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Sanjeev Banga – Jaisalmer Gin

Jaisalmer, Gin, Indian gin
Sanjeev Banga and Jaisalmer Gin
Written by Gin Foundry

Ahead of their appearance in the Newcomers Zone at Junipalooza, we’ve had a little chat with Radico Khaitan’s President of International Business, Sanjeev Banga to get the low down on the ins and outs of the Gin industry in India.

Before we talk about your gin, Jaisalmer, we’d love to explore some context around the distillery and the Indian Market. Radico is known as one of the older whiskey producers in the region, and you also have sizeable distilling production making neutral spirits too. You are one of the largest alcohol producers in Asia – all of which giving you a broad view on drinks and where it’s going in the region. Over the past five years have you seen a big shift in the Indian market when it comes to the everyday drinker’s approach to spirits in general?

Rampur Distillery was established in 1943 and is one of the oldest distilleries in India.  Located at the foothills of Himalayas in North India, we produce neutral spirits from sugar cane molasses, grain and malt spirit.  We have another distillery in Western India as well.  Between the 2 locations, we produce in excess of 13 million Liters of Alcohol every month making us one of the largest in Asia.  India is still a predominately brown spirits market with Whisky accounting for almost 65% share.  Rum and Brandy another 25% and the rest is White spirits.

In terms of consumption, growing disposal income coupled with exposure to global markets during their frequent travels overseas, the Indian consumer is now shifting more towards the premium spirits.  The premium category is growing at a much faster pace than the regular segment.

And from a bartender and trade perspective, are there any trends that you feel have really influenced the industry in the region over the past few years?

Bespoke Bars & Lounges, Premium retail outlets, availability of global brands all around for experimentation and upscaling by Indian consumers.

And for Gin in particular – do you think now is the time for the category’s resurgence in India?

Gin as a category died long time ago in India.  However, the Globe-trotting Indians are well aware of the trends prevailing in other markets.  Any party in India today is incomplete without a Gin.  We want to rejuvenate this category in India and offer the discerning Indian consumers the Finest Indian Craft Gin.

What do you think the big challenges and the big obstacles to overcome are for Gin to be big in India?

Education. We think a lot of consumers are not as familiar with gin as they are with vodka. We’d like to make Gin more approachable, through information, tastings and getting it in front of bars and on cocktail menus everywhere.

The launch of new Premium and Craft Gins is the starting point. Today, millennials are curious, enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the Gin category and are experimenting with various ingredients and mixers. Not to forget Gin is the original cocktail favourite of the bartenders. We are working closely with some of the world renowned mixologist to create unique cocktails with Jaisalmer.

Radico Khaitan began life as Rampur Distillery in 1943 – are there any archives of some of the products that were made back then?

In the initial years we were only distillers and bottlers.  We launched our first brand in 1998 : 8PM Whisky.  This was first Indian Whisky made from Grain and blended with scotch malts imported from Scotland.  Within first year of its launch, it sold over a million cases.

Jaisalmer as a brand is more recent for you as a company – what made you want to produce a craft gin today?

We launched our RAMPUR Indian Single Malt in April 2016 and since then have been working closely with our distributors in Europe and USA.  We witnessed the resurgence of Gin is these markets and also discovered that G&T actually originated in India !!!.  Also launch of premium “Indian Tonic Water” got us thinking…Why not a craft gin from India???

Scale is subjective thing so what will be small for some will be huge for others and vis versa. You see distilling from the context of a producer that makes over 3.5 million 9L cases of vodka a year and so all the spirits you make will be on the larger scale compared to many UK producers. How big is a batch of Jaisalmer?

Yes indeed we in India are accustomed to large volumes but Jaisalmer is a triple distilled, handcrafted Gin made in traditional copper pot still in small batches.  Each batch is of only 700 bottles.

We love that there are seven botanicals from India, several of which are clearly palpable in the glass. How long did the idea take to fine tune and perfect and what was the process like?

Ancient Indian knowledge of herbs is not only well-documented, but passed on through the generations. Jaisalmer’s Master Blender, Anup Barik,  was born in a family of blenders and brings with him decades of expertise, skills and knowledge.  His love for botanicals and blending comes to fruition in every batch of hand-crafted Jaisalmer Gin.

Of the 11 botanicals used in Jaisalmer Gin, 7 have been sourced by Barik from the four corners of India: coriander and vetiver from the north of the country, orange peel from central India, cubeb pepper berries and lemon grass from the south, Darjeeling green tea leaves from the east and lemon peel from the west….encapsulating whole of India in a single bottle.  Other botanicals include angelica root, liquorice and caraway seeds which lend a spicy, slightly anise-tinged flavour to the gin and the all-important juniper  berries are from Tuscany.

Was the idea of imbuing a sense of place a conscious effort to try and do or was it the result of just having an amazing diversity of botanicals at your doorstep?

We wanted to retain the soul of Gin as a refreshing drink and did not want to go overboard with botanicals.  However, we wanted to add an Indian touch to it.  A lot of experimentation and hard work went prior to finalizing the blend.  We are very satisfied with the end result.

There’s a buzz around your gin here in the UK and that’s growing as you continue to become better known – but it’s a very busy category here that’s very competitive. What made you want to try and develop a presence here, given the huge network that you have in other countries that are perhaps, slightly less crowded?

UK was one of the first markets where we launched our Rampur Indian Single Malt as well.  Gin is a very busy category indeed but Jaisalmer is unique and different. Everyone who tastes Jaisalmer becomes a fan, and we’d like to be the top trending spirit among the bartender community. That said, we also offer easy, two to three ingredient cocktail recipes for at-home consumption. We want our customers to understand how accessible our gin is.

And finally, Jaisalmer G&T in hand – what’s the go to garnish for you?

Jaisalmer Gin’s signature drink celebrates the origin of the Gin & Tonic in British Colonial India, where Indian Tonic Water made with quinine was first created and used to combat malaria in the 1800s. Garnish it with an orange peel and it tastes like an oasis in the desert; a drink fit for Royalty, harking back to the imperial age of the Maharajas and their moments of leisure and pleasure.