Sakshi Saigal – Stranger & Sons
When the opportunity to interview one of the brain’s behind Stranger & Sons Gin came up we all but bit her hand off. Afterall, it’s not every day a Gin comes tumbling out of Goa. Meet Sakshi Saigal, one third of the brilliant team.
Hi Sakshi, you are a new brand for most of us here in the UK, strangers if you will, so let’s put that right! Who are the team behind Stranger & Sons and how do you all know each other?
Sakshi Saigal: There are three of us: Sakshi Saigal, Rahul Mehra and Vidur Gupta. Together, we form the head, heart and tail (not necessarily in that order) behind Third Eye Distillery. We’re all related to each other, so although we come from diverse work backgrounds, we’re all peppered with the same kind of crazy!
India is a world unexplored for us. Can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from?
Third Eye Distillery is based in a small state along the Western Ghats, where the roads wind through green fields, where the people speak Konkani with as much ease as they speak Portuguese, where hippies, spiritual differences, colonial bungalows and local spice markets all co-exist in a tiny place called Goa. You’ll always find us hunched over our still, throwing in the most exotic Indian botanicals. If we’re not distilling Gin, we’ll be out watering our botanical garden, where we grow our pepper, lemon & coriander. Or we’ll be sitting on the floor, chatting with the local women who come over to help us peel our citrus fruits.
That sounds utterly idyllic, and a world away from so many other Gin makers. What made you want to set up a distillery? And why did you opt for Gin over any other spirit?
We realised that the key to making a great gin is sourcing good botanicals and we had the most exotic botanicals available in the local markets and household kitchens of India! In choosing to make gin, we managed to create a spirit that celebrates the agricultural history of India in a way no other spirit can. But we’re not stopping here. Gin is just the first chapter in our book of spirits. We’re constantly experimenting with what else we can create in order to bring the diversity that India represents out into the rest of the world.
It’s a bold endeavour – you’ve mentioned that your gin is one of the first to emerge in India since the 40’s that’s fully launching as an Indian brand. Do you have any insight on the history of Gin in India?
We have no real evidence to prove what kind of gin was made in India, but we believe most gin was imported by the British for the British. Though we took inspiration from our signature serve from an infamous story from The Delhi Gymkhana Club.
Apparently, on the eve of 15th August, 1947 a certain sari clad lady called out to the bartender saying, “Bearer, make this Gin & Tonic Indian. I can’t bear the taste of colonialism in my drink.” The flustered bartender replaced the orange peel that he was accustomed to so far with the peel of an Indian bergamot. That night, India got its Independence, and the Gin & Tonic became Indian.
A nice story and a past so rich it’s hard to ignore! The “& Sons” in Stranger & Sons is a nod to history, isn’t it?
Yes! Traditionally all businesses in India that are passed on down through the generations are named in honour of their ancestor’s wisdom. We’ve all seen remnants of this tradition on shop signs that read so and so ‘& Sons.’ These shop signs are their legacies, so when it came time to build our own, we took the blessings of our two tailed, three eyed mythical creature and named our brand Stranger & Sons. This gin is our tribute to everything we know that was passed down by a person or creature who knew it before us, and India.
Given that the passing on of knowledge, skills, recipes, traditions and even businesses from generation to generation, is your hope to also try and educate about distilling and spirits production?
Yes, indeed. Just like our recipe was passed down to us from a mythical creature, we hope to pass on our knowledge & skills to others. We hope to educate the Indian audience on the finer nuances of distillation through certified courses that we will offer at our visitor centre at the Third Eye Distillery.
And what about the gin that you have made – did you always know what you wanted to do, flavour and ingredient wise? Or was it something that evolved over time?
After having tasted over 400 gins (we’re not complaining) over the years, we noticed that a lot of them spoke of having origins in India, but one look at the back label and we knew it was made anywhere but India. That’s when we knew it was time for us to build a truly Indian gin that was robust and would stand out in the global market.
Our Indian Spirited Gin is dry, bold and has a soft citrusy note, which not only makes it easy to pair with a tonic, but also ensures that you can taste the distinct flavour of the gin in a classic Gimlet, Negroni or Martini.
What’s botanicals ended up in the final mix? And what is your distilling process?
Botanically speaking, our gin goes beyond the customary juniper with healthy measures of Indian black pepper, nutmeg, mace, coriander, angelica with soft notes of familiar and native citrus peels coupled with a smooth body and the warmth of liquorice and cassia bark to finish.
We make a single shot gin where our botanicals are added at different stages of the process. All our citrus peels, including the Indian bergamot and Gondhraj Lemons, get in first, followed by the juniper, pepper, coriander and nutmeg. We finish with cassia, mace and liquorice.
We like to compare our distilling pro- cess to an Indian musical, Jugulbandhi, where each ingredient fights for their flavour to come out until they come head to head in a final act of pure, symphonic cacophony.
The end of distillation isn’t necessarily the end of the road for a lot of your botanicals though. Some are reused, no?
There’s a local self-help group of women who visit our distillery on the day we’re distilling our gin to help us peel the citrus fruit. These women are usually housewives, who are keen on learning different vocations so they can earn an additional income. We usually have no need for the fleshy part of the citrus fruits, so they take them back with them to make traditional jams and pickles, which they sell at local markets.
Mitigating waste is just one effort you’ve placed on sustainability, do you work on other angles too?
We try to be sustainable in a lot of aspects of our distillery and are constantly finding more and more ways to be more responsible and give back to this planet.
One of our biggest concerns is water. It takes a lot of water to distill gin and while most distilleries use a constant flow of cold water, which is later drained out, we decided to invest in a recycling tank that reduces our water requirement to 25 litres instead of over 10,000 litres of water.
We also never throw out any part of the botanicals we use, it either all goes into the gin or finds another use. You’ll find that our packaging doesn’t use any plastic (not even tape). Our merchandise is all organic and fair-trade. What’s more, we’re installing a solar roof so we can support part of our own energy requirements as well.
That’s incredible, and shows such big thinking for such a young brand. So what’s next? World domination? Or more experimentation?
We’re as curious as it gets about exploring and experimenting with new and strange ideas. At the moment, we’re looking into using indigenous woods for ageing our gin and rum and trying to source local sustainably grown berries and honey. We’re keen to prove to the world that India can make more than just its fair share of whiskey.
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