A sweet bloom from a sturdy tree growing in the central Indian forest belt is sun-dried and distilled to create a clear spirit that enfolds history, culture and legends within it. It has been distilled in India for centuries. It is integral to the lives of central India’s tribal population, who call this tree Kalpavriksha or the Tree of Life — it features in their festivals, celebrations and folklore.
Mahua is the name of the tree, its blooms and the distilled spirit. And soon, mahua will be the name spoken by bartenders, consumers, Indian diaspora and Indophiles in UK.
This is the dream of Mahua To the World (MTTW), the new venture by Agave India’s Desmond Nazareth and Conrad Braganza. Agave India was set up in 2007, and makes and markets Indian agave spirits, mahua, orange liqueurs and a mahua liqueur. Now, they want to take mahua global and showcase it as a potential national heritage spirit of India.
MTTW tells the true forest-to-bottle story. It originates in the pristine Indian forests. Water and yeast are the only ingredients added to forest mahua to make their signature offering. MTTW is also a Make in India story, harnessing the country’s potential of creating a quality and premium liquor, which can tell a story.
“MTTW has always been there as a concept, since we first started distilling mahua. We had the notion that this is something that should be on every bar shelf of the planet because it is a new category of spirit, something unique, which has heritage, and which bartenders could experiment with,” says Nazareth.
Today, this concept is nearing fruition.
Soon, a premium mahua will make its way to the UK, where it will adorn shelves as an Indian spirit, unmatched in its provenance, story and flavour.
But first, wrinkles must be ironed out.
During the lockdown last year, Nazareth and Braganza found the solution to their funding query: equity crowdfunding. This model offers retail investors an opportunity to back companies they believe in. “Equity crowdfunding performs two roles. It’s a source of funding (democratising equity), and a marketing tool. The people who fund your enterprise thus become both your ambassadors and your customers,” says Braganza.
India doesn’t permit equity crowdfunding so they set their sights abroad and chose the USA to set up Mahua to The World Inc. The newly formed company will raise equity and be a sales and marketing organization that essentially sources premium quality mahua spirit from the Indian company [Agave India]. They’ve finalised a crowdfunding platform and aspire to raise $5 million for 30% equity in MTTW Inc. They want to target the Indian diaspora, in particular, to help fund and popularise the spirit. “They haven’t had an intrinsically Indian alcohol (and not co-opted from another country) that they can take and showcase as part of their heritage,” adds Braganza.
MTTW Inc will sell a newly-branded mahua, under a new name, in new bottles, and with a different label. The drink will be a premium 100% mahua product: distilled with only yeast and water.
Once funded, they will seek out distributors to get their bottles in stores, retailed online and sold in hotels, restaurants and bars, in the United Kingdom. “UK has a history with India and our story intersects with this history. There are a lot of establishments run by people of Indian origin who might want to use something with heritage, a craft product,” says Nazareth. In terms of global sales and marketing, they want to focus on provenance. “The forest story will be a big part of the branding. We are taking something that is important to indigenous people and showcasing it as a potential national heritage spirit of India,” says Nazareth.
Interestingly, for a country with a rich alcoholic tradition, India lacks a national spirit, something on the lines of Mexico’s tequila and Scottish whiskey. Mahua makes a compelling case for being one.
An indigenous spirit
“It is indigenous to India and has been distilled by tribals for centuries. The trees only grow in the central Indian forest belt, and, almost nowhere else in the world. Compare this to the raw materials from which other spirits are made, most of which have a global footprint. There is heritage and culture associated with the spirit — many tribal communities have mahua as very central to all the customs and traditions,” says Braganza. Madhuca Longifolia or the Mahua tree features in their festivals, weddings, funerals, celebrations and even in their folklore. Mahua blooms are integral to the livelihood to the central Indian forest tribes. They use it for food and drink, barter it for grain or sell it for cash. In India, mahua is a big, yet unregulated industry: 500 million kilograms of the blooms are collected every year, of which about 95% (approximately) is distilled into alcohol.
As a spirit, mahua is versatile, possessing a unique flavour profile: clean, smooth and with delicate floral notes. It has one of the lowest concentrations of methanol, a congener responsible for causing hangovers, for a pot-distilled spirit. The spirit can be sipped or had in a cocktail where it has a lingering aftertaste.
The mahua story is one that will definitely appeal to a global audience interested in provenance, culture and history. “The mahua story is much larger and richer than us and what we have done for mahua in India,” says Nazareth. “We want it to have a bigger footprint than it currently does.”
50 ml Mahua
180 ml Ginger ale
A slice of orange
Put ice in a tall glass. Pour in the Mahua. Top the glass with ginger ale. Garnish with a slice of orange.