IITian Desmond Nazareth's love for cocktails set him on a unique journey — it led him to start DesmondJi, an Indian liqueur brand
Really, this is a beautiful story. How a man chases his love for rolling out cocktails to friends and ends up mass-producing ready-to-drink blends, giving many of us a much-needed option to hold a fabulous desi-made cocktail at last.
Mumbai-native Desmond Nazareth is an alumnus of IIT, Madras, and lived the dream of a software professional in the land of Uncle Sam for 18 years. Though till then, he was yet another number in the Great Indian Brain Drain story. In 2000, he returned home, to friends who gave him the post of their designated cocktail maker, because he likes doing it. He went from store to store looking for liqueurs. Some he got, some not. But what he got turned out to be super pricey.
Then passed a thought in his mind which went on to change not his job line but led him to the invention of some classy, home-grown Margaritas and cocktail bases. The thought came when he was looking for a bottle of Tequila, “I thought why is Tequila an alcoholic beverage produced in just one country (Mexico) whereas other equally popular beverages (wine, beer, rum, whiskey) have multiple producers in multiple countries?”
Research soon led Desmond to his “aha” moment. “I saw photos of the blue Agave used in Mexico for Tequila and was sure I had seen similar plants growing in India during my childhood.” On tracing the latitude lines in a world map for the Agave growing regions, he found, “They crossed right through the Deccan Plateau!”
Desmond continued to dig for the next few years and collected enough information before landing up in Goa (where he shifted later) “to meet the right people” with whom he set off on a trip to the Deccan. “I carried with me all my data files and lo and behold, we found the blue-green Agave some within the day!” he recalls.
This discovery changed Desmond — from being a number in the software industry to someone whose enterprise led to the creation of DesmondJi, the brand he named to produce ready-to-drink Margarita, Blue Margarita, 100% Agave and 51% Agave. In a country dependent on foreign brands for cocktails, DesmondJi is definitely a game changer. “We will soon launch Orange Liqueur made of Nagpur orange and Blue Curaçao,” he adds helpfully.
Don't miss the suffix ‘Ji' in his brand name. This is “to underline the use of Indian raw materials and technical ingenuity.” It is also to match the likes of international brands Johnnie Walker, Chivas, Jack Daniel's, Smirnov, etc., named after their founders. “However since the 1900s, innovation in spirits and liqueurs has become largely corporatised, with products mainly being created by anonymous groups of people in laboratories. So it has been a while since there has been any personal name branding in the alcoholic beverage space, especially in India. So DesmondJi is a bold departure for a start-up like ours, in which my first name ‘Desmond' speaks to a truth behind the brand,” he highlights.
DesmondJi has a micro-distillery site in rural Andhra Pradesh and a bottling unit in Goa. Currently, the products are available only in Goa and Daman. “We had signed a distribution agreement with Sula Wines according to which they were to make our products available by last October. They didn't, so we trying to distribute it ourselves,” he says. However, it has been an uphill task. “Whether you sell only thousand bottles or one million, the Excise rules are the same. For every brand to enter the Delhi market, we have to shell out Rs. 6 lakhs per year. Where do we generate so much money from? It is unfair,” he says. Though through word of mouth, some business houses have pumped in money into it and Desmond says, “We will soon be available in Maharashtra and may be Karnataka.”
About the difference between Tequila and his Agaves, Desmond clarifies, “Tequila and Mezcal are Geographical Indications in Mexico owned by their Government. This means that only Agave spirits produced from specific species of Agave grown in specified regions of Mexico and governed by specific rules can be called Tequilas and Mezcals. Our Agave spirits are made from the species that grows on the Deccan Plateau and has been planted in India for well over a hundred years.”
Desmond's Margarita blends need only lime and ice, “easy to make at home and in bars.” Each 750 ml bottle for Rs. 495 makes 15 Margaritas. “You can also add fruits juices, ideally fresh, to our blends and even add tender coconut, sugarcane and cucumber juice.” The Agave blends “are great for shots and making cocktails.”
Signing off, Desmond says, in the last 11 years he has learnt to pat himself more often. “From custom designing the equipment, buildings, the bottles; from training the staff to fighting the system, I have gone through all. I have also gained friends in the process. Rest I shall talk in my autobiography!”
(For more information, you can log on to Desmond Nazareth's just launched website www.desmondji.com)