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The last eight-odd months have seen this correspondent get acquainted with several Indian craft gins. Despite the market for gin being minuscule (one percent of the annual 300 million case spirits market), over seven new brands have hit the shelves, mostly in Goa, or are on their way there. One can be pretty certain yet more will be launched this year as well.
It would seem that everyone and his uncle has been sourcing botanicals and setting up pot stills, as gin enjoys its (extended) moment in the sun. The building blocks for Nilgiris Indian Dry Gin, the latest gin launch, though, were put in place over five years ago by the same man who put India on the global whisky map with Amrut Fusion and who enjoyed a good G & T on languid summer afternoons.
Going back to the origin
Around 2015, the late Neelkanta Rao Jagdale, the former chairman and managing director of the Bangalore-based Amrut Distilleries, decided that his company’s portfolio should also include a premium gin. “We were up in the tea plantations when he asked us to look at creating a new gin using botanicals sourced from in and around the region,” says Nikhil Varma, gin distiller at Amrut.
Nikhil Varma, gin distiller at Amrut
Varma, who studied brewing and distilling at the Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh, was then in his first year at Amrut, and he says he was only too happy to be given the opportunity to craft a gin from scratch. “You’ll find a lot of spices in the Nilgiris, and southern India in general. But some of them, like cardamom, are absolute beasts. Our goal was to ensure that the ones we used played their part in forming a well-balanced whole,” says Varma.
He worked at first with glass stills and experimented with, and distilled, a wide range of botanicals — among them, coriander seeds, lemongrass, mace, nutmeg, and, of course, Nilgiris tea — before arriving at a recipe that, he says, held a lot of promise. And, then, he added betel leaves to the equation. “I checked out a wide variety of betel leaves, sourcing them from around the country, from Kolkata to Kumabakonam, and finally homed in on the one from Mysore. It has a spicy undertone that added a new dimension to the gin,” says Varma. “It acts as a floral bridge between the elegance of a classic gin and the robustness of the spices.”
Let’s talk taste
If you are wondering what Nilgiris will taste like, Varma says that it exhibits the classic dry gin notes of juniper, citrus and pine. “And there are subtle hints of brewed tea and the mellow spiciness of the betel leaf. It works well both when consumed neat and when used in cocktails.”
Nilgiris is priced at Rs 2,464 for a 750ml bottle in Karnataka and will be available in major metros over the course of this year. Its entry into the craft gin segment is indicative of a growing trend, says Vikram Achanta, co-founder and CEO of drinks training and consulting firm Tulleeho.
“Radico Khaitan set the precedent with Jaisalmer gin a couple of years ago, and now you have Amrut, which will soon be joined by Paul John. These mid-size companies can leverage their well-established distribution networks and well-earned brand equity when it comes to selling premium gin both in India and abroad,” says Achanta. The recent relaunch of Blue Moon gin, a 21-year-old brand, complete with classy packaging and a slick new bottle by the New Delhi-based NV Spirits, says Achanta, is yet another example of mid-size liquor companies heading to where the action is.