Alcohol industry is maturing at both ends, both the manufacturer and the consumer.
India and its alcohol are both coming into their own. The industry is maturing at both ends, both the manufacturer and the consumer. What, however, remains stoically ever silly are the laws which govern both ends of this trade, but more on that another time. For now, as we herald in the new year, I just thought I would reminisce about the top Indian brands out there which are making a conscientious effort to set themselves apart.
Beers are growing as a segment like none other and these two are my current favourites:
White Rhino: Unquestionably the best beer brand out there, one that comes bottled. Their Wheat, Lager and IPA are segment leaders and, on most days, even when given a choice of some top foreign brews, I’d still choose to go with a White Rhino.
Kati Patang: Ruby Ale isn’t a common style for Indian shelves. Even the stuff most microbreweries churn out is only a distant cousin of the real stuff. Kati Patang, although still on the milder side (to not shock local taste sensibilities, I suspect), is still a solidly good product and has quickly grown to sit pat among my favourites.
Whiskies are synonymous with India and, to think of it, it was barely 100 years ago that the British brought this to India for the first time—just goes to show how little it takes to create a strong bond. While foreign brands occupy the upper echelons of this category, Indian brands are faring well too. Amrut came first followed quickly by Paul John and Rampur and all three do a great job overall. But even in the gateway segment (as I like to refer to entry-level), there is much action.
Aristocrat whisky: Remember while growing up there were certain bottles that occupied the hidden backward reaches of our grandfather’s cupboard? This was the stuff set aside for close friends and family, or visits from people whom one wished to please or gain favours from. That triangular bottle of Aristocrat was a staple in that space. Today, this brand, one which hadn’t seen a change since 1964, has been revamped—new packaging, positioning, et al. I tried some recently and even the malt enthusiast in me was curiously, and momentarily pleasantly, engaged.
While whisky rules the north, brandy rules the south and the twain ever co-engage. Rum then is the one common potent, a unifying staple that garners much following across the country.
Morpheus XO brandy: I had always liked the packaging, but never ventured to try it till recently I was offered a miniature version of their bulbous bottle. The brandy is among the finer ones that are locally produced and which I have had the privilege to try. It’s fruity and ripe with some lovely toast to follow. Definitely good for eggnogs and toddies, but also for sipping with some tonic water or soda.
Wild Tiger rum: This is a rum, but a true rum, like rum is supposed to be. No offence to fans of Old Monk (I am one too), but Wild Tiger is by far more nuanced with a much larger range of flavour than any other true dark rum on the market. I say ‘true’ because many are just light rums with some colouring added whereas a proper dark rum has a very different flavour profile overall.
I don’t really like the term ‘white spirit’ for it makes them sound rather flavourless when, in fact, these are anything but—the good ones, at least. My favourites du moment are:
Stranger & Sons gin: A spectacular gin, heady on the flavours, redolent with florals and fruity goodness. Absolutely love the nose on it and while it’s great with tonic, I have often had it on the rocks too. Also, if there was an award to be given for slick packaging, then they stand to be lauded internationally for the intricate label that wraps around their bottles.
Hapusa gin: The Sanskrit word for gin is an intense spice-laced number and not to be taken lightly. A serious one for those who like their gin… well, ginny. It’s sombre in its flavour profile, herbaceous and spicy, but with plenty of depth and richness.
Desmondji Pure Cane Spirit: While this man makes some very agreeable Agave spirit, it is his pure cane spirit that truly has my heart. Cachaca is a rare find in India and this, although in no way is that, or tries to be that, it still manages to sit pretty in a glass alongside muddled lemon chunks, sugar and ice, or a Caiprinha avatar, if you may.
Wines remain a growing segment in India and slowly, but surely we are finding our terroir.
Chandon Rosé: They are always coming up with collaborative and festive packagings and this time they have put forth a lovely Young India-inspired “Think Pink” bottle with a stressed gender-neutral stance. From Mughal architecture to bejewelled accoutrements, handwoven textiles and even the national bird, all find place on this bright attractive packaging. As for the stuff inside, that has been consistently good—a decent all-rounder pink bubbly which is, for me, also season- and time-of-day-neutral, or let’s just say, versatile!
-The writer is a sommelier