It’s a line we’ve been rolling out relentlessly for the last couple of years, but we’re going to say it just once more for those in the back: The Indian Gin scene is a sleeping giant, but it’s waking up. Potential within the region is enormous; after all – it’s home to so many of the botanicals that flourish across the Gins of the world, and it’s the historic home of the G&T, with soldiers stationed in India having accidentally playing a key role in popularising one of the world’s most enduring cocktail some 200 years ago.
Of the half dozen gins already getting us a little excited about what’s to come, Jaisalmer Gin’s creator, Rampur Distillery (now known as Radico Khaitan), perhaps has the most impressive CV. Founded in 1943, the Company currently has two distilleries- Rampur Distillery in Rampur (Uttar Pradesh) and Radico NV Distilleries Maharashtra Limited, a joint venture with RNV in Aurangabad (Maharashtra) in which Radico Khaitan Limited owns 36% equity. The company has a total capacity of over 157 million litres and operates 28 bottling units, spread across the country.
Let’s just put a visual representation for you to fully appreciate the scale of what they do. They could fill 55 Olympic swimming pools with booze. On a domestic scale, they could supply an entire block of apartments each with showers on full blast spraying the stuff 24 hours a day for an entire year – even the old ones that are more fire hoses – and still have enough liquid left to be considered a medium sized brand in the UK.
All that potential volume is geared towards producing neutral spirit as well as their flagship brand – Rampud Whisky. Good thing too, as India is famously fond of darker spirits, with the Whisky category the real star over there, accounting for around 65% of all spirits sales in the country. Still, even a tiny percentage of a market as huge as what the country accounts for is a mind-boggling number, so with the trend towards premium Gin making its way East, it’s little wonder that those with the capability to place a handful of juniper into the spirits that they’re very capably producing are doing so with vigour.
Radico Khaitain’s President of International Business, Sanjeev Banga, gave us a very rare interview in early 2019, offering a bit of insight into the company’s decision, after all these years, to launch a Gin. “We launched RAMPUD Indian Single Malt in April 2016, and since then have been working closely with our distributor in Europe and the USA,” he explains. “We witnessed the resurgence of Gin in these markets and also discovered that the G&T actually originated in India. The launch of a premium Indian Tonic Water got us thinking… why not create an Indian Craft Gin?”
Amazingly, the batches of Jaisalmer Gin are tiny; it’s made in a traditional copper pot only 700-800 bottles at a time. Let that settle in for a second; A company that size, in a country with that many drinkers and only making their one and only gin, Jaisalmer, in less than a thousand units per batch.
With its home distillery clearly operating on some huge kit, it’s interesting, and reassuring, to see that there are no corners being cut here. They want to carefully monitor the gin during the distillation process, and currently, there is no need to scale up as they are looking to grow steadily abroad first, before the domestic agenda comes into focus.
No doubt it will be upscaled in time if (when) gin becomes popular there, but it’s good to see that they started where everyone starts – small and entirely focussed on the craft of making great flavours, before they can figure out how to maintain that as they increase volumes. While we’ve not been told and so the following is pure conjecture, looking at the images of their still, it is a Chinese made DYE still with a capacity of somewhere between 450 – 600L. If this is correct, that wouldn’t even rank in the top 30 biggest Gin stills here in the UK – meaning for a company of their size, it must be considered a positively puny machine to be playing around with.
There are 11 botanicals used in Jaisalmer Gin, seven of which were grown in India (and plucked from all corner of the country at that, with the north, south, east and west all well represented) coriander, vetiver, orange peel, cubeb berries, lemon grass and Darjeeling green tea and lemon peel. The remaining botanicals are the usual suspects – juniper (from Tuscany), liquorice root, angelica and caraway seeds.
It is famous amongst Indian culture to pass knowledge down through generations. Jaisalmer’s Master Blender, Anup Barik, comes from a family of blenders, so he used not only decades of his own expertise to create Jaisalmer’s unique taste, but several generations worth of flavour marrying knowledge as well.
There was a clear flavour profile in mind right from the beginning, Banga explained, and one that wouldn’t deviate too far. “We wanted to retain the soul of Gin and not go to overborad with botanicals,” he said, “but we wanted to add an Indian touch to it.”
What does Jaisalmer Gin taste like?
The aroma on this gin is impressively layered. There’s a lightness of touch that allows lemongrass and a slight whiff of tea, but linger a while and you will get the spices – particularly coriander seed and caraway.
To taste, the immediate impression is one of sweet orange to taste that has a unique ability to last long past its usual moment at the start of proceedings and bridges the flavour into a herbal core of juniper . and coriander seed. This leading into peppery cubeb and caraway, which lingers with its familiar combination of cooling menthol and enduring spice.
The tea, so clearly imparting a note on the nose, it’s hard to discern to taste, but the tannic, dry finish of the gin (in part due to angelica) is no doubt accentuated by it. In a G&T, you can go a variety of directions with this – a chunky lemongrass works well, so too does a dual garnish of orange and cardamom. We like a sprig of mint in ours but rest assured in the knowledge that it’s multifaceted enough to be leaned in which ever way you’d like.
While we spend a huge amount of time praising the artistry of small distilleries – almost to the extent of ignoring the giants – these big makers are of huge importance to the Gin industry. Just think, without the mass-produced gins the craft movement would have stood no chance as no one is willing to take a £30/£40 punt on a spirit they’re not even sure they like that much. For a category to rise, you need both big players and tiny ones flourishing all around.
No-one wants to place themselves as the giant in the story and Jaisalmer would shun the tag as much as they can, but as independent journalists, it would be naive of us not to peg it onto them. It’s true, they are not churning it out at the moment, but it’s a matter of time until they will given Gin’s continued assent. We say this in a positive way as unless they do, Indian Gin stands no chance as a real trend. There would be no Sipsmith without Hendrick’s, no Hendrick’s without Bombay and no Bombay without Gordon’s – each plays a vital role in making gin what it is today in Europe, and Jaisalmer’s future role in the story of gin in India can not be underestimated.
Eventually, once they decide to switch the taps on and run to the capacity they are able to – this will be one of the core building blocks of the Indian market. If one considers this liquid in that mass-context, it’s mightily impressive booze. It’s a clearly solid product irrespective of potential size, but because they can produce that kind of capacity it will help not just hundreds of thousands, but millions appreciate the sheer depth of flavour the category has to offer. Without their volume, we feel that Gin in India will always be seen as a niche trend for tourists and the wealthy few.
Currently all this talk of domestic super-consumption is far away and they are just going about their business, one batch at a time. As a gin, Jaisalmer is making a splash in international waters and building credibility in regions where the category is already huge and showing that it cannot be dismissed out of hand, nor should it be under-appreciated on its quality alone.
If the category continues on its trajectory out there however, where a popular spirit sells by the hundreds of millions of units, we have no doubt in our minds that one day, Jaisalmer may well be amongst the biggest names in Gin in the world. Moreover, that if that’s the case, they will have helped to bring so many consumers into a category that by default, they will have done all other makers and enthusiasts a huge favour. Theirs is a fascinating story to keep watching out for…
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