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Saying cheers to Agave

CATHERINE RHEA ROY
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people Desmond Nazareth tells the tipsy tale of how his search for an ingredient for the margarita took him seven years to produce his own Indian Agave spirit

ALL BOTTLED UPDesmond NazarethPhoto: Murali Kumar k.
ALL BOTTLED UPDesmond NazarethPhoto: Murali Kumar k.

Within minutes of our introduction Desmond Nazareth has come up with at least a dozen alcohol puns — in high spirits, of spiritual matters, a great kick — and he deftly weaves them into conversation, when he talks about Desmondji, his creation of Agave spirits and cocktail blends. “The response we are getting is completely unexpected because of the nature of our products and the way we are getting into the market,” says Desmond, who spearheaded this project and has gone through it all from the concept to research and development, design, equipment, branding. “It is all happening through word of mouth; it is completely unexpected and pleasantly surprising.”

His story begins at the time when he came back to India from the States and could not find ingredients to make a regular margarita. “It’s one of the most popular drinks and yet so costly to make. It has citrusy, orangey flavours that appeals to men, but mostly women – I know women who say, ‘I don’t drink, except margaritas,’ it doesn’t have the strong alcoholic taste that vodka or whiskey has,” he explains.

And to make the margarita cheaper, Desmond made the alcohol that makes it cheaper. He lived all over as a child and from a distant childhood memory of crossing the Deccan Plateau, he remembered the Agave plant that is used to make the agave spirit. “Not tequila,” he insists, “It’s an agave spirit, made in India, all self developed with our own raw material.” His background work and research lasted about seven years; he breaks it down. “Well it was around three to four years of research and another three years of development. Eighteen months ago, we launched in Goa and in Bombay last week. I am just returning from BFlat, where I made my first sale,” says Desmond. “Most alcohol companies in India don’t have a story, isn’t it?” Desmond asked. “Not stories about liquor barons, but creators and inventors. The story goes with the bottle, and what is in the bottle also has a story.” And Desmond loves telling his story, “Of course, it is a fun, exciting story of discovery, experimentation and achievement.” It is also a story of everything that is wrong with the bureaucracy that is designed to slow one down with files of paperwork and piles of money. “I had to get permissions out of my ears, and registering the company was difficult because as soon as they hear ‘alcohol’ they start to expect things.”

A typical distillery produces around 50,000 litres a day. At Desmond’s micro distillery they produce about 500 to a 1,000 litres a day, which is sufficient for the current requirement of the Indian market, for a brew of this nature.

But when it came to the authorities he had to start by explaining what Agave was and he went all the way up to the central government trying to change the two or three pigeon holed understandings the authorities had about distilleries and procuring permissions from the different agencies, “It took four years from when we registered to production, but I refused to take the easy way out,” he says with finality.

And how important is the design of a bottle to the alcohol? “Critical,” he says plainly, before he continues. “The bottle signifies a certain kind of quality, and with our bottle again it is about fresh thinking and thinking ‘out of left field’. The bottles have a certain dignity and appeals to a wide range of ages.” And the name? “It is an Indian brand, made proudly in India, and while the name Desmond has dignity, the ji brings in the humour – you don’t forget the name.”

CATHERINE RHEA ROY

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