Wine can whine, while whisky should beware. And, vodka, move over. The world has a new liquor champ, and it is actually the old liquor champ. Flowing back to stake its claim to the crown it held through two long tenures in history, gin is suddenly the new craze in bars and party spots worldwide. The 'gin-aissance' started in 2015, and spread across India, too. “Gin has definitely seen a rise in India [in] the past 18 months,” says Mumbai-based celebrity bartender Dimitri Lezinska.
“Gin has a vibe to it that is cool, elegant and old school,” says Eeshaan Kashyap, vice president with Pass Code Hospitality, which runs cocktail bars like PDA in Delhi. Kashyap should know—about 40 per cent of cocktail orders at PDA are for the gin-based ones. To be fair, PDA's concept revolves around cocktails in general, and gin in particular. Gin samplers are routinely sent out. A book of classic gin-inspired stories is kept on tables. Botanicals that go into gin, like juniper, are offered at tables to familiarise customers. “Throughout the city, when new bars open, you will observe the prominence of gin-based cocktails in menus,” says Kashyap.
Recently, when the capital's landmark Oberoi hotel re-opened after renovation, it did so with a signature modern Indian restaurant Omya, where a gin keg and dispenser occupy the pride of place at the entrance. “Indian food and tea? Yes. But, Indian food and gin? There were concerns at first,” laughs Alfred Prasad, the Michelin-starred chef behind Omya, “But, we were surprised by the acceptance!”
In Mumbai too, new cafes and restaurants are promoting their gin cocktail array to great benefit. When The Table, a celebrated restaurant in south Mumbai, announced a gin appreciation course on social media, it got sold out in no time. Lezinska hosted a G&T (Gin and Tonic, the classic gin-based cocktail consisting of gin and tonic water poured over ice, with a garnish of fresh lime) promotion in Mumbai's The Good Wife restaurant to what he terms, “amazing feedback”.
At the super-hot Bombay Canteen restaurant in Mumbai's Lower Parel, the most popular drink on the menu is a twist on the classic G&T, with tulsi and egg white added to the original mix. The restaurant launched its summer menu last month with a focus on gin, with not even one vodka-based cocktail. Radical, considering that vodka was considered the best liquor base for cocktails since the 1990s.
For those who consider gin as a drink that is a mere vestige of the British Raj, a bit of history lesson is in order. A derivative of the Dutch liquor genever, it became popular with British soldiers when they discovered their Dutch counterparts charging fearlessly into battle after gulping down gin. Gin had its brush with fame and notoriety in the 1920s jazz era, when it became the drink of choice for artists, poets and socialists, as immortalised in F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic The Great Gatsby. Gin acquired an added dimension in British India when soldiers started mixing gin, sugar and lime into quinine, the medicine for malaria, to mask its bitter taste. Thus was born the most popular gin cocktail of all, the G&T.
Gin was part of the ration to soldiers stationed in India, but its popularity plummeted once the Brits left. It had to bide its time, surviving through the vodka craze that swept the world in the 1990s. “There is definitely much more usage and experimentation with gin, especially by bartenders in India,” says liquor consultant Vikram Achanta. Presently, gin's share in the overall alcohol sales in the country is a measly one per cent, with brown spirits dominating the market. Achanta believes this could change once “a good quality, affordable, locally-made gin becomes available in the market”. Quality brands like Hendrick's, Tanqueray and Bombay Sapphire are too expensive. While gin is easier to produce, as it does not require an ageing process and raw materials are easily available, stringent government restrictions prove to be a dampener.
Yet, craft gins are slowly making an appearance, with brands like 'Greater Than' and 'Stranger & Sons' being launched in Indian cities. The latest in the line is Monkey 47 from Germany, scheduled to go on sale from July. “Vodka is no longer the prime ingredient in cocktails,” declares Kashyap of PDA, “the gin trend is here to stay.”