The whiskey exchange

For a country besotted with Scotch, and where, for the longest time, a ‘white’ spirit was seen as a woman’s drink, gin is the new flavour of the season

Updated - June 02, 2017 01:06 pm IST

Published - June 01, 2017 05:19 pm IST

If gin was a woman, she’d shudder and collapse in an Aunty Acid meme when she heard #ginspiration #ginpreneurs #ginstagram. For something that our mothers sipped on a Sunday afternoon, dressed in printed silk and pearls, it’s unthinkable that the millennials have hijacked the Gimlet, Pink Gin and Hanky Panky, from almost a century ago. Well, #throwback is a thing these days and G&T isn’t the only (hipster) way to go.

Here and how

“That is still one of the nicest ways to have your gin, either with just tonic water or with a mix of the two with soda. It always works with some citrus element: a slice of grapefruit, lime or orange,” says Ami Shroff, chief mixologist at London Taxi, the Mumbai bar that’s basing its character on the city’s vibe, and is looking at a July launch. They’ll have a special section dedicated to gin, she says, because it is, after all, a London staple, with the revival being rooted there.

The renaissance itself probably coincides with the surge of gastro-pubs in the 1990s and 2000s, where the emphasis was on boutique-style food and drinks, says Nakul Chandra, brand head, The Fatty Bao (Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru), Monkey Bar (Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata), and Toast & Tonic (Bengaluru, Mumbai). All outlets have a few gin cocktails as staples, and while Chandra is sure the hardened whiskey drinker will not budge from Scotch, folks in their 20s and 30s will. “Look at them as habitual versus experimental drinkers,” he says.

Nitin Raj, director, Food and Beverage, The Lodhi, agrees. When The Electric Room launched at The Lodhi, they did a gin night. “We look at the gin drinker in India as a discoverer of luxuries. It’s a generation of people who travel the world to mop up new experiences,” says Raj. With his young head of mixology, Yogesh Kumar, at his side, the team served up over 800 gin-based cocktails in just a few hours.

In the beginning…

But the beginning was not really in England at all, and certainly not in India, where the British added gin to make the malaria-preventing quinine more palatable. It began in 17th Century Holland, with a brew called Genever, literally meaning juniper berries. Franciscus Sylvius, a professor of Medicine, began to distil spirits with the berry for the medicinal value of the diuretic juniper oil.

Soon, it began to be used as more than just a medicine. Soldiers found that it emboldened them, and, according to By the Dutch, a brand that does both Genever and gin (a derivative of the former), the British were impressed by their Dutch courage during the Thirty Years’ war.

Gin reached England with the soldiers, and in time, everyone knew only London Dry Gin (always flavoured through the distillation process)! Today, you must have the juniper berry if you want to make gin (in a neutral grain spirit), and the berry always taken from the wild. You can then distil it with a variety of botanicals (herbs and spices such as coriander, cinnamon, and peppercorns), or infuse it after distillation. Most brands we know of (Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray) and get in India are London dry gins.

Technically, you can make a London dry anywhere in the world, but not a Genever, which is native to Holland. There’s also Old Tom, a sweeter variety (Hayman’s). Through the years, gin has been brewed both illegally and badly, so today, when it’s having a moment, it brings with it history, stories and so much flavour. “Unlike vodka, which is a neutral spirit and takes the flavour of what is added to it (orange juice, for instance), gin has its own character,” says Chandra.

Look out

The hip new entrant, Juniper Bar at Andaz Delhi, is making its own infusions, its signature Delhi Sapphire having four main flavouring elements — orange, cumin, coriander, and vanilla. Here, a person experiences the breadth of how diverse gin can be, with 39 home infusions, ranging across four categories: citrus, fruity-floral, spice, and herb. Plus, there are 11 signature (original) cocktails. It’s what contemporary gin bars across the world are doing. “The idea is not to be different just for the sake of it; neither is it to say we have 200 gin brands, or 250 that’s just importing. The idea is to develop our own identity — it’s all about craftsmanship,” says Vimal Verma, director, Food and Beverage, Andaz Delhi.

Mixologists work with the nature of a particular gin to base their cocktails on. So while Bombay Sapphire has lemon-ey, citrus-ey notes, Tanqueray has spicy elements and Hendrick’s a cucumber profile. On Monkey Bar’s new menu is the Toast to Calcutta, with Beefeater gin, gondhoraj (an East Indian lime) cordial made in-house and basil leaves, garnished with a caramelised lime wheel.

Chandra’s personal favourite is The West Winds Cutlass gin, from Australia. “Have it on ice,” he says, debunking much of what people believe of gin not being an on-the-rocks kind of spirit. Subtle tones and artisanal products are the next step to gin distilling and drinking in India, he says. In the meantime, if you’re really looking for an edge, there’s Something Wild’s Australian Green Ant Gin, with flavours of coriander and lime-like acidity (yes ants give it the flavour).

Too way out? Then pick a gin you’re familiar with and use a good tonic water.

But if, like most of us, you’re looking at food as a way to defy age, and are falling for CollaGin and Anti-aGin, with ingestible collagen ingredients that these gins are distilled with, forget it. This isn’t a health drink: collagen drinks aren’t recommended by doctors, and the tonic water comes loaded with calories, as does the gin. The aim then, is to sit back and enjoy it. Because, “you can’t start your day with a whiskey, but with a gin, any time is fine, and anything’s possible,” says Kumar.

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