Spencer Matthews disrupts gin industry with low ABV ‘spirit’ brand

Former City trader and Made in Chelsea star Spencer Matthews has transformed his public image by becoming the face of a ‘Clean Gin’ brand which which has already ruffled feathers in the UK’s spirits industry.

Spencer Matthews attending his launch of The Clean Liquor Company at The Trading House in London. The company is launching a ‘CleanGin’, a replacement to gin, with only 4 calories per 50ml.

Matthews, currently co-starring with his wife in E4’s new series Spencer, Vogue and Baby too, began his TV career on Made in Chelsea, having previously worked as a foreign exchange broker at ICAP in the Square Mile.

Now, he is the CEO and public face of Clean Liquor Co, a new brand of distilled ‘spirits’ bottled at 1.2% ABV.

So far, the range includes a ‘CleanGin’, but Matthews has said there are also whisk(e)y and rum alternatives in the pipeline.

Matthews, who has been teetotal for around 18 months, met with Justin Hicklin, a director of the Gin Guild, in April to discuss developing a brand in the low-and-no category.

After months of research, product testing and brand development, the pair launched their new product at The Trading House in London on Tuesday night with a guestlist comprised of Matthews’ well-heeled nearest and dearest, including wife Vogue Williams, sister in-law Pippa Middleton, and close friends and former Made in Chelsea co-stars Hugo Taylor and Jamie Laing.

It is “the closest you can get to a gin with that ABV,” according to Hicklin.

Matthews said he and Hicklin saw an opportunity to plug a gap in the drinks market as “options for those who chose not to drink, even if just for an evening, are scarce and sub-par.”

“Our clean gin must taste like London dry gin, not an expensive botanical cordial or some floral concoction,” Matthews said.

“By incorporating the 1.2% ABV we’re able to follow traditional gin distillation techniques resulting in CleanGin’s great taste and body, which most ‘low and no’ drinks cannot offer.”

Disrupting the category

CleanGin has had initial success in the off-trade, and has already secured listings in close to 500 Sainsbury’s stores across the UK.

Sales of non-alcoholic spirit alternatives have soared both in volume and value in the UK. William Grant & Sons launched its first ultra-low alcohol spirit, bottled at 0.5% ABV, this year, while Danish brand ISH Spirits launched two alcohol-free alternatives, Ginnish and Rummish, in July.

Drinks giant Pernod Ricard also unveiled its own non-alcoholic spirit this year after it brought ABV-free spirit Ceder’s to the UK in 2018.

But their labelling is a thorny issue in the drinks industry.

The EU sets out definitions and technical standards for three categories of gin: Gin, Distilled gin and London (dry) gin. Cutting across all of these categories are the requirements that all products using the word gin must have a minimum ABV of 37.5% and that they must taste predominately of juniper.

Speaking at the launch last night, Hicklin said that the gin distillers “need to recognise we have the skills to produce a fantastic liquid without alcohol”, and “must change” to adapt to consumer trends.

Nicholas Cook, director general of the Gin Guild, told the drinks business that a low or non-alcoholic alcohol product calling itself ‘gin’ is “not acceptable”.

Cook told db there is “clearly a place in the market for non-alcoholic adult drinks which are not sweet and which provide a savoury, refreshing, and varied option of a non-alcoholic nature,” but borrowing too many signifiers from spirits categories could be harmful to distillers.

There is a “need to ensure that the descriptions and nomenclature of those beverages, with a history character and style of many years behind them, are protected.

Lookalike non-alcoholic products, he said, “need to be carefully labelled and described.”

Cook said there is a risk that brands are “trading off” the current success of the gin category, which runs the risk of diluting the success of smaller distillers.

“There is already a big issue in the marketplace with the labelling of gin liqueurs,” he said. “The market for these products, which are obviously, by the very description, a greatly sweetened product, is now a material category.

“It is however directly trading on the back of the renaissance and success of gin and the interest of consumers in that category.”

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