Meet the Distiller
Anand Virmani, NAO Spirits
Gin & tonic was the creation of the British in India. It was introduced as a way of making quinine – used to combat malaria – taste less bitter. But the Indian spirits market has always been dominated by whisky and rum. Is that about to change?
We caught up with the Guild’s first member from India, Anand Virmani, who launched his first brand of Indian-made London Dry Gin in the country this year.
THE GIN GUILD: Is India experiencing the gin revolution, or is gin growth much slower than in the UK or Europe? Is this market for premium products or lower-priced locally-produced products?
ANAND VIRMANI: “Not a lot of people know this, but India is currently the 5th largest gin market in the world, with 2.5 million 9L cases of gin being consumed annually.
Almost 99% of that is low-priced cold compounded gins. There is a slowdown in this segment across the globe and this is true in India.
The premium segment is growing in a big way though, experiencing growth rates higher than 20% year on year. This is still a small segment, so percentage numbers are always exciting to look at.
THE GIN GUILD: Is premium gin mainly imported or are gin distilleries (like your own) opening up in India to produce premium products?
ANAND VIRMANI: All premium gin in India is currently imported. We are the first to offer a gin which is made in India as a London Dry Gin.
THE GIN GUILD: What are the obstacles to growth in gin sales in India?
ANAND VIRMANI: India is primarily a brown spirits market (96%). The challenge is to move people away from that and into a category which we believe is much more naturally suited to our climate and palate.
THE GIN GUILD: How is gin drunk in India?
ANAND VIRMANI: Typically, Gin was a thing of member clubs like the Gymkhana or the Golf Club, where gin would be the afternoon drink with tonic and lime – very traditional.
Over the past few years, that has changed dramatically. Most bars and restaurants now feature at least a couple of cocktails with gin as their main ingredient.
Bartenders are not shy to experiment, and you see a lot of Indian flavours coming to the fore in cocktails, like Jamun (Plum), Tulsi (Holy Basil), Gondhoraj and many more.
THE GIN GUILD: You’ve launched a London Dry Gin in India – how successful has it been?
ANAND VIRMANI: We launched GREATER THAN, our London Dry Gin recently and it has created real excitement – clearly there were enough people waiting for an Indian Craft Gin. It is available in Goa currently and will be in Bangalore and Mumbai very shortly.
THE GIN GUILD: And you’re about to launch a gin containing Himalayan juniper and other locally-sourced botanicals – what challenges have you faced sourcing local ingredients?
ANAND VIRMANI: Our premium contemporary gin is called HAPUSA, and uses Himalayan Juniper along with other botanicals native to India.
The biggest challenge was the juniper. Juniper oil is used in India to make certain Ayurvedic medicines so we knew there was juniper in India.
India is a massive space for spices and botanicals, but it is highly unorganized. When we went out in search of juniper, no-one knew what we were talking about and it took us two months to track down where it was grown, who could source it for us, and importantly – what name it was known by – that’s where we got the name of our gin.
THE GIN GUILD: Where will your gins be made, and are they intended for the Indian market or for international consumption, or both?
ANAND VIRMANI: Our distillery is in Goa. From here both our gins will go to market within India and outside.
THE GIN GUILD: What is your favourite way to drink gin?
ANAND VIRMANI: Daytime is gin & tonic time, while I am Negroni-happy most evenings.
THE GIN GUILD: What are your predictions for the gin industry in India?
ANAND VIRMANI: It’s going to grow …. I hope!