Once banned by the British Raj, mahua features in India’s first sipping gin

Mohulo gin features mahua flowers sourced from Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh and is made in a zero carbon footprint distillery in Punjab

December 15, 2023 10:22 pm | Updated 10:22 pm IST

Mohulo gin

Mohulo gin | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“For a gin to qualify as a good product, the whole should be greater than the sum of the individual produce,” remarks master distiller Jamie Baxter. “With Mohulo we’ve been able to deliver on just that — an artisanal gin that can be sipped neat whilst also pairing beautifully with cocktails — infusing them with a burst of rare flavours,” he adds.

With a portfolio spanning 80 distilleries across three continents and a pivotal role in over five percent of all UK distilleries, Jamie crafted Mohulo for Smoke Lab, as India’s first sippable gin. The gin features mahua flowers sourced from Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, forming its core, along with 12 botanicals: juniper, coriander, angelica plant, green cardamom, liquorice, pink peppercorn, bay leaf, orange blossom, orange peel, honey and basmati rice.

(from left) Master distiller Jamie Baxter with Varun Jain, founder, Smoke Lab

(from left) Master distiller Jamie Baxter with Varun Jain, founder, Smoke Lab | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It all started when Varun Jain, the founder of Smoke Lab, based out of Delhi, sent a batch of Indian ingredients to Jamie in the UK to experiment with. This included mahua seeds, fruits, and flowers. As these were botanicals Jamie had never ever used, the process of coming up with a gin with them was challenging.

“I spent a lot of time using the spices and herbs in varied proportions until I reached a combination that I was happy with,” says Jamie, adding, “I identifiedmahua seeds as the standout ingredient that complements other botanicals, adding a unique depth and character to the gin,” notes the distiller. He came up with three variations, which were then sent back to Varun and the India team to test out.”

The gin was made using water in the UK and Varun wanted to achieve the same output in his distillery in Rajpura, Punjab. “After a lot of modifications, we’ve been able to achieve that,” says Jamie.

In line with Smoke Labs’ commitment to sustainable practices, Varun set up a zero carbon footprint distillery in Punjab for the gin. “We have implemented measures to not only produce our own electricity with our own turbines, but we also supply the surplus to the local Government in the region,” he adds.

Mohulo gin

Mohulo gin | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Beyond the gin’s distillation, conducted in a copper pot still, Mohulo undergoes a three-week preservation period, allowing the flavours to meld before bottling. “This is also what helps with the unique aroma that lingers as you open a bottle of Mohulo,” says Jamie, adding that the gin sets itself apart with the aroma of floral notes and the interplay of the botanicals used.

British ban

The mahua tree, native to India, is crucial for tribes such as the Santhal, Gond, Munda, and Oraon, who use its various parts for food, cattle feed, fuel, art, and medicine. Notably, mahua becamefamous for the wine produced from it. During the British Raj, mahua production was banned due to perceived risks, leading to laws such as the Bombay Abkari Act of 1878 and Mhowra Act of 1892. These laws prohibited alcohol production and the collection of mahua flowers by tribes.

According to a BBC report, the scarcity of mahua flowers prompted secret, often adulterated liquor production, supporting the British Raj’s goal of controlling local spirits. This decline in quality served their agenda by boosting revenue from imported British and German alcohol, funding military occupations.

Mahua was classified as a low-quality, “dangerous” drink, and tribals were denied the right to manufacture and sell it beyond traditional markets.

mahua seeds

mahua seeds | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

However, recent years have seen a shift. In 2021, the Government of Madhya Pradesh declared mahua a heritage liquor, and Maharashtra’s State Government changed its laws to legalise the collection and storage of flowers by local tribal groups.

Sippable gin

While gin is typically associated with cocktails, it has traditionally been produced by established companies. However, when a smaller company enters the market, the aim is to redefine the space with an innovative character that becomes its unique selling proposition.

Gins, labelled as “sippable,” offer a smooth and flavourful experience when enjoyed neat or over ice, showcasing a balanced and nuanced taste profile without the necessity for mixers. Savouring a well-crafted sipping gin with ice or just a lemon highlights the right mix of botanicals and quality distillation.

Says Jamie, “Our concept revolves around a sipping gin — a spirit so flavourful that you can savour it in its purest form, much like single malts and high-end whiskies.”

With only 2,000 cases available globally and 200 in India, Mohulo stands as a limited-edition gin, priced at ₹5,000 in Delhi and $60 internationally.

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