India’s homegrown spirits navigate new territories

How does a spirit distinguish itself as uniquely Indian? Is it the provenance of its components, its origin story, or a wedding of each?

How does a spirit distinguish itself as uniquely Indian? Is it the provenance of its components, its origin story, or a wedding of each?

With Indian customers desperate to experiment with their tipple, homegrown brews are discovering their method onto hipster bars, in a market flush with ingenious Indian gins and whiskey. Feni from Goa, agave spirits born from produce within the Deccan plateau, and mahua from the central Indian heartland, supply a very Indian expertise.

Ode to the solar and sand

Feni conjures recollections of Goan holidays: The seashore, recheado-spiced seafood and the heady aroma of cashew and coconut woven with recent citrus. Feni, the primary homegrown spirit to earn a Geographical Indication tag (GI is a sign used to establish items having particular traits originating from a particular geographical territory, particularly utilized in agriculture, pure and manufactured objects) is now a heritage spirit of Goa, at par with worldwide liquors akin to Mexican tequila, Japanese sake and Russian vodka.

Hansel Vaz, founder, Cazulo Premium Feni at Vaz Liquor Industries, has been the torchbearer for the Goan spirit, since taking up his household enterprise, began within the Seventies. A geologist by career, Vaz now spends his time elevating the expertise at his distilleries in South Goa, whereas documenting the drink’s distinctive story as a feni ethnographer, not too long ago submitting paperwork to get coconut feni its personal GI tag.

“In the Nineties, with a growth in tourism, there was a deluge of feni out there and infrequently, the essence of the spirit was misplaced as gross sales elevated. Feni, each cashew and coconut, have been crafted on our shores, in small batches, for over 4 centuries, and we use the identical strategies as they did again then,” Vaz says. For the cashew feni, cashew apples that fall to the ground are stomped on in a stone pit, fermented naturally in earthen pots half-buried in the ground. The coconut varietal boasts of hand-harvested sweet coconut toddy, allowed to further ferment by encouraging the use of naturally occurring wild tropical yeasts.

“In 2019, I started distillery tours that gained momentum by word of mouth. At our tasting, we sit together and taste feni in its many iterations with a smorgasbord of 23 local delicacies including Goan sausage and perad (guava cheese). Our 200-year-old distillery — Fazenda Cazulo — still uses pre-industrial processes,” adds Hanzel.

Bottled at a high 42.8% ABV (alcohol by volume is a standard measure of how much alcohol is contained in a given volume of an alcoholic beverage), the cashew feni sells at ₹600 for a 750ml bottle, while the botanical Dukshiri variant is priced at ₹1,000 per bottle. “I think gin, with its focus on botanicals, has paved the way for Indians to appreciate feni. Our Dukshiri is coconut fini made with the Indian sarsaparilla root; the drink has an earthy flavor with notes of petrichor, peanut and salted caramel.”

2022 is looking up as Hansel is ready to launch in Mumbai, creating a distil your own feni project as well as an initiative to plant more cashew trees within Goa with every case sold.

Indian agave spirit steps as much as the bar

From Goa to the East coast, there was a spirit renaissance with a fortuitous crop dropped at Indian shores by explorers centuries in the past. Agave Americana, then served as nice fencing materials particularly alongside Railway strains, is now making a twenty first Century comeback.

The crops, like their counterparts in Mexico, require little rainfall and thrived within the volcanic, arid soil of India’s Deccan plateau. It wasn’t till the early 2000s that locals have been made conscious of the spirit that may be distilled from the center, or piña, of the agave plant.

Mahua liqueur

Mahua liqueur | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Desmond Nazareth, armed with a level from IIT Madras and stints in software program and filmmaking, adopted his maverick spirit to create India’s first agave-based alcohol. In April 2011, Desmondjis , Nazareth’s Goa-based firm, launched India’s first agave spirit in two iterations – 51% (₹495 per bottle) and 100% agave (₹850 per bottle).

The white spirit, comprised of the Agave americana crops grown over 44 acres within the Deccan plateau close to Chittoor on the border between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, is harvested by locals. Desmondjis Agave spirit is bought in Goa, components of Maharashtra, Telangana, Daman and Assam, nevertheless it wasn’t till the pandemic hit that demand abruptly shot by means of the roof. Desmond explains, “We saw this surge for agave-based alcohol and were happy to hand over our distilled spirit to entrepreneurs willing to make it a premium product. The Indian variant of the agave plant lends its own tasting notes from the terroir, that offers a completely Indian spirit. We have co-branded our product in Europe, with a Danish partner.”

A mahua tree

A mahua tree | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

In Goa, Rakshay and Radhika Dhariwal of Pass Code Spirits, an offshoot of Passcode Hospitality, have taken the agave story ahead with Pistola, a very Indian agave spirit, grown in Chittoor, on the border of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

The agave grows for eight to 10 years earlier than it’s harvested, then steamed in an autoclave, adopted by bio-fermentation and double-distillation in a half copper pot nonetheless. The distillate has a energy of 55% ABV. The first variant — the Reposado, has simply hit the Goan market (₹2,695 for 750 ml) and there are imminent launches in Delhi (₹3,000) and Mumbai (₹4,500) to comply with. The Reposado (which means rested), is aged for 5 months in virgin American white oak and ex-Bourbon casks in Goa.

“We have the raw materials growing in profusion in our backyard, so I thought why not attempt to make a top class, quality product that we can serve at our outposts?,” says Rakshay. Battling a tragic fireplace that hit the distillery on the finish of 2021, Rakshay is now seeking to quadruple capability on the distillery by including 10 new American and ex-Bourbon barrels.

Taking mahua to the lots

While agave often is the new child on the block, mahua-based spirits have been brewed by tribes throughout the breadth of central India.

The pale yellow flowering tree provides meals, gas and fodder to tribal individuals, who’ve drunk the primary distillate of the mahua flower for hundreds of years. Desmond, whereas setting his agave spirits on the backburner, grew curious of the floral and nuanced notes of the mahua-based spirit he sampled.

“Millions of tribal people in India across 13 states call it the kalpvriksha, since it has yielded even during times of drought. Over 500 million flowers are collected annually by tribes, then sold to middlemen for a song, and then bought back by tribes after a quarter at much higher prices. The tribes have lacked hygienic storage facilities so they could not process the flowers without intervention,” provides Desmond. In November 2021, Madhya Pradesh introduced mahua can be thought-about a heritage liquor and the State would permit tribals to brew and promote it utilizing their indigenous strategies.

“This is a huge shot in the arm to the tribals who have harbored the recipes for centuries,” says Desmond, who has visited tribal settlements in Bastar, achieved recce journeys throughout central India with economist Jean Drze and his spouse Bela Bhatia, and visited swathes of Yavatmal in Maharashtra, searching for one of the best ways to carry mahua to the lots. Desmondjis has tried to work with governments in Central India to arrange mahua banks, the place collected mahua might be saved at nominal charges. “We reached out to tribes to collect the flowers for us, by ensconcing the tree trunk with nets, so the falling flowers retain their nectar, which is often lost when it falls to the ground. Now local government agencies across Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh have educated tribes about specific food grade mahua and optimal methods for collection and drying.”

Agave spirit aged in ex-Bourbon barrels

Agave spirit aged in ex-Bourbon barrels | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

While tribes eat the primary distillate, which is earthy and heady, at Desmondji’s microbrewery, mahua flowers collected by tribal teams are combined with water and yeast in pot stills particularly designed for the mahua spirit. The spirit goes by means of a number of rounds of distillation and a spice bouquet of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and multi-floral honey is added to it. “We currently retail in Karnataka (₹2,030) and Goa (₹675), both at 40% ABV. We are in talks with governments to submit paperwork for a GI tag for mahua liquor, so tribals across the Indian heartland can make and sell this heritage spirit. This is the ultimate goal as we try to bring mahua to the mainstream,” explains Desmond, including, “We are a crowdfunded fairness plan to take mahua spirit to the USA and the UK, hoping the diaspora is eager to carry really Indian spirits to bars internationally.”

Off to the tropics

A pina colada immediately transports you to the solar and sand. And that is precisely the place India will get its widespread coconut liqueur, Cabo. Born within the vacuum left by Malibu rum, when it exited Goan bars again in 2006, Cabo is probably the most wanted memento of vacationers visiting the State. Solomon Diniz who heads Goa-based Adinco Distilleries, a family-owned enterprise says, “We use coconuts from the tropics, and the liqueur is perfect as a sipping spirit, on the rocks, in a cocktail or with a mixer.” The coconut-shaped white bottle retails at ₹675 in Goa and ₹2,050 in Maharashtra.

Adinco additionally creates a espresso based mostly spirit, Ti Connie — a mixture of Coorg espresso and arabica varietals from Brazil with notes of caramel and a shot of Adinco’s rum, in addition to its personal tackle the orange liqueur triple sec, Ti Connie Triple Sec, made with dried peels of bitter and candy Nagpur oranges. “In a blind taste test, bartenders couldn’t tell the difference between our liqueur and triple sec, and now we are popular across Goan bars since we offer a quality product at a competitive price point of ₹650,” says Solomon.

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