Gin sales in the UK cross $1.79 billion in 2016, boosted by domestic and American demand

Hendrick's gin (left) and Bombay Sapphire gin.
Hendrick's gin (left) and Bombay Sapphire gin.PHOTOS: HENDRICK'S, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE

(GUARDIAN) - Gin enjoys record sales in 2016 as people drown their sorrows British drinkers quaffed gin in record amounts this year, while American fans of the spirit helped propel it to its best ever year.

Sparkling wine is also enjoying a renaissance, according to figures from the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA), but even the popularity of prosecco was outshone by the juniper-based spirit .

Annual gin sales smashed through the £1 billion (S$1.79 billion) barrier for the first time in the UK, leading the WSTA to declare 2016 the "year of gin".

Some 40 million bottles were sold in the past 12 months, enough to make 1.12 billion gin and tonics, or roughly 28 for every person of legal drinking age in the country. This was an increase of 200 million G&Ts compared to 2012, signalling that gin continues to grow in popularity .

Mr Miles Beale, chief executive of the WSTA, said drinkers might be reaching for gin to drown their sorrows after a series of blows to morale in 2016 - such as the deaths of David Bowie and Muhammad Ali , and the divisive votes on Brexit and Donald Trump .

A growing thirst for the spirit has also caused an explosion in the number of distilleries, with around 40 opening in 2016.

In 2010, there were only 116 distilleries in the UK according to HM Revenue & Customs, but around 100 have opened in the past two years alone.

The WSTA also revealed that foreign drinkers were importing gin in record volumes, with exports to America particularly strong.

The trade body said gin exports to the US were up 553 per cent in the past decade, reaching £159 million in 2015.

It put the drink's popularity with Americans down to hit British TV and films such as Downton Abbey and the James Bond franchise featuring the tipple.

Sparkling wine is also enjoying a moment in the sun, according to figures revealed in the group's quarterly update, with sales up 16 per cent to £768 million in shops and 28 per cent to £403 million in bars, pubs and restaurants.

The increase means that both sparkling wine and gin outperformed sales in the wider alcohol market, which rose slightly to £40 billion.

Among wines, the WSTA identified a rise in the popularity of New Zealand and Argentinian vineyards at the expense of European and US wines.

Annual sales of New Zealand wines and Argentinian wines grew, while Spanish, American, Italian and French wines all experienced more muted growth or declined in popularity.

The WSTA took the opportunity to recommend that the government cut duties on spirits, which it said would boost the industry and the Treasury's coffers.

It said the cut in spirits duty in the 2015 budget had delivered a 4.1 per cent increase in duty to £125 million, adding that the UK spirit industry was "one of the most heavily taxed in Europe".