Gin might not have been the most popular drink, but over the past few years, it has secured its place as a popular favourite in Indian markets. While new distilleries and homegrown gin brands have played a significant role, an annual gin festival called Gin Explorer’s Club has also played a part. Founded in 2018 by Anjali Batra, co-founder of Food Talk India and Shuchir Suri, Founder of Jade Forest, the festival has promoted gin by promoting both western and homegrown gins in India, whilst providing a platform for consumers to explore the drink the right way.
In an insightful conversation with LuxeBook, Batra and Suri talked about the resurgence of gin in India, the rise of homegrown brands as well as factors that both affected and encouraged the drink in recent times.
A known fact is that gin hasn’t had the best reputation, not just in India but around the world as well. In addition to being a drink with a reputation that its meant for the elders, it was also considered an afternoon drink, a light tipple meant to cool and refresh the drinker. And so, referencing gin as a serious spirit was a difficult task. However, conversations about the spirit in recent times have helped give gin a spot in the limelight, thanks to gin brands getting innovative with the drink.
“There has been a rise in the conversation and innovation around the spirit in recent times,” says Batra. “Each gin brand carries their own soul and personality, and this is allowing people to bring gin to their roster and play with the spirit in so many different ways.”
Making a comeback
Suri credits the West for providing inspiration to young drinkers, helping them become more open to experimentation. “Today people have become open to experimentation, looking to the West for innovation and inspiration. Because gin is a great spirit to work with; it is versatile and works well with pretty much any food and ingredient. And so, it has made a comeback and is here to stay.”
Over the past couple of years, gin has had quite a moment in the spotlight, especially in India. “Gin has had a 360-degree makeover in Indian markets with over 15 brands launched since 2017,” says Batra.
Knowingly, homegrown gin has been one of the biggest contributing factors. As of 2022, there are more than 15 homegrown gin brands that are constantly creating new flavours. These companies have created a niche in the market and are expanding the gin drinking population in India. The overall consumption population in India may be limited to a meagre 1%. However, considering the massive population of India, 1% is a big market that is still expanding.
Batra points out that in a country that enjoys distinct flavours, gin had to make its mark. “India as a country has a strong flavour palette. Our culinary landscape is diverse and as a community, we are inclined towards intense flavours and especially spices.” She believes it to be India’s yearning for flavour, spices and botanicals that draws people towards gin, especially homegrown gin. It is a proud moment for India too, as it has shone a light on Indian botanicals, celebrating the distinctive flavours that define the very origin of homegrown gin brands.
“Today people are opting for homegrown labels because they celebrate Indian flavours. And while every homegrown gin incorporates Indian botanicals, they are all unique and different from each other,” says Batra.
According to Suri, gin has transitioned over the years and is now seen as a millennial’s choice of drink. Its growing popularity has led to the opening of small distilleries across the country, that specialise in Indian flavours, defining a superior quality gin. “In addition to small scale distilleries, the development of artisanal tonic water has taken gin-and-tonic to a whole new level of finesse. As craft gin and tonics became the buzzword, brands in India woke up and paid attention to gin, creating it as a lifestyle rather than a commodity.”
Part of the global movement
Movements like the “gin-revolution” or “gin-naissance” are a result of the growing popularity of gin. While these have already taken shape internationally, these movements are only just beginning in India.
“Thanks to an increase in demand, global and homegrown craft gins have taken over the beverage scene in India. While we see trends come and go, this gin-naissance is here to stay,” says Suri. “Craft spirits have been working towards making gin affordable as the movement is being led by passionate entrepreneurs who want India to be part of the global craft gin movement by creating a quality product.”
Aside from homegrown gins, gin festivals have also helped the gin movement in India. The Gin Explorer’s Club is one such example.
The festival was conceptualised in 2018 by Batra and Suri who wanted to see more of the spirit in India. The duo believed that the gin craze had already begun internationally but wasn’t growing at the same pace in India. People were still cautious about the spirit and weren’t too keen on experimenting. And so, the Gin Explorer’s Club was launched as an experiment that has now grown its audience.
“The Gin Explorers Club is a platform for brands to come showcase their spirit and build immersive experiences,” says Suri. “We built the Gin Explorers Club to educate the Indian consumer about this playful spirit which comes with so many unique flavours.”
The festival displays gin brands which are both homegrown and international, along with multiple artisanal Indian tonic brands and cocktail bars with sections dedicated to gin cocktails. After four successful years in New Delhi, the fifth edition of the festival was held in Mumbai for the very first time.
“We have completed five successful editions and have doubled from seven gin brands at the first pop-up festival to sixteen brands at our last event,” says Suri. “We have seen global brands enter India, homegrown brands too continue to develop — and follow its motto, ‘Make India fall in love with Gin’.”
The past couple of years have been witness to much innovation in India’s Gin space. Homegrown brands especially have been extremely innovative creating a flurry of choices for the consumer. From inspired collaborations to unique and clever concoctions, the gin industry in India is blooming.
Two of the most popular homegrown gin brands, The Bombay Canteen and Stranger & Sons launched India’s first collaborative distilled cocktail—Perry Road Peru, a limited-edition spirit. Stranger & Sons also collaborated with Four Pillars, Trading Tides and Spice Trade, creating new exciting gin flavours that are soon to hit the market.
In terms of new concoctions, Greater Than collaborated with Sleep Owl to create the country’s first coffee-infused gin – No Sleep which brings together India’s two fastest-growing beverages — gin and coffee to create an exciting mix.
The country will also witness its first barrel-aged gin, a collaborative approach between Pumori gin, Woodburns whisky, and Segredo Aldeia rums at Fullarton Distilleries. The gin boasts of 12 carefully selected botanicals, distilled in small 200-litre tanks that allow the distiller to keep a close eye on the process. There has also been a rise in the beverage category with brands like Beat, Jimmy’s Cocktails and Jade Forest offering craft mixers that replicate bar-style cocktails and drinks at home.
G&T the new way
While a classic G&T is the supreme gin cocktail, mixologists and consumers have recreated the popular drink in newer ways to keep away from the monotony. Innovation in terms of gin cocktails has inspired netizens to explore and experiment with the spirit in newer forms that stay true to the classic G&Ts while adding a new innovative twist.
Gin is often considered as one of the best drinks for cocktails because of its light, botanical flavour. “Because it is light and botanical, gin blends with pretty much any kind of mixer whether it is juice, soda or tonic water,” says Batra. “A twist on the G&T is the best way to start your gin journey.”
Suri on the other hand believes that gin is a fun drink to play around with, especially with garnish. “The wonderful thing about gin is that you can garnish it in numerous ways and have fun with it. If you’re a seasoned gin enthusiast and looking to move beyond the classic G&T, go for a Dirty Martini or a well prepared Negroni.”
Mixologists, bartenders, and restaurants give primary importance to gin today. Most restaurants have an entire section dedicated to the spirit which invites everyone to try and explore different Gins regardless of their spirit of choice.
The future of gin
While it is difficult to predict the future of gin, one can only assume and hope that it grows. Indian brands will expand to the global market. We’ve already seen an expansion towards Southeast Asia with the collaboration between Stranger & Sons and premium Australian gin brand Four Pillars. The collaboration will promote Indian craft gins, promoting them within the international gin community, and opening them up to Indian craft gin flavours.
On a concluding note, Batra adds, “With love for the spirit growing, many collaborations and launches have already been a part of the community. Goa single-handedly saw over ten local brands coming up, which at the time of inception of Gin Explorers Club was only a single brand—Greater Than. Apart from homegrown brands, there has also been a rise in new global brands, along with international and homegrown tonic brands being available in the country. With Indian bars being recognised more at Global platforms like Asia’s 50 Best, we’re seeing more acceptance, and the future of gin is looks bright and flavourful!”