Ice and a slice?

This week, we’re in London for the AIPPI conference. Corinna Hiscox takes a look at the history of the capital’s favourite tipple.

Some say no trip to London would be complete without a gin tasting experience – gin has now replaced whisky as the UK’s most popular spirit, following a boom in craft distillery production over the past decade, and an increasing number of flavours and botanicals to tempt consumers.

This is not the first time gin has been hailed as one of the nation’s most beloved tipples. The spirit’s predecessor – jenever – a juniper-flavoured liquor, traditionally from the Netherlands and surrounding areas, arrived in Britain at the end of the seventeenth century as William of Orange took to the throne. The English quickly acquired a taste for “Dutch courage” and, by the start of the eighteenth century, the drink had gained in popularity sparking what was known as the Gin Craze. By the 1730s, London alone housed around 7000 gin shops.  

Gin consumption was not without considerable risk, however, since unlicensed distillers sought to produce ever increasing quantities of the liquor, adulterating it with turpentine, sulphuric acid and lime oil, and masking its bitter taste with sugar, liquorice and other flavourings in an effort to reduce production costs. 

Fortunately, invention of the column still, which was improved and patented by Dubliner, Aeneas Coffey, in the 1830s, enabled the spirit to be produced on a mass-scale, without compromising purity and taste, dispensing with the need for heavy sweeteners and flavourings.  At that time, since most of the UK’s gin was produced in London, the resulting liquor became known as London Gin / London Dry Gin, and more closely resembles the spirit we know today. 

Nowadays, usage of “London” for gin is regulated by the EU Spirit Drinks Regulations 2008; the term may only be used for gins whose flavouring forms part of the distillation process, rather than being added afterwards.  Paradoxically, London gin need not actually be made in the UK’s capital; instead the term designates the particular characteristics and style of dry gin, regardless of where the product is made. Whilst no doubt UK drinks manufacturers would prefer to restrict usage of the term London, the reality of the marketplace indicates that the designation does not indicate geographic origin – at least where gin is concerned.

EU law currently makes provision for a number of geographic quality schemes under its Protected Geographical Status system. However, such protection is reserved exclusively for the geographic names of products whose unique characteristics derive from their geographic origin, including:

  • Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs): used to protect geographic names of food, agricultural and wine products with the closest possible links to the locality in which they are made; the goods must be produced, processed and prepared in the specific region at issue, using strict local methods, knowledge or tradition. Examples include Champagne, Kalamata Olives, Cornish Clotted Cream and West Country Farmhouse Cheddar.
  • Protected Geographical Indications (PGIs / GIs): used to protect names of products, whose quality, reputation or other characteristics are linked to a particular geographic area; the indication can be used for food, agricultural and wine products, for which at least one stageof production, preparation or processing takes place in the region at issue. A parallel system exists for the protection of spirits and aromatised wines, distilled or prepared in a particular region. Examples include Dorset Blue Cheese, Yorkshire Wensleydale Cheese and Scotch Whisky.

The PDO and PGI schemes have been criticised as examples of EU protectionism, enabling manufacturers to establish monopolies and artificially inflate prices, to the detriment of consumers. Nevertheless, consumer choice still prevails, and the designation of protected status acts as a guarantee of quality and a trusted sign that products meet certain standards or share particular characteristics, The indications also act as a useful marketing tool for manufacturers around the world, and protection is not restricted to geographic names of EU origin.

Prior to launch of new food, drink and agricultural products, proper searches should be conducted to check whether geographic names have been protected, to ensure products are in compliance. The EU Commission has recently launched its new eAmbrosia database  ( to facilitate searching for geographic indications. The database currently covers wines and spirits, and should extend to include all agricultural products by the end of the year. 

Obviously no article would be complete at the moment without a consideration of Brexit. If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, the UK government is planning to create the UK’s own system of protection for geographic indications. Geographic indications for UK products already registered will remain protected in the UK under the new schemes. Automatic continuation of protection for geographic indications from outside the EU has not been confirmed to date – the UK government is expected to issue guidance in October on how to apply to the new UK schemes. We await announcement of details of the new scheme, to keep our clients up to date on the practical implications effecting IP rights on our records.