From gin tastings to food pairings, and even gin immersion masterclasses—there has undeniably been a global ‘ginaissance’ in recent years. Gin has transitioned from a dreary, older person’s drink to one that is considered the last word in cool. This global resurgence has resonated across India as well. Till five years ago, India’s gin scene was non-existent. But thanks to a bunch of millennials, the Indian craft gin market has exploded with over 15 brands having been launched since 2017. “Gin is now seen as a fun, lifestyle drink preferred by the sub 35-40 age group,” says Magandeep Singh, a veteran beverage industry consultant. Pick up a bottle of one of these craft gins and the list of botanicals is typically Indian—from turmeric to coriander to even hemp seeds. “The young Indian consumer is a lot more experimental. Also, the impression earlier was that anything made in India was not great; now they take pride,” says Yangdup Lama, Co-founder of Delhi-based Sidecar, ranked #16 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars. Here’s a look at some of the top gins you should be sipping.
Greater Than: shaking it up
The brand that started it all. In 2015, when Anand Virmani and Vaibhav Singh were running a cocktail bar in Delhi, they were surprised by the lack of Indian gins in the market. “We thought someone should create a gin that represents India or is for bartenders from India,” says Virmani. Fellow enthusiasts encouraged them to create the gin on their own. In September 2017, Greater Than was launched as India’s first craft gin with nine botanicals, under their company Nao Spirits. While the juniper is imported from Macedonia, Indian botanicals like fennel, coriander, ginger and lemongrass are bought from suppliers locally. Last year, they launched a limited edition called Juniper Bomb—the result of a power failure that left the botanicals soaking for 34 hours instead of the regular 10, resulting in a batch of a much stronger-flavoured gin. This year, they are launching a coffee-infused gin as a limited edition. Greater Than is exported to 14 countries and is available in nine states in India, including Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Delhi.
While researching for Greater Than, Anand Virmani discovered that there is a Himalayan juniper that could be used to make gin. And that’s how Hapusa (the Sanskrit word for juniper) was born in 2018. Hapusa sources its juniper berries from the Himalayan region, and all other botanicals such as turmeric, mango, coriander seeds and almonds locally. “It’s more representative of what modern India can be and takes our story to the rest of the world,” says Virmani. Hapusa is exported to 16 countries, including the UK, and is available in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Goa and Rajasthan. While Virmani suggests having it cold or as a Negroni, Lama recommends it as a martini. Tarun Sibal, who works with various gins and is the chef and co-owner of Titlie, a Goa-based culinary bar, says, “Hapusa is a dreamy gin. The impression of misty mountains, Himalayan junipers, lovely floral, citrusy notes makes it extremely distinctive.”
Pumori: A play on spice
It was bang in the middle of the pandemic last year that Fullerton Distilleries, which also makes Woodburn Whisky, launched Pumori, a small-batch gin with 12 botanicals sourced from the Indian subcontinent. It has Himalayan juniper like Hapusa, along with orange peel, lemon peel, cardamom, coriander seeds, liquorice, nutmeg, rosemary, aniseed, cinnamon, almond and vanilla. It is juniper-forward and pleasantly spicy in flavour with a pungent, citrusy aroma. “Pumori is a play on sweet spice. We wanted to bring the Indian spice heritage to the front,” says founder Aman Thadani, who used to be a professional dancer in Mumbai, till a knee injury in 2013 put a halt to that career. It took over four years of trial and error and distilling over 50 botanicals to finally settle on these 12. Pumori is named after Mount Pumori, a peak in the Himalayan range that is considered the daughter of Mount Everest in Nepal. “It is an ode to the Himalayan juniper that we use,” says Thadani. Pumori is currently available only in Mumbai and Goa. It is truly a small-batch gin with only around 10,000 bottles produced every month in a 200-litre pot still that Thadani and team built themselves.
GinGin: latest on the block
The latest kid on the block (quite literally, considering founder Shubham Khanna is only 25 years old) is GinGin, a gin with hemp as a key botanical. Made after more than 40 trials, where Khanna tried everything from MDH Garam Masala to Goan chorizo, GinGin is distilled using nine botanicals, including juniper, coriander, lavender, rosemary, caraway seeds, cinnamon, lemongrass and, of course, hemp. “While I was figuring out what I wanted to put in my gin, I was on a keto diet. I used to sprinkle hemp seeds on my salad. I threw it into the gin pot and was happy with the results,” says Khanna. The hemp, he says, doesn’t have a flavour of its own, but adds texture. “It adds to the entire symphony of botanicals; it works as a USP.” Khanna is a self-taught, one-man army in the business, who did a four-month crash course at a New York-based distillery. After trials across a few bars in Goa, GinGin was launched in March 2021. As of now, it’s only available in Goa, but Khanna plans to expand to Karnataka, Maharashtra and Delhi by the end of the year.
Stranger & Sons: Rounded, versatile and contemporary
Referring to itself as ‘The spirit of India in a spirit from India’, Stranger & Sons was launched in 2018 in Goa, by three young food enthusiasts—Vidur Gupta, his cousin Sakshi Saigal and her husband Rahul Mehra, who is also the Co-founder of Gateway Brewing Co. and SVAMI Artisanal Tonic Waters And Mixers. Crafted with inherently Indian botanicals, including a unique citrus peel mix—Indian bergamot, nimbu, Nagpur oranges and Gondhoraj limes—and warm spices such as pepper, mace and nutmeg, Stranger & Sons highlights spices that are indispensable to most Indian households. “The name ‘Stranger & Sons’ is an ode to the wonderful strangeness of India,” says Gupta, adding that the idea was to create a spirit that could compete on the global stage. Stranger & Sons is exported to the UK, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, New Zealand and the UAE. In India, it is available in Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka and Rajasthan. Gupta describes it as a contemporary-style spice-forward gin. Declared one of the eight best gins in the world in 2020 by the International Wine & Spirit Competition, Stranger & Sons works well in a Negroni or Gibson, as per Lama. “It’s a very well rounded and versatile gin, great to work with for cocktails,” says Sibal.
Terai London dry-style gin
The only gin in this list that is not being distilled in Goa, TERAI is a London dry-style gin that is made in Rajasthan by Globus Spirits. Launched during the pandemic last year, the gin has 11 botanicals, including tulsi, rose petals, coriander and fennel. What makes TERAI, named after the Terai region at the foothills of the Himalayas, unique is that it is probably the only craft gin that makes its own rice grain base spirit. Everyone else buys it and then infuses it with botanicals. “TERAI is a grain-to-glass gin that was conceptualised as a gin, which while holding its own internationally, was still very proud of its Indian-ness,” says Karina Aggarwal, Vice President at TERAI. Currently it is available in Delhi, Rajasthan, Singapore and Hong Kong. “It is a lighter gin, works best in a martini,” says Lama. Singh recommends using it in a Negroni or as a G&T. TERAI comes in a beautiful bottle inspired by the pillars of ancient Indian temples.
Samsara: Telling the tale of India
Samsara, the Sanskrit word for sansar, or the universe, is a product of the pandemic. Launched in October last year, founder Aditya Aggarwal spent the lockdown working in his kitchen on a little glass still, trying out different types of formulations. “I tried hundreds of permutations and combinations and then was finally able to narrow it down to 11 botanicals that go into it,” says Aggarwal, who quit his job as a management consultant in the US because he wanted to work in the alco-bev industry in India. “I wanted to create a gin that was inherently Indian and told the story of India just through the smell and palate of the gin. When you taste Samsara, the first notes that you get are cardamom, rose and vetiver (khus), which is very reminiscent of Indian celebrations,” says Aggarwal. Samsara also has hemp seeds. It recently launched a pink gin that has four additional natural extracts—strawberry, rose, mulberry and hibiscus. Currently Samsara is available only in Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka, but will soon be available in Delhi and Rajasthan.
Copyright©2021 Living Media India Limited. For reprint rights: Syndications Today