Anand Virmani – Nao Spirits
Given the Gin & Tonic has become one of the most iconic drinks in the world – it’s a little bit of a surprise to see that its country of origin, India, hasn’t quite adopted Gin nor the cocktail quite to the same fervour as elsewhere. It’s a country that we feel is tailor made for a mass love of gin and if it does, we wait with absolutely frantic excitement as to what could happen next. The flavours they so brilliantly combine, the local ingredients at their disposal, the innovation at every turn… just imagine what would be possible!
Perhaps Gin will take off eventually, and perhaps it’s something that the recently established Näo Spirits will be at the forefront of changing. We caught up with Anand Virmani to find out more about their two gins as well as the drinks industry in India.
For those, like us, who know nothing about the Indian drinks industry, what is it like?
Confusing, inconsistent and massive! It is mainly geared towards Beer and Brown Spirits
Are their hotspots cities that set the national trends, and are there any trends that are just completely different than in Europe or US bar scenes?
Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore would definitely be the trend-setting cities – however these cities also look to UK and USA primarily for cues.
So the international scene is very much reflected then. What’s the prevailing attitude towards Gin as a spirit across the country?
It has been seen as an old-person’s drink and one that holds its rightful place at the Gymkhana and likes. The local Gin is also seen (quite rightly) as a mass-produced industrial product.
Obviously, you will be looking to change some of this with your gins – but who are the team at NAO Spirits and what were you doing before hand?
Nao Spirits has grown from 2 people to 8 over the past year and a half. I had worked with Spirit companies like William Grants and Remy Cointreau, handling their marketing for the Indian Sub-Continent. Vaibhav Singh, the co-founder had a very hospitality-heavy background instead. He had worked with and opened some of the best bars in Delhi over the past 2 decades.
What lit the match for you all, what made you come together and decide to become a craft distillers?
Vaibhav and I started a bar in New Delhi in 2015 called Perch. We constantly lamented the lack of good Indian gin for us to experiment with and decided to go out looking for someone to make a Gin for us. Because the Indian industry is so focused on the high-volume model though, no one really gave us the time of day. A craft spirit was just too much of a bother for them.
At this point it became clear to us that if we were going to be doing this, we were going to have to turn into distillers ourselves.
It’s a big step. Once you began the craft distilling journey, why do you decide to make gin in particular?
Gin has a very rich history with India. The fact that the Gin & Tonic was invented in India still takes people by surprise. This, coupled with the fact that we are the spice capital of the world, made us question why we didn’t have a Gin to call our own.
On a more selfish note, we like to drink Gin. We also feel that India, being a primarily hot country, is much more suited to a tall glass of Gin & Tonic than a Whisky on the rocks – common sense should prevail.
Indeed! Let’s talk Greater Than – what’s it about and what were you trying to do with it?
We were trying to make a really good, clean Gin. One that you immediately recognize as a London Dry Gin and is any good bartender’s best friend.
A modern classic, deliberately traditional in its flavour so that it can serve as a workhorse for any situation – How do you make it?
We start with a wheat-based neutral spirit in which we steep our botanicals. All of this is done in our 1000 Liter copper pot still we lovingly call Agotha. Greater Than is a collaborative effort between botanicals that are imported and those that are found in India – Our Juniper comes from Macedonia, our Orange Peel from Spain, Orris from Italy and Angelica from Germany. The fennel seeds, lemongrass, coriander seeds, ginger and chamomile all come from different parts of India.
We think it’s better than a majority of classic gin offerings out there and even though you had it “under the counter” for you to use as context – it was our stand out gin of Junipalooza. Are we right in thinking it’s just for the Indian market?
Greater Than was definitely created keeping in mind the need of the Indian consumer and bartender. We are quite happy taking it out to the rest of the world however. 🙂
Fair enough, Hapusa is your other gin that many will now recognise you for internationally. What’s the big idea behind that?
When we started off, something that struck us was the number of “Indian-themed” gins in the market that had almost nothing to do with India itself. It was strange that a country where the Gin & Tonic was invented and a country that prided itself on its botanicals and spices would not have a single Gin to its name in a world where hundreds of Gins were being launched every year.
Hapusa is our answer to this anomaly. It takes botanicals from all across India with Himalayan Juniper at the very center and puts in the bottle a savoury gin ideal for sipping on the rocks or in martinis. Alongside our unique variety of Juniper, you will find Turmeric, Mango, Ginger, Cardamom, Coriander Seeds, Gondhoraj and Almonds – all the greatest hits from kitchens across the country.
Is it made differently to the Greater Than?
We make Hapusa with the same amount of love as Greater Than. The difference in process lies in the fact that Greater Than is a multi-shot Gin while Hapusa is a single-shot.
And what about the branding – did you always have a clear vision for what you wanted it to look like or has it evolved organically?
Both brands have evolved massively over the past three years since we first started working on them. My wife, Aparajita, who luckily happens to be a kick-ass Graphic Designer, has moulded these since their inception. Through the process we have had a lot of fun with defining and redefining the brands. With Greater Than, we have gone full circle and ended up quite close to what our initial idea was, whereas with Hapusa we have really had to build up, break down, and build up again. There was just so much to communicate on the label that we had to really reign our dreams and aspirations in.
What do you hope for with the two gins (and are you looking to add any more to your range)?
We hope they are liked and enjoyed…and yes! 🙂
What’s the next big milestone for you?
Launching Hapusa full and proper. I also hope to get people talking about our Gins and get consumers in India to start to think about what gin is going into their glass.
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