Traditionally, the Indian beverage market has either avoided alcohol, or been inclined towards spirits and a limited range of beers. More recently, however, there has been a burgeoning interest in exploring, learning about and producing quality wines, spirits and beers in the country. We take a look at the best of brews, pubs and festivals in India relating to alcoholic beverages.
All Things Nice
Started up by sommelier Nikhil Agarwal, All Things Nice is a wine and spirits consultancy that aims to connect brands and their consumers whilst educating customers. In their words, they aim to be a sophisticated platform for luxury experiences in the culture of drink and gastronomy. They conduct a wine week, which offers discounts on Indian and international wines at a wide selection of participating restaurants and bars. They also host the Indian Wine Consumers Choice Awards, and have hosted Twisted Decadence, an exclusive blindfolded dinner and wine event. Sign up on the website to receive invitations to their exclusive events.
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Old Monk is a favorite beverage in India. It is a smooth, dark rum with a vanilla flavor, aged for seven years. Old Monk is produced by the Mohan Meakin group. The story began with a brewery in the Himalayan Mountains, which was established by an Englishman called Edward Dyer. Mohan later bought the breweries, and the first batch of Old Monk rum was produced in the 1950s. In spite of not advertising, the company has acquired a loyal following and the drink has attained cult status, highly popular in India as well as being exported to other countries.
Gateway Brewing Company
Gateway Brewing Company was the first to undertake micro-brewing in India, and negotiated with the local government to change laws in order to permit this. They source most of their products locally, roast their own specialty hops and ensure that their beers are at their best, without the use of chemicals and stabilizers. The company does a Root series that includes European-style beers like White Zen and Doppelganger, in addition to locally inspired beers such as Like That Only, a beer that can be enjoyed on warm Mumbai afternoons.
Grover Zampa Vineyards
Grover Zampa Vineyards was originally started in the sixties by Kanwal Grover, before merging with Valle de Vin in Nashik to become Grover Zampa. The second generation of the Grover family continues to be involved with the business, and the company has also relied on French expertise in wine-tasting over time. Grover Zampa organizes a wine festival, The Great Grover Stomp, which features grape stomping and wine tasting alongside art and music performances. They have plans to launch a one-of-a-kind spa hotel in their vineyards.
Toit Pub is known for its charming interior and warm atmosphere, which is usually combined with the lively chatter of friends and regulars. It has half a dozen regular brews that include wheat beers and dry stouts. It also has a long, varying list of seasonal and specialty brews including Aam Admi Ale, infused with mangoes for the summer, and Coldfire, infused with chilies for the monsoon season. The pub is a great place to sit and enjoy these unique brews, with its beer garden and a smoking lounge.
Royal Heritage Liquors
Rajasthan State Ganganagar Sugar Mills or RSGSM produce herbal liquors, brewed from the recipes of royal families that have been passed down over generations. The drinks are made of dry fruit, spices and herbs and often have medicinal properties. RSGSM offer a range of drinks including Kesar Kasturi, made from saffron, and Chandra Haas, which has more than 70 spices infused in it. The process attempts to stick as closely as possible to the original recipes and they use earthen pots as well as copper and brass utensils that are recommended to produce authentic flavors.
Local Indian Spirits
There are several Indian liquors that belong to different regions. They are usually unavailable outside of these states, and have to be found in local bars and homes. Apong, for instance, comes from the Himalayan area and is made with fermented rice. Also made with rice are Tongba in Sikkim, Darjeeling in the northeast and Handia in West Bengal. Toddy or Kallu is a Kerelan liquor made from the sap of a palm or coconut. Apart from local homes, it is served in toddy shops, where you can have it with a meal.
Sula has the largest market share in Indian wines and plays a critical role in the country’s winemaking. The enterprise began as a 30-acre family estate, which has now grown to an estate of over 1,500 acres in both Nashik and Dindori. Sula released their first wines in the year 2000, and produced several bottles in India for the first time, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Zinfanel and Reisling. The company now offers accommodation and an amphitheater for events, and they host The Tasting Room – a chic wine bar where you can taste Sula’s wine at the vineyards looking over the estate and nearby lake.
Goa has long been known for Feni, its iconic liquor which is distilled from the local cashew apple or coconut trees. Feni now has its own GI registration – the mark of products that have a particular geographical place of origin. This was gained thanks to the efforts of Madame Rosa Distillery, a leading Feni distiller and bottler. Kazkar Feni is available in the US and other countries, and there are also other brands that bottle and market the liquor, with cocktails often available at local bars and restaurants.
The story began with Krishna Prasad and Uma Chigurupati, an entrepreneurial couple in the pharmaceutical business. Looking for their next challenge, they took to wine-making after developing a taste for wines during their travels. Their search for wine producing regions in India, as well as a distinctive grape taste, led them to Hampi Hills in Karnataka where their vineyards now lie. Every stage of their wine making process is personally supervised; the grapes are tasted everyday during the ripening season and decisions are then made about when they can be harvested. At KRSMA the focus is on fairly small but highly premium productions, and on wines that showcase single varietals.
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