What’s Black and White and Made in Copper? India’s First Craft Gin
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because whiskey is so last decade.
By Joanna Lobo
In a small distillery in Goa, one of India’s smaller states, something new and boozy is brewing inside copper pots. It’s India’s first craft gin, and it’s slaking a newfound thirst for a beverage once used to drown out the taste of malaria medicine. After a few sips of the smooth, juniper-heavy liquid with notes of warm spices and fresh lemon peel, and a zing of ginger on the finish, you might even feel poetic.
With India the fifth-largest market for gin in the world, creators Anand Virmani and Vaibhav Singh of Nao Spirits set out to make a version both tasty and affordable. “There are the cheap mass-produced, cold-compounded ones that taste like vodka with flavoring,” says Virmani; the existing London dry gins are imported and thus expensive. Two months ago, Greater Than was born.
The coriander seeds, chamomile, fennel, lemongrass and ginger are indigenous.
Virmani and Singh spent the past two years experimenting with ingredients, distilling them and creating different combinations. To fine-tune the recipe, they turned to Anne Brock, Gin Guild board member and the new master distiller at Bombay Sapphire. The final product contains a variety of botanicals and spices, both local and imported. The coriander seeds, chamomile, fennel, lemongrass and ginger are indigenous. The juniper is from Macedonia, the angelica root from Germany, the orris root from Italy and the orange peel from Spain.
Why “Greater Than”? The creators wanted to cheekily offer a drinking experience that’s “greater than all others.” They also wanted a name that hinted at the drink’s Indian origins. “One of the most important things India has contributed to the world is the zero,” says Virmani. So, they related the name to mathematics: “The greater-than sign fit because it has more value than zero” and doesn’t take itself seriously, Virmani explains.
India has a rich history with gin. The gin and tonic owes its origins to 19th-century British soldiers in India who were looking for a way to increase the palatability of the quinine they took to prevent malaria. They added their ration of gin, and, once tonic replaced quinine, a lime wedge and a little sugar. But the country has embraced gin and vodka only recently. (“We have always been a whiskey-drinking country,” says bartending-veteran Singh.) In the past seven years, India’s cocktail scene has been growing steadily, and gin, which is a great base, Singh says, owes much of its popularity to this trend. Sipping a G&T is now fashionable — “like wearing skinny jeans,” he explains.
Greater Than also has a slightly more expensive sibling. The art-deco-bottled Hapusa (Sanskrit for juniper) is a Himalayan dry gin with earthy notes. The main ingredient is Himalayan juniper; the other eight botanical components are all indigenous, including turmeric from Tamil Nadu, dried mango from Uttarakhand and gondhoraj (a type of lime) from West Bengal.
Greater Than is only available in India (750–1,450 rupees, or $11.50–$22, depending on different state taxes), but there are plans to sell it in the U.K. by March 2018, where it will be introduced as India’s first craft gin. We shall drink to that.
Recipe: No Sleep G&T
- Pour 45 milliliters Greater Than into a tall glass of ice.
- Add 90 milliliters tonic water and stir.
- Using the back of a spoon, float 15 milliliters cold-brew coffee on top.
- Garnish with a grapefruit wedge.
— Jay Dhawan, assistant distiller
- Joanna Lobo, OZY Author Contact Joanna Lobo