If you aren’t hosting a party this year, you are probably attending one. As people gather together again for Christmas and New Year after the starkness of the pandemic years, celebratory drinks, including those with no alcohol and low alcohol, can be sophisticated this year, even if you have not been able to travel or stock up at duty free airport stores for a while. The Indian bar has been rich in variety as multiple new brands have been launching a choice of spirits, and non-alcoholic mixers, all through the year, with a burst of activity towards the latter half of 2022.
Goa, now the party-starter state, has brought many distilleries and breweries to the bar. Short Story, the latest from Goa-based Third Eye Distillery brings a trio of spirits. Pankaj Balachandran, brand director, Short Story, explains, “Having worked in the beverage industry for over 10 years, I noticed the need for a go-to spirits brand in India. We wanted to offer the Indian spirits landscape a portfolio of true-to-style essential spirits which set a standard for quality and are an effortless choice be it at home or a bar.”
The Short Story trifecta includes a classic London dry gin with a juniper backbone, a triple-distilled, charcoal-filtered grain vodka, and an Indo-Caribbean style white rum at different price points across states (Maharashtra: Vodka: ₹1,650; Gin: ₹1,850; and Rum: ₹1,950, all three spirits are sold Karnataka for ₹1,950 and Goa for ₹1,050, respectively).
Rum is a base for many popular cocktails, and Short Story’s product is a unique representation of Caribbean rum. Pankaj adds, “Jamaican rums are often fermented for longer and, as they are pot-distilled, distilled to a much lower alcohol strength, retaining the esters and congeners, which give rum its character. The cask-aged Dominican and Trinidadian rum rounds off the palate and flavour of our blend.”
Goa is also home to India’s agave spirit brand Maya Pistola Agavepura, with its latest avatar — Rosa. Crafted from Wild Agave Americana growing in the Indian Deccan plateau, the sunset-tinged spirit is aged in ex-KRSMA Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.
“This anytime drink is perfect for a brunch, or as a spritz. It even pairs brilliantly with spicy food,” says Radhika Dhariwal, co-founder, Maya Pistola Agavepura, along with Rakshay Dhariwal. The Rosa gets its colour and notes of strawberry marmalade, plum, blackberries, spices and vanilla bean from the former red wine casks. The drink being 100% agave, sans additives is bottled at 37.5% ABV (alcohol per volume of beverage), available at ₹3,200 in Goa with expansion plans in Maharashtra, Haryana and Karnataka.
Fancy a no-alcohol mojito?
While low sugar cocktails and natural sweeteners are important on bartender menus, some prefer celebrations sans alcohol. Sepoy & Co., launched their Peach Lemonade and Mixed Berry Lemonades (₹570/ six packs of 200 ml bottles) in time for the celebratory season, available at e-commerce and retail outlets. Founder Angad Soni says the brand is driven by the versatility of its mixers. “While our previous classic lemonade paired very well with Tequila and Mezcal, the Tropical Lemonade with dark rum and the Rose lemonade with vodka, gin and sparkling wine. This time around the peach lemonade made with locally available produce, pairs itself very well with gin and rum while the mixed berry goes with gin, rum, vodka and whiskey.”
Bacardi launched MIX’R, the brand’s first-ever range of premium non-alcoholic mixers for the Indian market. Available on e-commerce stores and across Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bengaluru, the mixers come in two flavours — Mojito and Long Island Tea (₹190/ 500ml bottle). Sameeksha Uniyal, Brand Lead- Bacardi, Bacardí India & South East Asia concludes, “We are encouraging consumers to ‘Bring Your Own Mix’ or ‘BYOM’, which is a clear statement of bringing your own unique selves to drinking occasions and moments – whether at home or amidst social gatherings.” The Mojito has a mix of lemon and lime with garden mint notes,while the Mix’r Long Island Tea is a mix of cola and citrus notes, made with 10% lemon and orange juice from concentrates.
“Alcobev is a small industry and collaborations such as these not only nurture cross-category extractions but also aid sustainability which is one of the core pillars of KRSMA’s green practices,” says Uma Chigurupati, promoter, KRSMA estates. The Rosa is best sipped over ice or in a Frosé (frozen Margarita) and can be paired with spicy and bold-flavoured Indian and Mediterranean cuisines.
For those looking at homegrown beers that pair well with festive menus, Bira91 has a limited edition of its second instalment of the ‘Imagined in India’ series with — an Oktoberfest Lager, inspired by the HBO show, House of the Dragon, the Diwali Vintage Scotch Ale and a Fireworks-hop-forward wheat beer.
Ankur Jain, founder, and CEO, Bira 91, says, “Our brewers use peated malts to bring a unique combination of flavours apt for the upcoming festive season and celebrations.” Phase two of ‘Imagined in India’ limited-release beers is available across Karnataka (₹150/330ml bottle, ₹200/500ml can) and Maharashtra (₹190/pint, ₹240/can).
While Scotch Ales make for a welcome winter addition, Indian single malts and blends have had a spirited year as well. In keeping with its ode to Indian tradition and terroir, Bengaluru-based Amrut Distilleries rolled out the second in its Neidhal series, Amrut Kurinji, named after the blossoms that blanket the Nilgiris every 12 years.
With an allocation of 8,100 bottles (₹5,999) in India, this single malt has floral notes on the nose, and sweet-spice notes on the palate lending themselves well to a Christmas table.
In Goa, Yaksha, a new entrant on the Indian malt scene, from Blisswater Industries Private Limited, celebrates a confluence of Indian spirits informed by Scottish sensibilities. “We worked on multiple recipes and iterations with different combinations of blends until we arrived at this particular blend which uses a scotch from the Highlands of Scotland. That said, who is to say that you won’t see Yaksha in an Indian single malt iteration soon,” quips Varna Bhat, CEO and founder, Blisswater Industries Pvt Ltd.
GianChand by DeVANS
One of India’s oldest distilleries in its northernmost state, DeVANS launched GianChand Single Malt Whisky, 42.8% ABV, (₹4,490 – New Delhi) just in time for year-end celebrations. Prem Dewan, Chairman and MD, DeVANS, says of its ageing in American bourbon barrels, “The maximum appropriate maturity for Indian malts is about five to six years, post which they tend to get too woody due to the very hot weather. The climatic and geographical conditions in Jammu are ideal for maturation of malt spirits despite the heat, and the USP of this creation.”
If celebrations call for some bubbly, there is Skinny Witch, a Prosecco brought to India by Aman Chopra, Roshini Nath and Jessica Bedi. In its low-sugar version, the varietal of grapes do the trick, yielding a 11.5% ABV sparkling beverage that sings of its terroir. The Brut DOCG prosecco (₹2,990) is made from 100% Italian glera grapes, and the Rose DOC (₹3,350) with 85% glera and 15% pinot noir grapes. “The glera grape is naturally sweet enough and our ethos is about using clean, low sugar ingredients which is why we don’t add anything to our prosecco,” explains Aman. The Brut DOCG is available in Delhi with expansion plans to Goa, Mumbai and parts of Rajasthan.
The Indian Gin collection
For those who enjoy a good gin and tonic at holiday brunches, there’s a clutch of imported and homegrown gins. The Great Indian Gin, and French origin Trouvaille, offer wildly different gin experiences. Gurpreet Singh, founder, World of Brands, has launched three gins under the banner of the Great Indian Gin Original, The Great Indian Nagpur Orange Gin and Great Indian Shimla Green Apple Gin.
Rahul Gagerna, founder and CEO, Boutique Spirit Brands, has brought French gin, Trouvaille to India at ₹1,190 (UP) and ₹2,380 (Kerala). Trouvaille is crafted from a bouquet of botanicals, including French juniper which are then mixed with Indian grains, “that pair best in a classic gin and tonic, though we recommend adding part water and part tonic. You can also try it with cranberry juice or mix it with lemon juice, honey syrup and garnish with the lemon twist. It is the perfect combination of spice, tangy and sweet,” says Rahul.
Vallonné Vin de Passerillage — Dessert Wine — Winner of the Best in Show category at the India Wine Awards 2022, the Vallonné vineyards in Igatpuri, Maharashtra, claims it is the only dessert wine made in India following the passito process in which mature Chenin Blanc grapes are handpicked and hung up in specially constructed straw huts to sundry for a month until they turn into raisins. What emerges is berries that yield one drop of juice per raisin. Best paired with nuts, soft cheeses, ginger-based cookies or desserts, plum cake or the Christmas pudding. (₹1,800 in Maharashtra).
Vallonné Vermouth, which is a cooler counterpart of the traditional mulled wine. It’s a cabernet sauvignon infused with 12 botanicals, including rose petals, ginger, ashwagandha, from the vineyard farm, as well as cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and allowed to stay in French oak barrels for a period of six months. It’s a wine that pairs well with a Christmas pudding. (₹960 in Maharashtra).