Vaibhav Singh (#DSSCPowerPackers 2016 Awardee, Men’s Edition) and Anand Virmani. The names may not get the bells ringing in your memory register, but that’s only because the two spotlight-shy sartorial gents are busy prepping the finest F&B experiences for you. The men who have Delhi charmed with their Perch Wine & Coffee Bar (#DSSCPowerPackers 2016 Winner, Bar of the Year) are set to unfold another ace on the table – two of India’s first craft gins, Greater Than and Hapusa.
“Gin is a three-letter word, it’s easy to spell,” jokes Vaibhav when asked what made them pick gin over any other spirit. As Anand points out that rum is equally qualified in that regard, (it had the DSSC HQ in splits, #SorryNotSorry) he goes on to speak passionately of the genesis of the two gins, “Primarily, we just don’t have any good gin produced in India. Everything is coming from outside, and everything that is available domestically is cold compounded, which tends to be lower quality.” Cold compounded gin is made by adding artificial flavourings to a neutral spirit, as opposed to natural flavourings used for craft and London dry gins, leaving a gaping margin in the price points. “At the domestic level prices are about Rs. 350/bottle. Now, if you go one level up, there’s nothing in the market, and if you go two levels up there’s imported gin priced at Rs. 1,700/bottle; so there’s nothing for those who want a good product at an affordable price,” says Anand. True not just for us tipplers but bars across the country as well, with them having to choose between quality gin or financially viable prices, Greater Than will come to the rescue at Rs. 950/bottle for fine gin. “We wanted to give people a good pouring brand, a really good quality product yet affordable, and get people talking about gin. Partly why people are still not talking about gin as much is because either the prohibitive pricing restricts them or they just haven’t tasted anything good, so we just want to bridge that gap,” he shares. Set to be launched by next month, this London Dry gin will sit comfortably in its sweet spot of being easy on the pocket and the palate.
While the sleekly bottled Greater Than pitches itself as India’s next go-to pouring gin, Hapusa (Sanskrit for juniper) is artisanal in its approach. “With Hapusa we want to tell the story of India,” the men tell us. “A lot of people don’t know that Gin & Tonic was invented in India during the colonial rule, as a cure for malaria. Gin was ration to soldiers, as was quinine, sugar, and lime, so put everything together and you get Gin & Tonic – it kind of made itself!” Virmani shares the tipple trivia with us. The popular drink even got Winston Churchill to declare that “The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds than all the doctors in the empire”, and if you go looking for tonic water today, it continues to say ‘Indian tonic water’ on the packaging. Tracing the roots back to present, the two gin brands are about the gin ingredients being found in Indian kitchens (think coriander, cardamom, ginger, etc.) and bringing forth the story of organic farmers across the country. “With Hapusa, the idea was to create a gin from the birthplace of gin & tonic; and tell the story of our botanicals,” the duo says. Priced at Rs. 2,500, Hapusa is still getting finishing touches and will be launched few months post Greater Than.
With India being the 5th largest consumer of gin, indigenous gin brands have been in order for quite some time. “There are about 2 million gin drinkers in the country and we want to justify that demand,” says Anand. As botanicals such as juniper berries, coriander seeds, angelica root, orange peel, chamomile, ginger, almond, and lemon grass make up the Greater Than in your glass, the claim seems promising of the country’s next go-to gin.
Setting up production in Goa (which has also become Anand’s second home) stemmed from the connectivity and ease of business, “From a legislative and nice manufacturing partner point of view, Goa made sense. While Delhi, Haryana, and Rajasthan are geared towards larger manufacturing units, Goa and Maharashtra are more accepting of smaller ones,” they share. With ‘archaic laws’ and ‘regularly delayed excise policy’ woes intact, we wonder what made these F&B veterans take on the challenging alcohol business, “At the end of the day it’s a little bit of stupidity and a little bit of passion, and both are equally important,” they smile.
Ready to pour Greater Than across Delhi, Goa, and Bangalore for now, Anand and Vaibhav hope to make it a pan-India property by next year. After the gin-ius introductions, they may take up the cause of whiskey, but for now that’s brewing exclusively in the ‘ideas’ distillery (worry not, good things come to those who wait).
A vision to start a conversation around gin, the two gents had an innate inclination towards it, “For both of us, it’s been one of the most interesting ingredients to play around with. All the classic cocktails of the Prohibition era are gin based, and every bartender naturally goes to gin. It also helps that the juniper and other spices give a nice structure to any cocktail, so you can build flavours around it,” says Anand. As we get our glasses ready for GinTo sessions that never end, we know another winner is around the corner, “Gin as a category needs to grow, we need to get people talking about it, get more people to drink it, and once that happens we believe we’ll be the choice gin, and even if not, that’s fine,” the men sign off.
…but not without a never-fail martini recipe! Letting out the secret to Perch’s famous and their favourite Reverse Martini, AV & VS spill the gin on this one: take equal parts gin & bianco (vermouth), add a spray of absinthe and pour into a glass filled with ice. Stir together and strain into a martini glass; and you have a distinct, fresh drink pronto!