Gin is a competitive, tough and currently heated-up space in the spirits market
So I happened to be in London recently, like most Indians are wont to do when summer comes a-calling. And out of the blue, I get a cheery message from someone who goes by the moniker, ‘The Crazy Singh’. Now, adding ‘crazy’ to Singh, for many, can be considered repetitive, a redundancy, for crazy is pretty much par for the Singh course. I know, I am crazy, I mean Singh, too. A few messages were exchanged and a meeting was set up and, at 6 pm, when I walked into Super Lyan bar, I was accosted by Bruce Nagra, the very jovial man (and half the team, the other half being Crazy Cool, his wife Parminder) who was to be my host for the evening.
He spoke about how food at his house, while growing up in the Midlands (he is a second-generation Indian immigrant), always recounted a story. Mostly, it was the story of his parents, who had made the shift to a new land and tried to establish a home there. The kids grew up in this amalgamated society, British and Indian at the same time. One drunken night, while grumbling over bad Indian takeaway, the two Crazies pondered how nobody had tried to tell the story of this journey through a drink. And, instead of going the tea way, which they thought clichéd and overdone, they went the lassi way. And then, it needed to have alcohol! Of course.
Later, with their first bottle of a distillate comprising yoghurt, turmeric, black cumin, juniper, pomegranate, coriander, black pepper and ghee, they met the buyer of a prestigious UK chain (okay, it was Harvey Nichols). He had shown interest, with an initial 12-bottle order and requested a meeting. The meeting seemed to have tanked, but the order was suddenly increased to 72 bottles! With no idea of how to get this order ready, the Nagras got busy scavenging, and diligently applied themselves to making their spirit.
Soon enough, the spirit was launched nationwide through this connection and then not only were they selling out, they were outselling some of the most prestigious and established top-shelf gin brands—at 49 quid for half a litre, they certainly are dear. The bottle is as simple as it gets. The spectacles and moustache are the crazy Singh himself. Having a face for the brand was important to them, as faces tell stories better and incite people to be curious, so Singh thought why not his own? But, he admits, that he hasn’t gotten around to growing his moustache to the handlebar proportions as portrayed on the label.
The botanicals are listed along with a brief account of their story on the back label. From special editions for footballers to catering to parties for superstar musicians, the brand and the people behind it have come a long way and yet, they remain a team of two. The hard work they put in, the bets they made (they even sold their house in London to move back to the Midlands and invest in their business), and doing practically everything themselves, from distilling and bottling to packaging, transporting and even marketing and pouring at events.
Their humility and ingenuity has brought them this far, but gin is a competitive, tough and currently heated-up space. Where they go from here is mostly up to them, but market dynamics will definitely play a big role. Foreign shores might follow. India would be high on the priority charts obviously. I, for one, would heartily welcome them to India. I mean, not only do they make a mean gin, but they also made the effort to source and procure my new book all the way from India to Wolverhampton! Which reminds me, what about you, dear readers…
The writer is a sommelier