India is now producing high-quality gin and agave spirits and giving international brands some tough competition.
Gin is the spirit of the season. And agave spirits are recently gaining ground. The refreshing gin, tonic and lime combination – a popular drink in the UK is now increasingly picking pace in India. In fact, India is now producing high-quality gin and agave spirits and giving international brands some tough competition.
Anand Virmani, CEO and distiller of Nao Spirits that manufacture Greater Than and Hapusa explains, “This sudden popularity is hardly sudden – it has in fact been picking up pace since at least as far back as 2010. A big reason for its popularity in India is in fact its booming success in countries like Spain, the UK, and Singapore. Indian tourists returning from these countries have been bringing back the acquired taste for gin and tonic.”
“This has been fuelled further by the opening up of high-quality cocktail bars with bartenders at the forefront who take their drinks seriously, hence giving more thought to their choice of spirit than just the price and margins involved,” Anand adds.
“The same phenomenon took place in India, where a few brands introduced their ideas that were followed by a few tonic brands complementing the others as the quality of tonics was not available. With Salud, we observed the whole growth; we decided to simplify and reach a larger audience of people to consume not only as a gin but as an RTD. We combined the two and decided that that would be the way forward,” Ajay adds.
Rakshay Dhariwal, Managing Director of Pass Code Hospitality, who has launched Pistola explains. “People are excited by small batch liquors, where each bottle feels special. Goa is the only place in India where it is financially feasible to distil and bottle in smaller quantities due to lower excise duties. Moreover, the Goan market is experimental and willing to try something new,” Rakshay says.
Experts are now looking at spirits like Mezcal in India as the next gin. Rakshay agrees. He says, “We are projecting exponential growth for Maya Pistola Agavepura for the foreseeable future and are poised to capture that opportunity being one of India’s premium 100 percent Agave spirits.”
As for Goa, Anand Virmani feels there is nothing that really makes Goa an ideal place to start a gin distillery – other than the beaches, clean air and great food. There is also a very real chance that you bump into a gin distiller with whom to compare notes at any given bar on any given night now.
It’s a culture now and rather interesting one for India.
“There was never any special advantage that Goa had over the others from a production perspective. However, it has proved to be a great test-market and marketing megaphone considering how many potential gin-drinkers make their way to Goa on every holiday opportunity they get,” says Aparajita Ninan.
These spirit makers are reflecting the changing landscape of cool and exciting spirits made in India and their popularity is visible across most hip and happening bars in Indian metro cities.
Aparajita Ninan and Anand Virmani’s experiment with gin has turned into one of the most exciting success stories coming out of India. It’s a story of David over Goliath.
“Our craft gins are produced in small batches in our distillery in Goa. They are the very first craft gins to be distilled in India. Both gins are made with only the best botanicals sourced from India and around the world. These gins are a reflection of our story in the local landscape – they are stories of modern India. The imported gins we have access to in India are the Goliaths of the gin world. They each have a rich history and pedigree to showcase, but we still hold the craft card,” says Ninan, co-founder and director of Nao Spirits.
The same goes with Ajay Shetty and Rakshay Dhariwal.
Rakshay Dhariwal’s Maya Pistola Agavepura is one of India’s first aged 100 percent agave spirits. It really highlights the India story as they use a species of Agave Americana that has been growing wild in India for centuries now.
Rakshay explains, “We have made sure everything about it comes from India that also includes the bottles and packaging.”
His foray into this has been pegged to be an idea ahead of its time by many industry watchers. One of the variants has been distilled and aged for months in ex-bourbon casks and blended without additives. It contains notes of caramel, butterscotch, oak, vanilla, pepper and cacao.
Rakshay points out, “The way people drink in India has evolved. Indians are now aware of the difference between a Tequila blanco (unaged), a reposado (aged for at least 2 months) and an anejo (aged for at least a year) and are beginning to drink these differently. At our restaurants, many people opt to drink Mezcal and Tequila on ice and choose cocktails with tequila bases. While shots are consumed as well, Agave is beginning to be consumed in a way similar to whiskey or bourbon.”
Ajay Shetty has turned the tables around in the ‘alcobev’ segment with Salud’s offerings. However, does the increasing number of spirit makers in India bother him? He says, “Today the increase in fine gin makers and other spirit makers has put our country in the spotlight on the world stage. We are now showcasing how we have become a powerhouse. In our case with Salud, we have forayed into the alcobev segment, which is a combination. Ours is a pre-mixed gin and tonic in a ready-to-drink bottle.”
“Soon, you will witness more brands coming out with similar products. However, we are not specifically gin-oriented makers. In the alcobev space, our forte is RTD. Our aim is to create a complete portfolio of unique, interesting ready-to-drink offerings. At the same time, we are also an urban lifestyle brand, with full-fledged product verticals under the Salud umbrella that go beyond just the alcobev space. In that sense, the increasing crowd in the gin market doesn’t bother us, as we feel we have a wide appeal in different areas and segments of products with audiences from various walks of life,” he adds.
Needless to say, the local handmade batches of these spirits are here to stay and are enjoying popularity. With a more discerning millennial population who loves to live it up, know their spirits, have the palette to differentiate, the local brands from India with home-grown botanicals are giving all the international ones quite a ‘shaken not stirred’ moment.