Gin all the way

The versatile and all-weather gin isn’t as popular as other liquors. But it’s all changing with an influx of homegrown gin brands & initiatives

On its own, gin is hardly a meek liquor, containing just as much alcohol (40%) as rum, whiskey, tequila or vodka.

Most people agree that hard liquor can make one break out into a sweat. Which is why we often hear things like, “It’s raining… what great weather for rum!” Or, “It’s so hot, nothing but a nice chilled beer to make me feel better.” Yet in the heart of the scorching heat are whiskey and rum drinkers, continuing to reach out for their favourite tipple.

Lack of choices

Gin, widely considered a day-time liquor owing to its cooling nature, has surprisingly found fewer takers in India so far. While Blue Riband has been in production since the 1950s, a gin drinker in India is faced with the most unfair of choices: either you have the local Blue Riband, or you have a plethora of international ones that are priced at least double and more of the same measure of Blue Riband. Unlike the nostalgic loyalty of an Old Monk rum drinker, Blue Riband, despite its roughly 60% market share, has found drinkers more out of the lack of choices than the inherent flavours of gin.

So, if you were offered a Blue Riband peg of 30 ml for approximately Rs 120, then your next option is a Gordons, Beefeater, Tanqueray or Bombay Sapphire— all within Rs 500-800 of each other, but at least double the cost of the Blue Riband (ranging from Rs 280-350). Unlike the choices which vodka or rum drinkers have, where the local brands or the Indian-made foreign liquor (IMFL) ones are usually more wallet-friendly and the imported ones come at a premium, gin drinkers either had Blue Riband or the rest of the world. Well, almost.

This has been the scenario not just in the hinterlands of the country, where access to a variety of liquors may be difficult, but also in urban areas. It is particularly strange given that gin-based drinks such a Martini, Tom Collins, or a Negroni, constantly feature in the menus of restaurants. While a Martini is also made with vodka thanks to James Bond, the other cocktails specifically require gin.

On its own, gin is hardly a meek liquor, containing just as much alcohol (40%) as rum, whiskey, tequila or vodka. It also has a distinctly urbane hue to its legend in India, yet it hasn’t been a party regular among the youth. Even wine, a beverage that has many niches associated with it and is produced across a range of price points, has found younger takers than gin.

Popular combo

The British colonies (including India) are said to have contributed to making gin and tonic the very popular combination it is today. Quinine, an anti-malarial medicine, was added to carbonated water to create the tonic water that we know of today. To mask the bitter taste of quinine, gin was added to the mix to make it palatable to the drinker. While tonic water today contains only a fraction of quinine for flavouring, it has immortalised the gin and tonic combination. With so much going for it, it has been truly surprising how gin has found not too many takers.

That’s changing though, as more and more Indians travel the world, and not just those with an affinity for the Raj. As we travel more, we’re exposed to more types and brands of gins. Recognising that there is a clear disconnect between the palate for gin and its availability in India, Nao Spirits’s Anand Virmani and Vaibhav Singh have launched India’s first craft gin, ‘Greater Than’. Locally produced in Goa, this is a London dry gin made in small batches to reach out to the tiny but growing gin-drinking populace. They followed this with the launch of Hapusa, a Himalayan dry gin variant, and are looking to expand to Delhi and Mumbai.

Running parallel to this is the growing distributorship for imported gin in the metros. For the longest time, imported gin simply meant the holy quintet: Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s, Beefeater, Tanqueray and Hendrick’s. Today, depending on the city, Sipsmith, Gin Mare, Citadelle, Monkey 47 and much more can be found. None of it is priced for copious consumption thanks to import duty and other such buzzkills, but the fact that they’re entering the Indian market is a testimony to India’s growing interest in this versatile, all-weather liquor.

Initiatives such as The Vault and All Things Nice’s gin masterclasses and workshops are taking positive steps towards helping audiences understand and appreciate this incredibly delicious beverage that has something for every kind of palate.

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Gin all the way

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