Why is gin turning purple in India?

Add some colour-changing gin to your Holi celebration; meet the teams behind Nisaki and Clearly Good Gin, who are working with butterfly pea flowers

Updated - March 22, 2024 04:37 pm IST

Published - March 22, 2024 02:29 pm IST

Colour-changing gins (also called purple gins) are infused with the butterfly pea flower, which lends it a blue colour that changes shades after interacting with citric acid.

Colour-changing gins (also called purple gins) are infused with the butterfly pea flower, which lends it a blue colour that changes shades after interacting with citric acid. | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Goa recently saw the launch of Nisaki, a colour-changing gin created by friends Sanchit Agarwal, Nidhi Kedia and Akhilesh Rajan — the first in their portfolio under the trio’s company, Project Peacock which was launched early this month. The gin, distilled at Goa’s Adinco Distilleries, is the first in their portfolio of spirits and could make for a perfect addition to your Holi party.

Nisaki is one of the only two such offerings in India right now. After being distilled with botanicals, colour-changing gins (also called purple gins) are infused with the butterfly pea flower, which lends it a blue colour that changes shades after interacting with citric acid. But despite the abundance of this flower, which grows wild in India, colour-changing gins remain an anomaly in the Indian spirits market. We set out to find why.

The bottle of Nisaki, a colour-changing gin created by friends Sanchit Agarwal, Nidhi Kedia and Akhilesh Rajan

The bottle of Nisaki, a colour-changing gin created by friends Sanchit Agarwal, Nidhi Kedia and Akhilesh Rajan | Photo Credit: Special arrengement

The buzz around the bloom

Traditionally, the butterfly pea flower or Aparajita (Clitoria ternatea) has been native to Southeast Asian countries, including India. It suddenly became a fad just before the pandemic, with butterfly pea flower tea doing the rounds on Internet.

“You’ll find the flower being used behind bars as syrups and powders. Even colour-changing cocktails are common on menus, but you don’t find any colour-changing spirits on the Indian shelves yet,” says chef and entrepreneur Tarun Sibal, the man behind Khi Khi in Delhi, Barfly in Goa, and several other popular bars across India.

The first one to break this mould was distiller Shubham Khanna of Enigma Spirits, who launched Clearly Good Gin in 2021. The next few years exposed Shubham to several logistical setbacks associated with the flower, fromdifficulty in sourcing it to maintaining its colour. “However, there is nothing that cannot be fixed,” he says. While the purple gin is still available at select locations in Goa, he has paused production to emulate his learnings for a stronger product. “When I started out, butterfly pea flowers were growing in abundance, but growing wild. Now, the market is evolving and there are a few more farmers catering to its organised production,” he says.

Nisaki changes colour when it reacts with water

Nisaki changes colour when it reacts with water | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

A low output of the fragile flower means steep pricing and difficult access. And to achieve the kind of bold colours that Nisaki boasts, the flower is required in abundant quantities. To find stability of colour is another tedious task requiring extensive research and testing. The change in pH levels and exposure to sun also causes the colour to fade over the course of months. And after all, a mid-segment gin that changes colour runs the risk of being perceived as gimmicky, although at ₹1,850 a bottle, Clearly Good Gin’s pricing became its USP by offering a fun gin at an affordable price. “We were selling 1,000 to 1,500 bottles a month in Goa alone,” Shubham reveals.

“If introduced, colour-changing spirits could be here to stay, for they’ll change how consumers drink at home, and probably even make bartending easier by offering a cleaner, one-stop alternative to the tedium of procuring separate materials for the form and the flavour,” says Tarun. As per Kishore Tadikamalla ofBengaluru-based Mixology Studio, colour-changing cocktails are widely popular, but it all eventually comes down to good mixology over aesthetics: if it tastes good, people come back for it. In the light of that, there are several bars that have seen continuous love from their customers for such drinks. “So much so that there are more spirits like Nisaki seeing potential in India, with several labels from countries like the UK currently working towards launching here,” he says.

Creating a high that lasts

Nisaki changes colour when it reacts with soda

Nisaki changes colour when it reacts with soda | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Hurdles can be crossed, and the only important thing that remains is creating a serious gin that tastes good and uses its form to its advantage. Nisaki is doing exactly that. “While gin drinking may be becoming a cultural phenomenon in India, a large segment of the market is not yet ready to discern the flavour complexity of the spirit. Most households do not even use a jigger to measure how much alcohol is going into their drink,” says Sanchit.

As an answer, the team has distilled 16 of the simplest botanicals, from Macedonian juniper for a subtle flavour to jasmine for a floral touch. The result? A spirit that leaves faint impressions of citrus on the palate, underscored by the grassy finish of orris root. Each botanical finds its place in the mouth, from the hint of clove to the heat of ginger, with rose dominating the final aftertaste.

The liquid, catching eye for its bold colour at first glance, changes hues with the addition of mixers, turning indigo with soda, pink with tonic and an electric blue with water. Thanks to this colour-changing form, gin drinkers can associate colour with flavour until they not only know how they like their drink, but also how to make it.

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