What do whisky and gin have in common? They can be enjoyed neat, served with a few cubes of ice or barrel-aged. While G&Ts have their fans, sipping gins are picking up, albeit slowly.
About two weeks ago, one of the most talked about home-grown craft gins of 2020, Terai, arrived in Mumbai. During the launch, the vice-president of the brand, Karina Aggarwal, pointed out that some people preferred drinking the herbaceous gin accented by mild floral notes with two cubes of ice, just like a single malt. In other words, it is a sipping gin. Last year saw the Goa launch of the Indo-Japanese gin Doja, crafted by melding botanicals from India—coriander, cardamom and fennel—and Japan—yuzu, cedar and sansho pepper, among others. As I sipped on it, with some ice and an orange peel instead of tonic, the movie Lost In Translation came to mind and I was transported to Japan.
Last weekend, I was at a blind tasting event in Mumbai, sampling 10 Indian gins. The interactive session was part of the Great Indian Gin Trail organised by Indulge India, a beverage education and experiences venture founded by the Delhi-based sommelier Gagan Sharma. He instructed the group of 30 to sip each gin neat, followed by a splash of tonic water. Although most couldn’t name the gins, and were trying them neat for the first time, he had some converts by the time the evening ended.
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Enjoying a sipping gin—preferably with two cubes of ice and a citrus or herb garnish—indicates it is well made: It has the right botanicals and has been distilled with a good neutral alcohol. Sharma breaks down the three parts of a gin for us: the base alcohol, also known as extra neutral alcohol (ENA) or extra fine alcohol, distilled water and botanicals. “I think sipping gins can only be regarded so when the base alcohol is good. If you are having gin neat, you are taking in pure alcohol. So the alcohol has to be smooth.”
Perhaps it goes without saying then that brands which own distilleries and therefore have control over the base spirit are better placed to produce a superior quality gin. Like Hapusa by Nao Spirits, Pumori by Fullarton Distilleries, Tamras by Adventurist Spirits or Terai by Shekhar Swarup, a fourth-generation distiller.
Globally, sipping gins such as Hendrick’s and Monkey 47 have been around for a while. Some bottles have straightforward names, like Sippin Just Gin from Greece and Sipsmith from London, signalling that they are best enjoyed without tonic. In India, Sharma says, the trend began to emerge by late 2020. Sipping gins here are slightly pricier, ₹2,500 upwards on average.
This month, Fullarton Distilleries is set to launch a barrel-aged version of its much loved small-batch bottles of Pumori—touted to be the first of its kind in India. The smoother tipple has been matured for a year in American oak barrels used for ageing whisky. Mohit Sadhnani, marketing and mixology head, Fullarton Distilleries, believes“it will bridge the gap between a whisky and gin drinker”.
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