Building Indian Gin Brands: Behind The Revolution

The Indian Gin Revolution
The Indian Gin RevolutionL: Stranger & Sons R: Tāmras

Gin has always been a drink that's cultivated a following — a particular period during the first half of the 18th century in Britain was even called the time of the ‘Gin Craze’. While its popularity was largely due to the political and religious differences between Britain and France at the time, Gin is a drink that created a craze and required the implementation of a ‘Gin Act’ to restrict its flow among people. 

The aforementioned Gin Craze among the British is what perhaps brought it to India as well. As mentioned in an earlier article, “Like many things that we now consider Indian, gin and tonic too is a hand-me-down of our colonial oppressors. The very first version of G&T as we now know it consisted of quinine (an antimalarial drug derived from the bark of a cinchona tree), water, sugar, lime, and gin. It was a medicinal concoction to save the lives of British officers. While this isn’t a very glamorous story, it does provide insight into a trend that’s slowly emerging.”

As a primarily whiskey and dark rum drinking country, the current revival of gin in India snuck up on everyone. But sometime after 2015, the international love for a good G&T had trickled to India. This is what eventually inspired the stalwarts of today’s gin revolution to take a deeper look at the market and notice the need for innately Indian craft gin brands in the market. Being home to many distilleries and breweries and the easier regulations, owing to its status as a Union Territory, Goa became home to a number of craft distilleries. Today, gin brands like Stranger & Sons and Tamras are part of the ongoing revolution surrounding craft gin in india. The products are featured at top bars across the nation and even across the globe. To better understand the work that goes into creating homegrown gin brands that are rooted in Indian influences but with a global appeal, we caught up with those who are part of this ongoing gin revolution in India and got them to answer some pressing questions.

The Indian Gin Revolution
The Indian Gin RevolutionTāmras

Devika Bhagat, Founder — Adventurist Distilleries (Creators of Tāmras Gin)

What does it take to build an Indian gin that has a homegrown identity, while ensuring that your product still has a global appeal?

The fact that our gin is made entirely in India with mostly Indian ingredients is the starting point. When we (My co-founder Khalil Bachooali, our Master Distiller Julia Nourney and myself) were creating the recipe for Tāmras, it was important for us to use the best-quality base spirit made in India, so we chose an export-quality spirit made from basmati rice, distilled in Punjab. This differentiates Tāmras immediately from global gins that use a wheat-based spirit. While choosing the botanicals, it was important for us to showcase the spices and citrus from India, so botanicals like cardamom, pepper, fennel seeds, lotus, nilgiri tea, Indian mint and citrus-like Indian lemon and mausambi were chosen for their inherent 'Indianness'. 

The brand name itself, for us, had to have its roots in India, therefore we chose a Sanskrit name. The global appeal of the product lies in its Indianness where the spirit doesn’t shy away from spices, therefore immediately differentiating it from European gins. If a gin consumer in India has access to global spirits in the same way a global consumer does, rooting it in this manner provides a platform to appeal to both sides. While the brand story has its roots in the Greek epic ‘The Odyssey’, our conversations with our brand designer, the Irregulars Alliance led by Anant Ahuja, were always centred around the illustrations and the brand identity having a strong Indian sense to it while also having a global appeal. The idea of going on journeys, or being adventurists and discovering new lands or a new self is very strongly integrated in Indian epics as well.

What are your thoughts on the gin revolution that has swept the nation in the last decade, which you’ve been an indispensable part of?

Both the Indian consumer and craft spirit brands have led the gin revolution together across the nation. As more and more Indians travel around the world, try new spirits and develope a more sophisticated palate when it came to spirits, they've started to become more adventurous and seek spirits other than the branded vodka or IMFL whisky or rum that they were used to. As craft spirits developed in India, the brands educated the consumer and introduced the Indian consumer to better alternatives than they were used to. 

The gin revolution is great for us craft spirit founders as this allows us space to innovate and create not only the best quality spirits but also to be fearless and adventurous when it comes to innovating cocktails that best suit our gin fests and bar-takeovers along with giving us the opportunity to work with the best mixologists in the country. Holding a Martini Salon or a Negroni night is no longer a marketing idea that won’t work. F&B establishments are working hand-in-hand with the brands to offer the best to the educated consumer. Gin, as a spirit, is very versatile. One gin doesn’t taste like another. Gins can be neutral, spice-forward, citrus-forward, floral etc. so every consumer can find gins that suit their palate. There is no boredom or fatigue in that sense which can set in with a vodka or white Rum per se.

What do you think is the next big innovation or evolution regarding homegrown Gin brands in India?

Right now, the homegrown Gin market is still very nascent as far as our offerings or portfolios go, with only a couple of brands offering limited editions from time to time. Gin is such a versatile spirit that it can be innovated in many different ways whether it’s botanical variants for a different brand expression such as a citrus or floral expression as wellas infused or flavoured gins that have a thousand ways in which they can go, ranging from a Raspberry or Strawberry infused Pink Gin to a tea gin or any fruit-flavoured gin. Aged gins and Sipping gins are something the Indian consumer who enjoys a good whisky or rum will also enjoy. Gin liqueurs are another area to explore. The evolution of gin in India will happen with an expansion to Tier 2 towns. There is a lot to be discovered and grown there in terms of an Indian gin market. Homegrown gins are going to venture into a portfolio of gin variants and flavours while growing their market space beyond the major metropolitan cities.

You can follow Tamras here.

The Indian Gin Revolution
The Indian Gin RevolutionStranger & Sons

Kunal Chopra, Head of Marketing — Third Eye Distillery (Creators of Stranger & Sons and Short Story)

What does it take to build an Indian gin that has a homegrown identity, while ensuring that your product still has a global appeal?
Stranger & Sons is a brand born in an India that is progressive yet rooted, and designed to celebrate it. As early innovators in the Indian gin landscape, we wanted to reinvent the perception of the Indian spirits industry while at the same time encouraging consumers towards exploring spirits through more creative, experimental choices. In our early days of setting up Third Eye Distillery, we encountered so many brands based on a vision of India that we knew very well had never been a reality. To add to this, there wasn’t any quality homegrown product that was conveying the story of India from our perspective so we decided to change that; this is what led us to launch the country’s first contemporary Indian gin.

Owing to its unique botanical makeup, Stranger & Sons gin has a three-dimensional flavor profile which highlights each botanical in the gin and reveals new layers on the nose and palate with each sip. The citrus peels give the gin a beautiful freshness on the front palate which is rounded off with a robust blend of warm spices including black pepper, mace, nutmeg and coriander, that give it a strong spiced middle. Liquorice, cassia bark and mace make the finishing flourish smooth, earthy and sweet. Our spirit celebrates the familiar flavors of India, presented in its own unique and ‘strange’ way and in turn acknowledges the diverse and nuanced traditions of this subcontinent. This makes Stranger & Sons as we call it — "The spirit of India; in a spirit from India". Our label, bottle, liquid and every brand experience was designed to speak to a discerning Indian consumer as well as a global audience. Today, we are available in over 850 international bars across various countries, some of which have been critically acclaimed as the best bars in the world inclduing BKK Social Club - Bangkok, Zuma - Dubai, Tropic City - Bangkok, Sago House - Singapore, Vesper - Bangkok, and more such!

At Third Eye Distillery, we always knew we would like to address the gap in other spirit categories as well and not just gin, so came the launch of Short Story - a portfolio of a classic London dry gin, a triple distilled grain vodka, and an Indo-Caribbean white rum. Going against the tide of romanticising ingredients and processes, we want to let the spirits do the talking instead. Short Story, in just 8 months since its launch, has been extremely well received not just by the consumers but also at international spirits competitions from across the world.

What are your thoughts on the gin revolution that has swept the nation in the last decade, which you’ve been an indispensable part of?
India has its own unique ties to gin, having been the heart of the spice trade for centuries and with the creation of the iconic Gin & Tonic in India. India, though still largely dominated by whiskey, is starting to see a shift driven by a new wave of consumers leaning towards more creative choices. Gin is one spirit that has caught the attention of consumers in India today! Gin & Tonic being the classic, easy-to-drink cocktail that it is, it couldn’t have been too long before the Indian market started to witness an increasing interest in gin.

India’s emerging cocktail culture is also proof that Indian consumers are open to trying new, atypical cocktails as well as local, homegrown products. With the abundance of botanicals and spices available locally, in India, it always had the potential to create brilliant contemporary style gins which is what we set out to do. We played an important role in highlighting these facets and continue to work tirelessly to add to the India conversation, constantly striving to reinvent the wheel for quality spirits coming out of India. Stranger & Sons has, from the start, been inclined towards innovation and disrupting the spirits landscape while elevating the cocktail culture in the country, bringing to consumers drinks they wouldn't expect but will be pleasantly surprised with! 

What do you think is the next big innovation or evolution in homegrown gin brands in india?
Collaborations have become a prominent trend in the spirits industry. By partnering with mixologists and distillers, bars and brands can foster creativity and innovation, resulting in unique spirits that reflect the combined expertise of the collaborators. These collaborations lead to the creation of customised spirits tailored to customers' preferences, offering exclusive and intriguing options. For Stranger & Sons and Short Story, collaborations will continue to play a role as we take these spirits and innovations to wider audiences. With the overarching idea of elevating cocktail culture in India and embracing unconventionality, we’re looking to cultivate a culture of innovation and collaboration on our home ground. Personally, I believe that collaboration is a powerful tool that helps brands channel their creativity and drive for innovation towards creating something uniquely groundbreaking. 

We have been doing our part with our unique collaborations. In 2020, Stranger & Sons launched India's first-ever distilled cocktail — Perry Road Peru, crafted in collaboration with The Bombay Canteen. We monopolised the season's choicest pink peru carts across the country, balanced in flavour and flamboyant in hue. The humble yet widely loved Indian fruit was the inspiration and canvas for India’s first collaboration between a restaurant and a gin brand. Another notable collaboration was the one we did with in 2022 with the Four Pillars Distillery, Australia to introduce two limited edition gins — Trading Tides and Spice Trade. This was a collaboration between two expert distilleries on either side of the Indian Ocean, with the main inspiration being the tides and coast that connect the both of us, driven by our mutual passion for creating quality gins. Considering how Four Pillars is true to its roots while at the same time having a very modern take on Australia and how Stranger & Sons celebrates the transmission of centuries-old traditions while recognizing the contemporary India we live in today, our ideologies were already very much in sync.

Lastly, India's cocktail culture has also witnessed substantial growth and evolution in recent years. Factors such as increased travel, connectivity, and exposure to international cocktail bars and beverage programs have contributed to the development of Indian mixology. Bartenders and mixologists are upskilling themselves to cater to an audience that has experienced world-class bars. Social media also plays a vital role in connecting Indian professionals with global trends and bars, providing access to ideas and experiences. Indian mixologists are known for their innovative approach, using local ingredients, flavours, and techniques to craft unique and visually stunning cocktails. The emphasis on craftsmanship and elevated service has improved the overall cocktail experience, and Indian bars and spirit brands are gaining recognition on a global scale. 

You can follow Stranger & Sons here.

If you enjoyed reading this, here's more from Homegrown:

The Birth Of Gin & Tonics: The History Of Gin In India

India's Craft Gin Revolution: Step Into This Community Lab Fostering Innovation

Homegrown Gin Cocktail Recipes To Try At Home