China is undergoing a spiritual revolution, liquors that is.
The spirit market is growing side by side with the unstoppable craft movement going on in the country. Craft spirits are a global trend. Small distilleries in South America, Africa, the United States and even in European states with a strong distilling history are producing new small-batch spirits in boutique facilities. No one had done it in China, until now.
Baijiu still leads the market, yet other types of liquor are gradually infiltrating the fast-growing economy and are sliding through the cracks of society establishing new roots as they are assimilated.
Chinese people are opening to new experiences, and foreign liquors are starting to get noticed. Income in China is growing, and people are going out a lot more, they want to experience places, try new cocktails, this is a new segment.
A growing cocktail scene is an ideal stage to showcase new products, and while foreign brands try to sneak in and position themselves with all their might, there are now local brands silently taking the lead.
China is undergoing a spiritual revolution,
liquors that is.
Peddlers Gin is one of the first international spirits distilled in China. In 2016, three friends: Joseph Judd, Fergus Woodward and Ryan McLeod set their sights in designing a legitimate Chinese gin flavored with local botanicals. “Gin is a really exciting category at the moment, in terms of provenance. It’s very interesting to create a gin from a very diverse region [like China],” says Joseph, Head of Brand for the company.
Joseph had a branding and marketing background. Fergus had worked with distilled spirits before and acts now as the head distiller, and Ryan had worked F&B, so he knew sales and distribution. They had all the pieces together and would have to prove their expertise to succeed.
The spirits industry is really competitive, so the challenge and their primary goal was sticking out by creating an authentic premium spirit.
The name Peddlers came up as a way to honor Shanghai traditions and its way of life. “Shanghai has always been a trading town, it has always been about people coming in with new products and new ideas and exchanging them”, points out Joseph. In the old days you could buy anything from bicycle carts, even today you see them everywhere.
The bottle, typography and overall image for their gin were inspired by Shanghai city in the 1930s. Staying true to the city’s identity, embracing its history and blending in its modern side was essential. “Staying true to Shanghai,” as Joseph puts it.
Gin is merely as good as the quality of its ingredients, and the entrepreneurs knew it. They sourced their botanicals from all China and beyond, creating a stable, reliable chain of supply. “Arriving at our final recipe was a matter of trial and error... if we can source the ingredients in Shanghai and in China, we do it,” said Fergus in an interview for xehua.us.
Peddlers Gin uses eleven botanicals. Sichuan pepper, east Asian mint and Buddha’s hand citrus peel are the standouts. “Gin is all about fusing different botanicals together” continues Joseph. Green tea, lemon grass, and even bamboo were considered in the development stage but failed to add uniqueness to the blend.
Using Sichuan pepper was a bold move, but the craftsmen assure it adds a peppery taste without the Ma la, spicy-numbing flavor the spice is known for. “It’s not a Chinese hot pot” he teases.
The use of Buddha’s hand citrus peel is also uncommon, most gins use lemon or orange citrus peels, Peddlers Gin thinks local. “[Buddha’s hand] doesn’t grow best here in Shanghai so, we had to figure out where it grew better in China and find a reliable supplier for it,” explains Fergus. Buddha’s hand provides a gentle flavor that lets other ingredients come through. The juniper berries, vital to officially call the spirit a proper gin, are sourced from Hungary.
What’s the next step for Peddlers? “Now it’s really ramping up the marketing and distribution side of things,” says Joseph. Peddlers is starting to show up on cocktail menus and is not going unnoticed. Peddlers makes a fantastic Gin Tonic and adds a new dimension to the Negroni. “This has been a challenging and exciting journey,” exclaims Joseph, "and sales are going well.”
This year, Peddlers Gin won a Gold medal at the China Wine and Spirits Awards, a well-earned distinction. Ryan added, for Drinks Magazine, “We’re excited about increasing our reach this year, and you can expect to see us popping up on cocktail lists at a lot more establishments across the country.”2
Peddlers is already paving the way for new challengers, British Helena Kidacka recently co-founded Crimson Pangolin, another original Chinese Gin, and there are more to come.
If you’re visiting Shanghai, even for a brief business trip, don’t hesitate to experience this spirited revolution. Why not start with Peddlers Gin? A gin with a Chinese spirit.
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Author: Franco Salzillo, Certified Somm & Wine Writer