In a reusable burlap "potli", there are seven samples of Indian gin. The pint-sized bottles with the transparent spirit—as part of a gin tasting kit from the Institute of Wine and Beverage Studies—-are labelled as A,B,C,D, E and F. The seventh one, though, is a Joker with no letter.
Each of the 82 attendees on the zoom call are first instructed to smell and sip the Joker from their tasting kit. The organisers lead the guests in decoding the character of this nameless gin: no juniper which is a signature botanical; it can be spun into a dry martini or an old Tom Collins; a sugar sweetened, cold compounded gin which is of an inferior quality, artificially essenced with a neutral spirit and made without distillation. It is important to be disappointed with the joker in order to appreciate the finer variants waiting to be sampled. And to get a sense of the commendable journey homegrown gins have traversed in recent years. The cold compounded gin is later revealed to be the fuddy-duddy Blue Moon, still wrapped in a comfortable blanket of nostalgia.
But that is set to become once in a Blue Moon, with an exciting array of new Indian gins ushering in a revolution. The virtual tasting event, titled The Great Indian Gin Trail, by IWBS, on November 18, was a neat affair with patrons from Delhi joining in with their kits filled with samples of craft gins, a bunch of Indian junipers sourced from famed spice market Khari Baoli, bottles of premium tonic water from Sepoy and Co.,and plenty of zing. "Basically, the point was to have an evolved conversation around the great variety of gins that are now available in India—over 10 local gins and the fact that their quality is at par with international gins," says Gagan Sharma, educator at IWBS and one of the tasting guides at The Great Indian Gin Trail.
Meant to be an "academic exercise" with observations to be written down on a scaled sheet, the online tasting event unspooled a spice box that is the ongoing Indian gin efflorescence. From Greater Than to the artisanal Terai to Stranger & Sons (now available in Delhi) to small batch Pumori, Hapusa Himalayan Dry Gin and Samsara, the homegrown brands are part of a constellation of craft gins coming out of India in recent years by young, under-30 entrepreneurs. They were all part of the tasting kit and acquired varied levels of intensity when taken neat or splashed with tonic. Aromatic, herbaceous, vigorous, earthy or wholesome, the hosts of the evening Gagan Sharma and Magandeep Singh, led the audience through a dazzling range of expressions with botanical infusions from tulsi, fennel, coriander, gondhoraj lebu, raw mango to cardamom and clementines.
The tastings and reveals were followed by brief introductions by the makers of the respective gins, their distinctive characters and how they are to be appreciated—what is a sipping gin, how to have it by the glass, the youngest entrant in the Delhi market being Stranger & Sons, Goa's enduring prominence as the capital of craft gins and how Delhi is an expensive, complicated market for small-batch alcohol producers. A tasting event from the comfort of our homes is just the tonic one needs.