Aneesh Bhasin – Svami Tonic
Svami Tonics, with their exquisite packaging and wonderful flavours, are finally putting the Indian in Indian Tonic. We met co-founder Aneesh Bhasin to hear all about the G&T scene in India.
GF: Hi Aneesh! For those who are just gettign to know you, can you give us a little introduction to the team behind Svami?
Aneesh Bhasin: Svami is founded by three partners: Sahil and Rahul along with me. All three of us are obsessed with good drinks – it could be wine, beer or even coffee. Sahil started one of the first online stores for coffee in India, Rahul started one of the first craft breweries in Mumbai and I started India’s first app for wines and spirits. While the rest of the world was going through a Gin resurgence, it was frustrating for us to not even have decent options for mixers and we saw an opportunity to up the mixer game in India.
And it’s about time! We always drink ‘Indian Tonic’ water, but yours is actually the first craft brand to have been made in the country. What’s the story there?
India has a strong history with Gin and Tonics thanks to quinine. The first references of Gin and Tonics being drunk in India by British troops even predate our first fight for Independence, referred to as the Indian rebellion of 1857. The aftermath of the rebellion resulted in even more British troops being deployed in India and made “Indian” tonic water even more popular. Now after almost 190 years, India finally has its first home grown brand of craft tonic water.
Considering the spices and botanicals available in India, along with weather conducive to refreshing tall drinks, it really surprised us that mixers were not given any importance in India. It’s not only tonic that’s missing, we do not have a single decent ginger ale in the country!
There are three tonics in the range so far – a classic Indian, a Cucumber and Grapefruit. How did you devise the range? And does it stop there, or is there room for more experimentation?
Being Gin and Tonic drinkers ourselves, the first thought was to make a tonic that we would personally love to drink. As a mixer, we want to be able to enhance a spirit and not let sugar be the dominating factor. That was the basic brief we wanted to follow.
We spent a good six months sampling different quinine from all over the world, along with various citrus, spices and other botanicals. We worked on several recipes ourselves and finalised on one which we would drink again and again! The Indian tonic is super light and dry with less than 5g of sugar per 100ml and a hint of lime keeping it neutral and versatile.
Cucumber is a staple in India and is part of salad in most Indian homes. Svami Cucumber Tonic is super ar- omatic and tastes fresh, at the same time it’s not syrupy or overpowering. We personally love grapefruit and it’s not a commonly used citrus in India. Inspired by citrus peels used as gar- nishes for cocktails, we have crafted our grapefruit tonic with essential oils and not juice, once again keeping the tonic super dry and light.
There is a lot of room for experimenting and we are building an entire portfolio of mixers and not only tonic waters.
Exciting! Your products are made with all natural ingredients and as you mentioned India is home to some amazing botanicals – how did you pick yours? And where do you source them?
We are lucky to be in India. The options we have for botanicals are so diverse and we have plans to make full use of this. We picked the first set of botanicals based on our core range of tonics. Now that the three tonics are out in the market, we are experimenting with a spice market tonic which is made with an Indian spice mix and a ginger ale which uses a combination of gingers from three different regions of India. We also have plans to use Himalayan juniper and pepper from Kerala in the future.
Everything happens in house, from making to bottling. How much work goes into producing one batch of tonic?
Yes, everything happens in house. The easiest thing for us would have been to go to a third party bottler and ask them to make us tonics, but that wasn’t the way we wanted to go about things. Setting up everything ourselves from scratch was a lot more difficult perhaps from what we imagined it to be, but it is also very satisfying.
It all starts with our recipe which is done in house, followed by bringing all the ingredients into our small batch tanks – Wong and Oshi! Yes, our tanks have names. We then slow carbonate the tonics for a few days for super fine bubbles and finally bottle, label and dispatch. We have devised our own quality control standards and keep checks on every batch.
It really does all sound quite great. Where is Svami Tonic available to buy and do you have plans to expand?
Just six months from launch, Svami is now pouring at almost all the best restaurants in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Goa, including all of the top three restaurants in India by Conde Nast Traveller. We thought we would take more time to hit retail stores, but we’ve seen an excellent demand for retail and are available in well known supermarkets and wine shops.
Svami will soon be available in Hong Kong, the UK and Europe. We have already done tastings in all of these markets and have been overwhelmed by the response.
All things sound positive, particularly on the home front, which bring us onto the next question… Tonic and Gin are obviously life long partners. Have you noticed the popularity of gin rising as a category in India?
The popularity has been surprising. India is traditionally a brown spirits and beer drinking country but the growth for Gins has been in the double digits and finally the big alcohol players are making a push for their Gin brands which were always on the back burner.
This year we have had three Gin festivals (needless to say Svami was the pouring tonic at all three) which has never happened before in India. A lot of restaurants now have dedicated Gin and Tonic menus and we are also witnessing Craft Gin brands come up from India like Stranger & Sons Gin and Jaisalmer Gin.
And how do you keep that momentum building?
Consumer education is extremely important and we are engaging with customers and bartenders even more than the Gin brands.
Since there was no option apart from Schweppes in India, most consumers and bartenders had not tasted any other tonic water, so we’re going the whole nine yards – organising Gin tastings and festivals, focusing a lot on bar advocacy and even providing glassware for better Gin and Tonics, something no Indian mixer company has done till now.
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