In the winter of 2021, a beachside pub in Goa witnessed the initiation of many into the world of gin. For those who typically favored rum irrespective of the season, the prospect of appreciating gin was unexpected. However, a single sip of a craft gin known as Greater Than, created by Anand Virmani and Vaibhav Singh under the brand NÄO Spirits in India, sparked a newfound interest, leading enthusiasts into the historical journey of gin.
Reflecting a global trend, various Indian brands have ventured into the craftsmanship of artisanal spirits. Gin, originally introduced by the British with quinine to combat Malaria, has evolved from a basic mix of water, sugar, and lime to the premium segment. This transformation involves incorporating local botanicals, departing significantly from the traditional era of Beefeater and Gordon’s.
Truly Local Gins – India And Gin: A Budding Romance
In the verdant forests of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Mahua tree stands as a symbol of life. Local tribes have utilized its seeds, bark, and leaves in culinary and medicinal preparations for centuries. Mahua takes center stage in Mohulo, India’s first sipping gin, launched by NV Distilleries under Varun Jain’s leadership. The uniqueness of Mahua lies not only in its exclusivity but also in the diverse flavor profile it imparts to the gin. Utilizing basmati rice as a base, Wild Honey for smoothness, and a blend of juniper berries, coriander, and other botanicals, Mohulo achieves a well-balanced and distinctive flavor.
In the elevated terrains of Uttarakhand, Himmaleh Spirits introduces Kumaon & I, a craft gin incorporating 11 regional ingredients. Notable components include Timur, a Szechuan pepper, and Black Turmeric cultivated at over 10,000 feet. Ansh Khanna and Samarth Prasad, co-founders of the brand, emphasize their quest for the perfect balance of flavors, with a careful curation of botanicals and a distillation process that extracts maximum flavor.
But why the sudden drive to incorporate local ingredients?
This shift can be attributed to a global sustainability movement that seeks to highlight indigenous traditions. India, with its rich culture of local spirits, resonates with the nostalgia that craft gin brands aim to encapsulate. Coupled with the experimental spirit of a new generation and the rise of cocktail culture, this movement paves the way for more diverse spirits.
Jatin Dev Bobb of Chhota Hazri Spirits notes that today’s consumers, especially millennials, are inclined towards high-quality Indian gins that align with their values. This shift challenges the longstanding belief that imported equals superior. For instance, Himmaleh Spirits’ Baagh Gin blends the zesty tang of Nagpur orange and the crispness of lime, using botanicals sourced from various regions of India.
And when it comes to Juniper berries and gin, we have to go back to where it all started – Goa.
Goa, being the epicenter of beverage experiments in the country, plays a pivotal role in crafting distinctive gins. Anand Virmani, co-founder and CEO of NAO Spirits, emphasizes the uniqueness that comes from the selection of botanicals from different regions across India. For example, their ‘Hapusa’ gin celebrates the essence of the Himalayan juniper, showcasing a distinctly ‘Goan’ character.
Gin and Sustainability
Sustainability is a growing concern within the alcobev sector, and new-age gin brands are actively addressing it. Kumaon & I, for instance, is a 100% traceable gin, ensuring every ingredient can be traced back to a local community in Uttarakhand. Similarly, Baagh Gin supports the Balipara Foundation, focusing on rewilding and agrobiodiversity initiatives. NV Distilleries aims to be a Carbon Neutral Distillery, supporting tribal communities through strategic partnerships. Nao Spirits employs a closed-loop system, saving 10,000 liters of water daily.
A New BeGINning
As India embraces a new spirit and its diverse flavors, the country’s gintrepreneurs are optimistic about painting a new picture of India. Varun from NV Distilleries shares this optimism as new experiments, such as Greater Than’s ‘Broken Bat’ gin smoked with cricket bat wood and Mohulo’s introduction of sipping gins, redefine the gin landscape.
In the ongoing gin revolution, consumers are exploring gin & tonic and experimenting with gin-infused cocktails. There’s hope that they’ll pause and savor the liquid on its own, appreciating craftsmanship and high quality. This concept, widely popular in the West, is gaining traction among discerning consumers.