Indian craft spirits industry has taken an upward boom and there are equally interesting choices available in drinking local

Words Jamie Walker

Craft beer is now a phrase that is widely accepted in global drinking. Whether you are in Bengaluru with its scores of micro-breweries, or inVietnam drinking local brews on the beach in Nha Trang or seeing global brewing giants investing in small local producers, we are used to the concept of small(er) beers turning heads on the local market. But what is a craft spirt? And should we be looking to support local producers in the ‘new normal’ or coming through the next phase(s) of Covid?

Firstly, I have to say that the word ‘craft’ will mean very different things to every reader of this article. Is Brewdog Punk IPA a craft beer when it can be found in every supermarket in the UK as well as building a new mega brewery in the US? Does floating on the stock market mean you are no longer ‘craft’? I was in India when Simba launched and it felt pretty crafty, but seeing the numbers and the spread of the brand is it a small batch producer anymore? Answers on a postcard…

One of the biggest vodka’s in the US is branded as a craft spirit, but surely when you start to get close to a million cases a year and distributing globally, then we are starting to see this as a global mainstream brand? And should we be looking closer to home for our craft spirits and cocktail ingredients?

Now more than ever our local suppliers and producers need our support. Be it your local bar, restaurant, food producer, or fruit supplier I feel we should be looking to make sure we spend our hard-earned paychecks closer to home. Travel is going to be out for the majority for quite a while, and this will also have a knock-on effect on the import and export of our alcoholic beverages and cocktail ingredients.

So looking at my time spent in India, and some of the fantastic new products being crafted by passionate and incredibly talented local producers, what should you be looking to stock up on for home consumption and to support your local industry.

India’s beer industry is booming. The micro-breweries and relaxation on laws mean that you can find a local pint in the majority of Indian cities, many of these seasonal and utilising local fruits or spices, give drinkers something new to taste on a regular basis. My mind goes back to a particular Mango brew that was available during IPL times in Bengaluru that will always make me salivate and remember great times with fantastic friends, but the Indian spirits scene is growing internally and also getting fantastic recognition from far further afield, I can find Indian spirits in many of my local cocktail joints in Singapore!

Goa is a mecca for liquor in India with numerous distilleries making all types of spirits. Feni always springs to mind, and Cazulo Feni is one of the more refined and modern variations that can be substituted in many of your favourite white spirit cocktails. Use some sweet lime and a little jaggery and then add your favourite fruits for a twist on a daiquiri or Caipioska.

Stranger and Sons gin is also distilled in Goa and uses a fantastic blend of botanicals, many sourced from across India. This gin also has one of the most recognisable labels in world gin, (check the Tiger!). Their team of brand ambassadors and distillers are taking it to a city near you in India, as well as onto the global cocktail scene and turning a lot of heads along the way. 

Other local juniper driven spirits include Greater Than gin and Hapusa Himalayan dry gin, meaning a spirit that has such a rich history in India truly has a new lease of life and local flavours. 

"The micro-breweries and relaxation on laws mean that you can find a local pint in the majority of Indian cities"

I don’t need to tell anyone about that old square bottle of rum you all know so well, but there are Indian brand owners of many top-notch sugar cane spirits, look out for The Lovers Rum that will be arriving thanks to a bartending prince from up North somewhere close to you soon. Incredible liquid for sipping and shaking!

It would be remiss of me not to mention Indian whisky producers who have been winning global awards and carrying the torch for aged grain distillates for a long time now. Paul John from Goa and Amrut from Karnataka have been stalwarts in the industry, but look out for Rampur releases. I have tasted a couple and was very impressed. I have a feeling this will be a growing category in years to come.

Finally, I need to shout out local producers of mixers and even bitter’s brands. Svami tonic and mixers was a regular for me during my time in India and their ever-growing range can be found in the best bars and restaurants around the country. Pair this with new non-alcoholic cocktail flavouring Bitters by B and you have all the makings of a world-class home bar for cocktails and mocktails supporting incredible brands and people from all over India.

There will be hundreds of brands that I have not had space to mention, or that have launched since I was last bouncing between cities across your beautiful country. In these troubling times, it is time to stick together and support your local producers and venues, you may also find a few diamonds along the way! 

*If you want to speak to any local contacts for comment or photos, insta handles as follows
@bittersbyb – Brandon
@jeetrana92 – Jeet, Strangers & Son’s
@the_feni_guy, Karl from Cazulo
@drinkswithdabose, Arijit at The Lovers Rum

"It would be remiss of me not to mention Indian whiskey producers who have been winning global awards and carrying the torch for aged grain distillates for a long time now"