Gin is India’s new favourite drink

Kasturi Gadge | Updated on May 30, 2019

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A splash of gin. A spray of soda. A spot of lime juice. And a lime wedge. Take a sip of your gimlet and raise a toast to the alcohol that once occupied just a small corner in bar menus, while whiskeys and rums jostled for space.

There is good news for gin lovers, for different gin brands — including quite a few from India — are now available in the country. India is also the fifth largest consumer of gin in the world today, according to Nikhil Agarwal, CEO and director, All Things Nice, India’s leading luxury, wine and spirits Marketing and Consulting Agency. The alcohol is mostly used in cocktails because it embraces different flavours.

Coming of age

“Gin as a spirit offers a multitude of flavour profiles. This gives it a great advantage and also makes it versatile for cocktails, which are hugely popular today,” says sommelier Agarwal. “I see more high-quality gins being launched in the market and more artisan gins being imported into India.” The Indian brands include Strangers and Sons, Hapusa and Greater Than. The fruity juniper notes work well in a hot country, says celebrity mixologist Dimitri Lezinska, who is with Pebble Street Hospitality, the owners of the popular gastro pub The Good Wife in Mumbai.

Lezinska, who is closely associated with Stranger and Sons, says that the Indian brand, produced in Goa, is prepared with the spices of the Malabar Coast. “Stranger & Sons wanted to celebrate India’s agricultural heritage by creating a gin that stands for everything that India stands for. Indians, in general, tend to be more driven towards bold flavours, so the gin was created to generously express the flavours of each spice and herb. It also has a complex citrus mix that contains the best citrus fruits India has to offer,” he says. The lemony flavours come from varieties such as the Gondhoraj of the east and Nagpur oranges, he says, while the Juniper comes from Macedonia.\

Down south

Gin is the leitmotif of Toast & Tonic (Mumbai and Bengaluru), a bar which has a menu dedicated to Gin and tonic (G&T) as well as a host of gin-based cocktails. The bar creates special drinks for its clients, depending on their preferred flavours. “When we opened Toast & Tonic, we led the movement around the revival of gin by changing the way people drank and experienced gin with a sheer offering and selection along with our house-grown herbs and special tonics,” says Chef Manu Chandra, chef-cum-partner, Toast & Tonic.

The bar has observed a seven-time in the consumption of gin since they opened seven years ago, a testament to consumption patterns across Mumbai and Bangalore, he adds. “Gin has come of age.”

Some bars are creating an entire menu around gin. Sofitel Mumbai BKC recently opened a gin bar at its signature restaurant Jyran. Beverages manager Peter Sethi recalls that just a few years ago, there were only three or four brands of gin available in the Indian market. “But today, at the hotel, we are offering 30-40 varieties of gins from countries such as Sri Lanka, Germany, Spain, Sweden and UK,” he says.

The bar offers some top varieties such as Le Gin de Christian Drouin, Star of Bombay, Dutch courage Dry Gin, The Botanist, Bathtub Gin and Cotswolds Dry Gin, he says. Some of the gins have been curated with homemade infusions of saffron, chamomile and rosemary.

Clearly, the spirit is getting a makeover. “Just a decade ago, gin was considered an ‘old person’s drink’ in Western markets. Even here in India, we grew up watching our parents enjoy a G&T on a hot summer afternoon,” recalls Randeep Bajaj, owner of Townhall, a restaurant in New Delhi and Mumbai. “The millennial audience is now exploring gin because it is a drink which is easier on the throat, is refreshing and attracts the health-conscious consumer as it is typically consumed with tonic water instead of carbonated drinks.”

Thanks to its versatility, gin is good for cocktails, the experts point out. Delhi’s Juniper Bar at Andaz Hotel offers 35 infusions created in collaboration with London Bar Consultants. The flavours come under the broad categories of citrus, floral and fruity and spices and herbs. “All our cocktails are exclusively made with natural syrups, gin infusions and tinctures that are prepared in-house. We have flavours ranging from green tea to grapefruit to chocolate, cardamom and vanilla,” says Prakash Chandra, assistant director at Juniper.

Indians are reaching out for a gin drink because it is cool — and reminds them of their own flavours, the experts hold. “Our infusions are inspired by flavours that are recognised by the Indian palate,” Chandra adds.

The drink has caught on to the extent that Toast & Tonic organised a gin festival — called Gincident — with a selection of five gins from India and around the world. “The feedback was amazing,” says John Leese, beverage development and bar manager Olive Group. The bar also offers a frozen gin drink to its guests. “Nothing beats the cool hit of a popsicle on a hot sunny afternoon,” he adds.

Kasturi Gadge is a Mumbai-based journalist

Published on May 30, 2019

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