A few years ago, when you went out for a drink, you probably ordered a whiskey or a vodka or cocktails with these tipples.
Cut to 2022. The fancy restaurant you are headed to is doing a gin collab in association with one of the many gin brands that have sprung up in India. Mixologists are creating spiffy cocktails with gin as the base ingredient. Indian gin brands are a preferred choice.
The rise of gin
Talking about the surge of gin in India, Kunal Patel of Monika Enterprises, says, “Before the trend started, we would struggle to sell 400-500 cases (each case has 12 bottles) a year. Now we sell almost 5,000-6,000.”
Like almost every trend, this one too started in Europe and the US before catching on in India. Sakshi Saigal, Director and Co-founder of Stranger & Sons, among the first Indian gins to hit the market, was studying in Spain when the gin boom hit the European country. Her co-founder, Vidur Gupta, was witnessing the same trend in London at that time. That started the conversation on how, despite having fresh botanicals, no gins were coming out of India. Their first gin, Stranger & Sons, came from Goa in 2018. During lockdown in 2020, in association with Bombay Canteen, they launched their first distilled cocktail using fresh guavas. “We made about 3000 bottles that year and sold only through Bombay Canteen. The bottles got sold out in days,” Saigal says.
When Craig W. Wedge, Director of Retail Operations of Mansions by Living Liquidz, came to India in 2006, vodka was the go-to drink. He sees gin going that way as well. “Gin drinkers are like beer drinkers. They are particular about their tipple,” he says.
Gin is versatile and its flavour can be easily transformed by adding various botanical infusions. It can serve as a martini, or a new-age cocktail or can even be had on the rocks.
At Epitome in Mumbai, head of Mixology, Mahesh Panigrahi, says there has been a meteoric increase in gin cocktails. “We have our own fresh in-house infused gins. Some of the popular infusions that I like to work with are aniseed, orange peel, lavender and vanilla pods,” says Panigrahi, an award-winning mixologist.
In April, popular BKC restaurant Taftoon Bar & Kitchen did a bar takeover with Tamras Gin, the newest gin to come out of Goa. Taftoon owner Pankaj Gupta says “Every month there is a new gin coming in and our mixologist create something new with it,” he says.
Jai Prakash Chopra, Co-founder of Spaceman Spirits Lab Pvt Ltd, which brings out the popular gin brand Samsara, suggests having gin on the rocks. But what about the bitterness caused by juniper berries — the main ingredient of gin? “In Samsara, we use 11 botanicals. We adjust ingredients to make the gin smooth,” Chopra says.
Made in India
Make in India has taken off for gin and how. Brands from Goa like Stranger & Sons, Hapusa, Tamras, and others are competing well with gins from abroad.
But will the gin momentum sustain? “We are still nothing compared to the UK or the US. I have my reservations about how long this can go on,” says Gupta of Taftoon.
Wedge too believes this will pass. “My only concern is that how many botanicals can you stuff in a bottle?” he asks.
Anjali Batra, Founder, Gin Explorers Club, is upbeat though. Having recently brought the gin festival to Mumbai, she finds the excitement about people regarding gin is growing. “People no longer come to Gin Explorers Club and ask ‘Hi, where can I get a beer?’,” she says. When she started the festival in 2018 in Delhi, just 4,000 people attended and five brands participated. In 2022, the numbers have increased to 10,000 and 15, respectively.
“Some people like Hapusa because they like the gondhoraj lime, Stranger & Sons has quite some loyal following and they are doing a lot of innovation. Then some more discerning people drink nothing but London Dry,” added Wedge.
Indian gin is already headed for the world market. Have you caught on to the trend yet?
Must try in Mumbai
King of the Jungle at Esora - Wine and Bistro: Cream cheese, dragonfruit, watermelon and passion fruit along with gin make for a knockout combo.
Pudin Hara Ginito at Hitchki: It comprises of pudin hara, with black salt, mint leaves, lime wedges, sugar and soda.
Tsukemono at Taki Taki: A combo of gin, martini blanco, homemade anise liqueur and pickled cucumber, this one is potent.
Gin Gin Situation at Loci and Toot: Contains gin with spiced pomegranate, sweet vermouth, fresh lime and aquafaba foam.
Kung Fu Panda at Chin Chin Chu: Blends gin with lemongrass, basil, ginger, star anise, coconut, passion fruit and lime, this one is fun and flirty.
Gin Pesto at Mansions by Living Liquidz: A classic mix of Beefeater London dry with lemon juice, sugar syrup, basil and mint leaves.
Fifty-Fifty Martini and everything else at Gin Bar by Jyran at Sofitel Mumbai: This is one place where gin lovers can go wild.
The British India angle
Gin might be the rage now, but the trend dates back to 1825 during the British Raj. The British Army officers posted in India started mixing gin — a drink made by distilling neutral grain alcohol with juniper berries and other botanicals. They mixed it tonic water — primarily a liquid made from quinine, sugar and water. This was a cocktail that helped them fight the deadly malaria disease, native to India during that period as well. Quinine and juniper berries were proven to be preventive measures for malaria. Of course, it helped that the cocktail masked the dreadful taste of quinine. Produced originally as a medicine and prescribed for curing diseases such as dyspepsia and gout as well, it soon became a popular cocktail with its popular mix tonic water. Today, Gin is infused with botanicals like citrus, seeds, rosemary and varied herbs and spices. Indian brands coming up with Goa leading the gin revolution.