Tag Archives: gin

Greater Than Gin, yes, what can be?

In the last couple of years, there has been a count of nearly 15 new gins entering the market, reviving the gin spirit, so to say. Of that 11 are from Goa. “It started off as a fluke as we decided that Goa had the best bottling partners for us. Since then, it seems quite a few others have taken that to be the precedent set and got to work,” that is Anand Virmani, the founder of Nao Spirits, manufacturers of Greater Than and Hapusa – premium crafted gins that are making waves in the markets available.

Virmani has his own take on how the crafted gin segment is evolving. He believes that Goa is not any more liberal than many other states in the country when it comes to excise policies. He dismisses it as a factor for launching Greater Than in Goa. Similarly, for the availability of botanicals, he states that the main ingredient for gin has to be either imported our sourced from the Himalayas in the north and that Goa is no different than any other part of the country when it comes to sourcing botanicals. As regards to water quality which Goa touts about, he is of the view that since all water in the production process has to be demineralised, the oriGinal water quality should not really matter.

But when it comes to Goa as the watering hole, he believes so that it is a great marketing tool. “The spirit of trying out new things is certainly important, especially since so many tourists come to Goa and take back gin bottles with them.”

Ambrosia: What is the reason for resurgence of gin which had taken a beating when vodka entered the Indian market?

Virmani: Vodka did this to gin in the 1950s globally. Gin has come back primarily because of the resurgence of cocktail bars which propagate classic cocktails, many of which just happen to use gin as their base. Ambrosia: There is a talk about uniqueness of the botanicals that goes into gin making. From a consumer perspective, what does botanicals signify?Virmani: Botanicals are what separate one gin from another. They are the main flavour components in any gin. Also, only high quality gins like ours use actual botanicals as opposed to artificial flavouring used by the cheaper, cold-compounded gins.

Ambrosia: What kind of growth are you seeing in the overall Gin market in India?

Virmani: The premium+ gin market in India (which excludes the low-end mass produced gins) are growing phenomenally well; easily around 30%+ CAGR. Ambrosia: We see a lot of premium brands being launched, is it because they are not meant for the masses?Virmani: Craft gin can only ever be premium. A low-priced gin, will not ever be a craft product. Even so, we aim to make our gins as accessible as possible.

Ambrosia: Could you tell us about the spark that led to the creation of Greater Than?

Virmani: The spark was quite simply the growing disbelief that India was not able to produce a single brand of gin that we could proudly call our own. It did not make sense to us, especially since India was the birthplace of the Gin & Tonic as well as the heart of the world spice trade.

Ambrosia: Which are the markets it is presently available now and what are your expansion plans?

Virmani: Our gins are present in seven different states across India currently as well as in over 15 countries outside India. We continue to grow as far and wide as we can without over-stretching ourselves. Assam has been our newest addition within India while New Zealand has become our most recent export market to come online.

Ambrosia: How is Hapusa different from Greater Than?

Virmani: Hapusa is a very small batch produced gin. It is primarily made with Himalayan juniper along with other botanicals found and sourced from across the country.

Ambrosia: Which are the markets it is present in – how do the two compete with each other – what is the USP of both?

Virmani: Greater Than is a classic London Dry Gin and is ideal for making cocktails or Gin & Tonics. Hapusa however, is far more characteristic and best enjoyed as a sipping gin or included in stirred cocktails like the Negroni or Martini.

Ambrosia: What next from ‘Nao Spirits’?

Virmani: Lots more

Stranger & Sons eyeing top bars of the world

Craft brands in India are currently redefining the perception of premiumness. It is now much more about authenticity, craftsmanship and embracing innovation to produce something uniquely groundbreaking. Today, we see a lot of Indian consumers are excited to try a good homegrown product without it being a compromise and brands like ours are able to communicate and ensure our high quality standards. Moreover, with India’s growing cocktail culture, we see that a lot of Indian consumers are open to trying new, atypical cocktails as well as local, homegrown products which have indeed contributed to the rise of craft producers in the country. That is Sakshi Saigal, the co-founder and director of Stranger & Sons. In an email interview, she maps the journey of crafted gin which has just embarked upon an exciting phase of spirits in India.

Ambrosia: Could you tell us about the spark that led to the creation of Stranger & Sons?

Saigal: It goes without saying that we individually are not just cocktail enthusiasts, but also had access to observe the beGinnings of the Gin Revolution first hand. I was working towards my MBA in Barcelona, while Vidur was studying in the UK and Rahul had just set up his craft brewery in Mumbai. While we were tasting and drinking a variety of gins every day – whether in London’s cocktail bars or the Gin Tonics of Barcelona, we were getting well acquainted with the gin landscape. That’s when it piqued our interest as to why India wasn’t up to speed with gin although gin manufacturers all over the world looked to India when it came to sourcing botanicals and we kept encountering brands based on a vision of India that we knew very well had never been a reality. This made us question why products with these botanicals are made everywhere but here. To add to this, there wasn’t any other quality homegrown product then that was conveying the story from our perspective; so we decided to change that and embarked into a lot of research before setting up Third Eye Distillery.

Ambrosia: Could you give us insights into the growth journey of Stranger & Sons?

Saigal: It’s honestly been a phenomenal experience so far! Right from the start, we wanted to build a truly Indian gin that would stand out on the shelves of top bars in the world but fit in just as well in the colourful and vibrant bars in Panjim. Made from inherently Indian botanicals, Stranger & Sons Gin captures the essence of contemporary India in every bottle for a curious and discerning consumer. What makes Stranger & Sons interesting is how we celebrate our diverse, unique and complicated history while recognising India in its current context instead of the stereotypical version with just palaces, elephants, and so on. Embracing this wonderful strangeness inherent in the contemporary India we live in today through our gin allows consumers to connect with the story and the brand in a very organic manner. Creating this emotional connection with our audience has always been at the core of our thought process and that’s where we believe that it’s not just what our gin is made of that matters, but what it represents.

Starting out as a home-grown gin brand from Goa to being declared one of the 8 best gins in the world by the International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2020, to winning the highest honours at The Asian Spirit Masters 2021, we’ve managed to put Indian gin on the world map and continue to work towards showcasing India’s diversity to the rest of the world! We’ve had an action-packed and eventful journey so far and the terrific response we get from our consumers at our international and domestic events is backed by an exciting, entrepreneurial team, all of whom feel very strongly about the brand. With regard to sales, we sold 25,000 nine litre cases in our first full year of operations, which was extremely exciting for us and was mainly attributed to being available in just two Indian cities and one international market. This year, despite the pandemic, we will be focussing on domestic and international expansion.

Ambrosia: How much has the pandemic hit production?

Saigal: Being absolutely aware that it has been an extremely tough phase for the hospitality industry and brands including ours, thanks to our team’s sheer creativity and persistence, we never lost sight of our consumers, favourite bars and bartenders. During the pandemic, we launched ‘Strange Times’ bottled cocktails in Singapore as an initiative to support the trade, made in collaboration with some of the best bars there to help keep the spirits up amidst the pandemic. We also got selected as the first Indian brand for the Craft Gin Club and shipped bottles to over 70,000 homes across the UK. During the lockdown, we launched India’s first distilled cocktail with local, seasonal pink guavas – Perry Road Peru, in collaboration with The Bombay Canteen, a high-end Indian restaurant which was a massive success in the market! Regardless of the digital shift, we continue to prioritise innovation, crafting immersive experiences and strengthening our relationships with consumers and trade alike.

Ambrosia: Which markets are you present in and what are your expansion plans?

Saigal: We launched Stranger & Sons from the shores of Goa and expanded to Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka and Rajasthan within India and UK, Singapore, Thailand and the UAE, internationally. We will indeed be exploring various domestic markets including Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and more. In terms of international expansion, we look forward to increasing our global footprint through our upcoming launches in Australia, Mauritius and more, very soon. Each new market brings a unique, diverse consumer base which makes the experience, well, let’s just say thrilling!

Ambrosia: What are the challenges – regulatory and distribution network – faced in India?

Saigal: In the spirits world, India has always been known for the sheer volume of alcohol we produce over anything else. The distilleries here are mostly large-scale, daunting structures and it’s difficult to contract distill small quantities here which is often a great way for craft distillers to beGin their journey. Adding to the challenge, India follows a federal system of laws and when it comes to alcohol and so, the guidelines and regulations vary across states in India. Access to good quality equipment and adequate space also pose a challenge, particularly once companies start expanding.

Ambrosia: Tell us about the botanicals that make your gin unique?

Saigal: Indian botanicals and spices that are indispensable to every Indian household and form the backbone of India’s culinary heritage. Among India’s most fertile states, Goa was a natural choice for us for its lush expanse of spice farms. The mace, cassia bark, licorice, black pepper and nutmeg that perfume our gin are sourced from spice farms surrounding our distillery making Goa the beating heart of our narrative. Our unique citrus peel mix of Indian Bergamot, Nimbu (Indian Limes), Nagpur Oranges & Gondhoraj have also been put together to represent different parts of our country and each of these citrus’ are extremely integral to the region they represent and make their way into local cuisine, juices, pickles, jams, preserves and more. By making use of all the wonderful spices available to us, we built a three-dimensional Gin that is proudly Indian and true to its oriGin. Our signature serves include fresh, flavourful Gimlets & aromatic, layered Gibsons which are also homage to India’s pickling and cordialling culture.

Ambrosia: What next?

Saigal: Third Eye Distillery was never built as a one-product-company right from the get go. There doesn’t go a day when someone from the team isn’t trying to answer this same question and one up the other. There are so many things that we’re working on at the moment when it comes to innovation and new product releases, no thought goes untested and no idea wins without a fight! We are also constantly trying to do our bit to make our distillery more responsible and sustainable while exploring new extensions and experimenting with various ideas. The one thing we know for sure, whichever product we release next, it won’t just be another bottle on the shelf, but will truly be adding to the conversation and be integral to taking our cocktail culture to the next step.

‘Black Jewel’, Goa’s first Craft Gin

One common thread among all the craft gin makers is that they are kind of globe trotters and well-heeled. And these journeys make them richer (I am not talking financially here). Take for instance, Cedric Vaz, Director of Global Spirits and Foods and the creator of the arguably the first craft gin from Goa – the Black Jewel.

It was on one of his trips to Europe between 2010 and 2012 that he noticed that gin was becoming popular and blooming in some of the European markets. “I could see it coming to India very soon which motivated me to work on creating a brand of premium yet value for money, which will appease those customers who really have a craving for a good Gin and are ready to pay a reasonable price for it. After a lot of work, research and sleepless nights, we zeroed down on the concept and creation of our gin brand which we named ‘Black Jewel’. Our first batch was manufactured on December 18, 2018. Our gin was first amongst the gins produced in Goa as well as first amongst crafted Gins.”

Hand-picked Junipers

Black Jewel Gin is meticulously hand crafted from hand-picked juniper berries that are grown in the highlands of Italy. These berries along with other botanicals such as Cilantro, Wild Celery, Carum Carvi etc. are infused into the premium grain spirit through a double copper pot distillation. The result is a gin with distinct and remarkable zesty citrus flavour.

For gin to be called gin it needs the juniper as one of its ingredients that is what makes gin unique from vodka. From the perspective of a consumer, herbs other than juniper are a personal preference and palate-friendly. A manufacturer is compelled to compulsorily add Juniper to call it gin, but is free to add the herbs and flavours of their wish, making gin a diverse drink; and this allows the customers to be choosy about their taste and style of gin.

Superior quality of water in Goa

Mac Vaz of Global Spirits and Foods which manufactures Black Jewel Gin states that, besides friendly excise policy, Goa has the perfect water quality for spirit manufacture. “Coming under the Dharwad super group, largely dominated by the laterite rock as its soil which is highly porous and permeable, the quality of ground water is clean and sweet. This, with the heavy rains of nearly 330cm, makes Goa a region with good amount of potable water. We believe water of Goa has its own brand equity.”

On Black Jewel’s reasonable pricing, Sanath Bharne of Sales says, “While there is a general perception that premium pricing has a pull factor with certain Indian consumers, we resisted that suggestion from the trade and came up with an MRP of `675 for 750 ml as we were clear that we wanted Black Jewel to be within the reach of the consumers who are accustomed to regular molasses-based flavoured Gins.”

Goa, the Gin Capital of India

No, we are not saying move on Feni which is unique to Goa and mind you growing in its own way. Suddenly, in the last two years, despite the pandemic, about 15 brands of Gin have been crafted and launched across the country and 11 of them, yes a full team of brands, have their oriGin s in Goa. What is brewing over here in this beautiful coastal state? A lot ! And what warms the cockles of the heart is that young entrepreneurs, in their 20s and 30s, are the craftspeople. Cheers to this young brigade.

And it was a Goan – Cedric Vaz, it’s in his genes, right, to launch the first truly crafted Indian Gin by the name ‘Black Jewel’ and believe you me crafted Gin has turned out to be a connoisseur’s delight, irrespective of the brand.

There has been a resurgence of sorts for Gin . No, the pandemic has got nothing to do with it. Though the British East India company created the drink in the 1700s, it was a military cocktail, devoured by the troops to stay healthy. The British residents in India added Gin , sugar, ice and citrus and thus was born the Gin and Tonic. The witty statesman Winston Churchill words remain for eternity “The Gin and tonic drink has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.” Somewhere along the way, Gin lost favour and it was perceived as a ‘ladies drink’ and everyone with some knowledge has some reasoning for that. Around the same time, vodka and tequila captured the imaGin ation of the world and these spirits kind of drowned Gin. It was circa 2016 that in the United Kingdom there was growing interest in Gin which reportedly grew 44% year on year with about 100 home grown brands hitting the market. India is the fifth largest consumer of Gin after the UK, USA, Germany and Spain, but within the country Gin accounts for just about 1% of spirits consumed.

Young entrepreneurs driving craft Gin segment

But it is growing. In the recent past, it has caught the attention of the Indian spirit maker and consumer. The young co-founder and director of Stranger & Sons, Sakshi Saigal says “Though its presence in its current form is limited to the main metro cities, Gin is going through an extremely exciting phase and still transcending into the mainstream. There aren’t just new consumers every day but new Gin s too! As people travel, they have slowly started to understand India’s rich history when it comes to Gin and agricultural bounty when it comes to ingredients, so it has become an obvious choice for Gin makers alike.”

There are several reasons for this resurgence, one of which certainly is the drinking culture which is getting nuanced, thanks to the new generation which likes to explore, experiment and be expressive. The Chief Operating Officer of Radico Khaitan, Amar Sinha states “The Gin market appears very promising in the country as over the years people have been open to move beyond the regular brown spirits. They have started developing and appreciating the fine taste of the white spirit for the botanical infusions. There are many factors behind the popularity of this category such as increased exposure to global culture, the growing trend of cocktail culture, and Generation Z’s inclination towards experimentation with white spirits.”

Craft Gin comes with a price and why not?

If one looks at the drinking profile, these crafted Gin s seemingly are not for the hoi polloi. Almost all of them (Stranger & Sons, Greater Than, Hapusa, Samsara, Jin Jiji, Pumori, Jaisalmer and a few others) are priced in a way attracting the upwardly mobile. This is the segment that these manufacturers are looking at and not for nothing most of them are produced in small batches. “Craft Gin can only ever be premium. A low-priced Gin , will not ever be a craft product. Even so, we aim to make our Gin s as accessible as possible,” states Anand Virmani, Founder and CEO of Nao Spirits and Beverages (creators of Greater Than and Hapusa).

However, Mac Vaz of Madame Rosa distillery and the founder president of the Goa Cashew Feni Distillers and Bottlers Association, has another take on it. The first craft Gin , Black Jewel, from Madame Rosa stable is reasonably priced as to make Gin drinking accessible and affordable. All of them in some way or the other are working in that direction, coming up with a distinct touch of their own. It makes sense in a market which is slowly opening up, thanks to the many bartenders who are peppered across the country and ever open to experimentation.

Botanicals are at the core of this revolution

Botanicals are coming into that experimentation while Juniper is the predominant botanical ingredient in Gin , there are other accompaniments, most of them sourced locally. States Sakshi Saigal “Our botanicals are crafted together, taking inspiration from India’s culinary heritage which is centred around spices. Spice boxes are commonly found in almost all Indian kitchens and for centuries, they have been manipulated in different ways to create flavour in food, liquid, sweets and scents. Our Gin goes beyond the customary juniper and highlights inherently Indian botanicals and spices that are indispensable to every Indian household and form the backbone of India’s culinary heritage.”

In an article in The Hindu, Anoothi Vishal cites Dr. Anne Brock, master distiller at Bombay Sapphire, “I believe it is important that juniper remains the core, but we may need to relax and encourage difference. Gin is a global spirit with different botanicals and styles, and consumers are interested in the people who make their Gin , its provenance and story.”

Goa, India’s watering hole has friendly policies

And it is all happening in Goa, India’s watering hole. That is good enough a reason for many of the distillers to descend upon Goa, an investment-friendly state in the hospitality industry. Mac Vaz emphasizes “Goa being the apex tourist destination of the country gives smaller players a cost-effective advantage due to the consumer watering hole ! Also unlike in most other parts of the country, in Goa there is no hypocrisy and taboo quotient connected to liquor consumption in moderation. Lastly, Goa has a brand, has a natural USP in perception. Everything that is produced within Goa has its exotic positioning – Feni is a classic example of this.”

Why Goa? And Sakshi Saigal has the perfect answer for that going beyond the friendly excise policies of the state which has been eulogized at various forums. “We often hear a lot being said about Goa having more liberal excise laws and so on, making it easier to start brands there but honestly, that undermines what Goa truly has to offer. A former colony, Goa adopted a lot of the Portugese way of life which adds to its own unique charm. The roads wind through green fields, the people speak Konkani with as much ease as they do Portuguese; colonial bungalows and local spice markets all co-exist with some of the most progressive hospitality and restaurant establishments. Further, the Goan way of living life to the fullest inspires us every day to strive for innovation and keep experimenting with various spirits and expressions of our Gin .”

She adds “A truly special place for most Indians where you’ll find the cuisine, architecture and culture of India & Portugal come together, Goa is home to Stranger & Sons. Tucked away in a corner of South Goa, you’ll find us, hunched over our still, throwing iconic Indian botanicals into our Gin , while the local women peel fragrant Indian citrus outside. Goa indeed has its own strange ties to Gin , having been the heart of spice trade for centuries. Our wonderfully strange roots in Goa where cultures, societies and spiritual beliefs stand united under a liberal approach to life translates into the invisible essence in our bottle. When we aren’t distilling, you’ll find us sitting on a porch sipping on some Gibsons made with our pickles! “

Strange it may sound, can you believe it, there are over 3,000 registered micro distilleries in the coastal state and they have enough capacity and more to allow for manufacturing of any spirit. If you have an idea, some capital and a good recipe, just head to Goa.

ASCI bans surrogate advertising in IPL

The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) banned surrogate advertising of liquor during India’s showstopper event – Indian Premier League 2021 which however, got truncated, due to some players and franchise staff testing positive. Talks are on to hold the unfinished spectacle in the United Arab Emirates, like it did in 2020 without crowd attendance, to be viewed on a broadcast platform.

It was during 2020 IPL that surrogate advertising was active on television and digital medium, particularly OTT (over the top), the latter in the absence of clear guidelines. “The IPL broadcaster for TV has confirmed to the ASCI that all advertisements are checked for CBFC clearance so that they are not in violation of the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 (CTNR). Keeping that in mind, the ASCI processed complaints on advertisements appearing in OTT, digital and print media,” ASCI said. The association suo motu took up 14 complaints and some of the advertisers withdrew the ads.

Brand extensions have some leeway

The CTNR rules prohibited the direct or indirect advertising of cigarettes, tobacco products, wine, alcohol, liquor or other intoxicants in 2009. The Information & Broadcasting Ministry, however, allowed advertisements of products even if they shared a brand name with a liquor or tobacco product so long as it wasn’t a manifestation of the prohibited product. Advertisement of brand extensions of liquor and tobacco products is permitted under CTNR, provided the product sold under the brand extension does not make direct or indirect references to the prohibited product, it is distributed in reasonable quantity and is available in a substantial number of outlets, and the proposed expenditure on the advertisement of the brand extension product is not disproportionate to the actual sales turnover of that product.

ASCI guidelines for brand extensions

The Advertising Standards Council has ‘Guidelines for qualification of brand extension product or service’ wherein for an advertisement to qualify as a genuine brand extension advertisement (by implication, not surrogate), the in-store availability of the product sold must be at least 10% of the leading brand in the product category or sales turnover of the product must exceed `5 crores annually or `1 crore in the state where the product is distributed.

Age-old question, whether to allow liquor advertising or not?

However, the question that keeps raking up is an age-old issue – whether to allow liquor advertising / surrogate advertising or not? And the topic is universal leading to unending debates. Across continents, there are countries where liquor advertising is allowed and then there are as many countries that have banned / restricted advertising of alcoholic beverages. In the United States, spirits advertising has self-regulatory bodies that create standards for the ethical advertising of alcohol. In the UK, advertising for alcoholic drinks follows a code enforced by the Advertising Standards Authority, while the packaging and branding of the products is subject to self-regulation. In Thailand, alcohol advertisements are allowed but with a warning message. In South Korea, public advertising is allowed only after 10 p.m. In the Philippines, alcohol advertising comes with a disclaimer ‘Drink Responsibly’. In India, liquor advertising was banned after the Ministry of Health found that cigarettes and liquor had adverse effects on a person’s health. However, advertisements for liquor brand extensions can run on television only if they have a certificate from the Central Board of Film Certification. That led to the companies (manufacturers and also advertising agencies) becoming innovative with ‘surrogate advertising’ wherein unrelated products with the same brand name is manufactured / advertised and sold, only to ensure that the liquor brand name stays right on top of consumers’ minds. Unrelated products include mineral water, music CDs, soda, sports accessories and anything that can be advertised.

Active on digital media

The question here is when liquor companies are active on social media which is a major influencer, an indisputable force and not to mention its enormous reach, the whole idea of banning on OTT and television smacks of hypocrisy. It is indeed paradoxical that excise which is one of the top revenue earners for most states, going up to 15 % of the overall revenues, is not allowed to be promoted. There is a school of thought that believes if a product is allowed to be manufactured and sold, it should be allowed to be advertised, but that is over simplification as it will certainly be like opening up the Pandora’s Box.Gokul Krishnamoorthy who worked with an agency that handled United Breweries in an opinionated article in the Financial Express says “While ASCI banning surrogate ads by liquor brands during the curtailed IPL 2021 was a welcome move, it prompted a question in many minds. What explains the existence of a team called ‘Royal Challengers Bangalore’? One can’t help but remember that the current captain of the team Virat Kohli is idolised by a young boy in a health beverage commercial, among many others. Royal Challenge is a brand of whisky owned by United Spirits, which also owns the Royal Challengers Bangalore cricket team. If scale of presence, volume of advertising, market share and the likes are the key metrics by which one decides whether or not an alcohol brand can advertise its extension, then Royal Challengers Bangalore has no problem at all.” He goes on to add “The only seeming solution then, albeit rather simplistic and overarching, is that if a brand is present in a category where promotion is banned, it should not be allowed to promote itself in any context. It should be denied the right to promotion, whether for its shared corporate brand, for its extension, for its event, for its cricket team or whatever else.” Since such conundrums exist, there are those who feel that we need to shed this hypocrisy and accept that people do drink and reaching them is a legitimate part of a company’s business plans. The companies should be allowed to promote safe, moderate and responsible drinking. In states where there is prohibition this issue does not crop up at all. With digital media coming into play, some players have been advertising brand extensions as the CTNR does not apply to advertisements over the internet. This is changing as we have seen the government bringing social media under control. The digital medium is pretty nascent and governments are grappling with policies to rein in the medium. Indian liquor companies have been using social media to promote their brands. The UB Group recently tied up with a digital content company which produced a web series titled ‘Pitchers’, a five-part series on four friends trying to launch a start-up. With over 10 million viewers, the show got a rating of 9.7 out of 10 on internet movie database website, making the new concept of advertising, going beyond surrogate advertising. As rules become stricter, liquor brands will look at different channels – events, experiential, branded content and in-film, like ‘Pitchers’. As manufacturers need to advertise, one way or the other as to get their products sold, they have been innovative in how to get the message across.