the Gin Story.
Article By: Robert Bradford
DEAR SUBSCRIBERS Due to a production error, a very important ingredient was omitted from last month’s Gin article, unfortunately altering the ultimate flavor of its final presentation. With my apologies to you, our readership, Old Raj importer Henry Preiss, owner of Preiss Imports, and Robert Bradford, here is, in full, said missing ingredient. -PJ STONE
The costliest specialty gin of them all is Old Raj Blue Label Dry Gin, a product from Scotland’s renowned Cadenhead single malt bottling firm, and hailed by several critics as the Rolls Royce of the gin category. It’s one of the luxury selections in the exclusive California-based Preiss Imports portfolio, and created a sensation when it first came on the US market in the late ’9Os. Infused with saffron, the liquid has an elegant natural pale-straw hue, and, on the nose, a beautiful explosion of saffron and lemongrass and other botanicals coming together. Another singularity is its 11O-proof strength. But perhaps the most notable buzz when it first hit the marketplace was the stratospheric retail price tag of $7O-plus for a 75Oml. It seemed preposterous at the time.
“It’s definitely a very expensive gin product,” agrees company owner Henry Preiss, “and, believe me, I’ve fought tooth and nail with them in Scotland over the pricing. But they go, ‘Well, we’re a small business, consider the cost of the ingredients,’ and this and that. As you know, the Scots aren’t too easy to give up a penny of anything. Anyway, despite the expense, I decided to bring it in just to give it a chance. So I brought in this cautious small quantity, and, through word of mouth, can you believe this limited quantity sold out before that shipment even got here. I spent the next year trying to catch up. Anyway, it’s become an extremely viable niche brand, and when you think of something that we do so little for in the way of promotion and zero advertising, the cult following this brand has now acquired, in major markets like New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston, is nothing short of spectacular. Normally, we like to keep 9O to 1OO day inventory, but with Old Raj I now have to give it about 18O days, because we’ve sometimes run out, making a lot of customers pretty upset.”
Preiss has recently introduced an Old Raj Red Label at a lower 92-proof. “It became apparent that our 11O-proof Old Raj Blue is pretty powerful stuff for some drinkers in the general consumer market,” he concedes. “So, this lower proof version is targeted for more widespread bar consumption, but it still has that strong distinctive Old Raj flavor.” He indicates that Blue label is still outselling Red label even on-premise, but the Red is doing quite nicely and bringing a lot of new consumers to the brand. “But there are a great many Old Raj Blue loyalists devoted to the higher proof version,” Preiss says, “and one of the preferred ways they like to drink it is ice cold with olives.
The gin product he’s most excited about, at the moment, is a new gin from Spain, being launched in the US this summer. It’s a venture of the Gonzalez Byass sherry people, but being produced in London, and branded as London Gin Company on the label. It has a 94-proof strength and sapphire-blue color which is all naturally derived from the ingredients being used, and no artificial coloring at all. “This is not to be confused with Bombay Sapphire,” Preiss points out, “where the color in the Sapphire bottle is entirely the result of the tinted glass, but the liquid itself is clear.” Gonzalez Byass are looking for a distinctive point of difference, he points out, and, although this isn’t the first blue gin ever produced, it will be the only blue-colored gin product currently on the market.
Other selling points include an extremely attractive package, which took a gold medal at this year’s packaging awards. Preiss describes that it’s a little like the squatty, broad Bruichladdich single malt bottle shape that’s been so well received, and has everything silk-screened in black imagery on clear glass containing the blue liquid. Also, the London Gin Company name stands out prominently on a stylish black band. The suggested retail price will be up in the luxury range, but a bit lower than Old Raj, says Preiss. “We’ve worked hard to keep the price down as low as possible. They originally were considering a $7O price point. We whittled it down about twenty bucks. But it’s still going to be gin product in the $5O/bottle range for a 75Oml. It’s the best that we can do. Anyway, it truly represents one of the highest quality gins available for the money.”