My love affair with gin began very early in life when I was offered a refreshing glass of nimbu pani, mistakenly spiked with the clear spirit. On a sun-soaked winter afternoon in Rajasthan, propped between my parents, at a retired British schoolmaster’s home, I sipped on the lemony drink, albeit quite taken by the distinct bitterness. On the way back home, my description of the drink elicited a guffaw from my father as he unravelled that the unfamiliar taste was in fact a generous dose of gin in my nimbu pani. An innocent mistake by the gentleman’s house help, who was used to more mature guests at home, had me hooked!
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Unfortunately, until a couple of years ago, my affection for gin suffered, as I learnt about the drink’s negative reputation and the notoriety it suffered in the UK. From being infamously deemed as ‘Mother’s Ruin’ in Great Britain due to the widespread gin craze amongst women to sharing a negative spotlight during the Prohibition Era to the unappetising Blue Riband gin available in India, there were not too many takers for the juniper-infused clear spirit until a few years ago. A fact that came as a surprise keeping in mind gin’s connection with India. Gin became a mainstay for colonial soldiers as they mixed the spirit with quinine-rich but bitter tonic water, meant for consumption and prevention against malaria.
Thankfully times have changed in India for
G&T lovers and the return from Mother’s Ruin to a modern tipple has started
a revival for the spirit that is nothing short of extraordinary. With several
ups and downs in its history, gin is having its moment in the spotlight
globally, and has found its way into India, too.
The Rise of Gin in IndiaBetween 2016 and 2018, India witnessed a surge
in gin labels, pouring in from all over the world. According to Indian Gin
Market Overview, 2018-2023 report by Research And Markets, the Indian gin
market is forecasted to grow at a rate of more than 9 per cent CAGR between
2017-18 to 2022-23. The million-dollar question is what is driving this
incredible surge in popularity for gin. As one of the most popular tipples, the
world over, gin is only now opening up a whole new world for millennials in
India. Today, there are kindred gin lovers, who’ve realised the barren market
place and have started distilling innovative range of gins using quintessentially
Indian botanicals, such as ginger, mango, turmeric and the aromatic gondhoraj lemons.
The Indian interest in gin can be attributed to its global renaissance. Anand Virmani, co-founder of Nao Spirits, producer of India’s first London Dry Gin, Greater Than and recently launched Hapusa explains, “In 1987, Bombay Sapphire made an entry, and with that single brand gin became cool again. In 2000, Hendricks created an incredible niche with its taste and being a non-London Dry gin. Since then, there has been a tsunami of gin brands, most of which have a very young history.” India is not unaffected by the magnitude of the gin wave; there are easily more than 10 gin brands, across price points, available in the country.
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More importantly, in India, gin has been fortunate to piggyback on the popularity of Japanese whiskey, Indian single malts and the current hot favourite, craft beer. “The cause can be attributed to millenials, who are purveyors of the alternate, as they get hooked on to new experiences with a vengeance. For them, this drink is very approachable, without any formality and easy to drink,” explains Keshav Prakash, a connoisseur of fine spirits and an importer of an extensive range of ultra-luxury gin brands such as Sipsmith, Gin Mare and Hernö Old Tom Gin by Vault Fine Spirits. Well, with new age cocktails coming to the fore, gin owes its popularity to the modern drinker, who has an insatiable thirst (pun intended) for new tastes and flavours.
The Indian GamechangerIt is the versatile
spirit of gin that makes it a hot favourite with bartenders. “Gin’s inherent
flavours and relatively short production time make it a natural go-to for the
small distilleries that have sprung up around the globe, practically overnight,”
says Prakash Chandra, assistant director of restaurant operations, Juniper Bar
at Andaz Delhi. The comeback of classic cocktails such as Negroni and Martini have bartenders and mixologists interested in gin. Something as simple as Gin
and Tonic is a great expression of the complexity of the white spirit; the same
reason why Indian bartenders love experimenting with gin.
The need to experiment with all things new is now second nature to the new class of consumer and has led to the introduction of gin-centric bars. The earliest of these was Arola, which has been revamped as Dashanzi at JW Marriott Mumbai. Then there was Manu Chandra and Chetan Rampal-led led Toast & Tonic in Bengaluru, which also has an outpost in Mumbai. Chandra explains his decision, “As a gin drinker myself, it was an obvious choice for me to open a gin-focused set up. Toast & Tonic’s shrub programme offers G&T’s that are infused and flavoured in-house. The aim is to offer drinks that are delicious and comforting, yet full of novelty.”
At Juniper Bar at Andaz Delhi there are 34 versions of infused gins, including their signature Delhi Sapphire, as well as 12 signature gin based cocktails. Similarly, the Mumbai-based Masque restaurant has an extensive gin programme called Ori-Gin, where diners have the option to infuse their gin with botanicals, spices and herbs of their choice, including a variety of gin cocktails that vary with seasonal ingredients. “We find that gin works extremely well with Indian flavours as the base spirit. Given our food philosophy and the fact that we only offer tasting menus, we also find that our guests are very happy to experiment, both with what they’re eating and drinking,” explains the spokesperson of the restaurant.
Whether the fame and glory of gin will continue in the long run raises the question of balanced optimism. Kavir Advani, Country Advisor for IBHL in India is positive, “In the long term, consumer tastes and the category development will define whether gin will remain relevant. My confidence stems from the history and provenance of the spirit.” IBHL imports super premium Scottish gin Caorunn and has recently launched the Caorunn Gin Master’s Cut, a higher ABV offering, at the UK Duty Free.
Despite being in its nascent stage in India, the growth of gin in the spirits markets is on a steady trajectory. “India will see various trends that follow the growth of the gin market, including rise in mergers and acquisitions, emphasis on promotional expenses, and the premiumisation of products in the country,” explains Prarrthona Pal Chowdhury, ex-Country Manager Indian Sub-continent for Rémy Cointreau. The popularity of gin is also evident by the flurry of gin-based consumer promotions such as The Gin Sling in Bengaluru, The Gin Symposium and Summer of Gin and Vodka in Mumbai, and Gin Explorers' Club in Delhi as well as the numerous social groups dedicated to sharing the love and discovering new gins.
However, the gin revolution too faces its fair share of challenges. Availability and accessibility with the new entrants such as Bathtub Gin, Colombo No. 7 and East India Company gin is one such in this category. Traditionally, in the imported gin category, there is a tussle between Beefeater, Gordon’s and Bombay Sapphire, and in the more premium category, between Tanqueray and Hendricks. Affordability, consumer demand and supply chain are some other challenges that make gin an exclusive option for your social drinking. “Gin drinking revolution may be a while coming to India. But the bugle has been sounded, and a few gin enthusiasts in the country are rallying,” says an optimistic Pal Chowdhury. Having said that a lot of these ultra-premium brands are also not vying for market dominance; they are happy with a slow and steady growth where they cater to quality consumers.
The Craft of Indian GinsThis is where Nao Spirits and Third Eye Distillery
(Stranger & Sons gin) have been game changers. Between the two companies,
they have three ‘Made in India’ gin varietals—Greater Than, Hapusa and Stranger
& Sons—developed within two years! “There is no real entry
barrier to gin. It is not a complicated process, you can make gin in 24 hours
if you wish to. The fact that there are more than 3,000 gin brands in the world
is proof of that,” explains Prakash. These
Indian gins are being touted as craft gins and have brought quality gins under
the affordable price bracket for the common man.
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Virmani finds it important to understand what ‘craft’ in a craft gin means, “Craft is not about consistency, it is about something unique in every batch of distillate.” He goes on to say that as of now every batch of Greater Than is nuanced. It is not as scientific a process or precise as the bigger gin brands, so in that regard, it is currently craft gin. But it is Hapusa that he and his partner Vaibhav Singh want the craft tag attached to. The craft gin craze is a relatively new phenomenon across the world and even more so for India. “At this stage, the segment seems to be in its infancy, and it’ll be interesting to follow its growth in the future. I think there is enough room for all segments to grow, including premium gin. I think, innovation and expansion of the segment (which is what craft gin signifies) will only add to the category growth, as the category develops further,” adds Advani.
With so many options on offer, it could never be a better time to be a gin aficionado in India!
Featured Image - Toast & Tonic (L-R: Sanjay Ramchandran & Kunal Chandra)
Top to bottom - Toast & Tonic (Sanjay Ramchandran) Masque and Caorunn gin
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