Distilled in Goa, Doja pairs yuzu, sansho peppers and hinoki chips with Indian staples like cardamom and fennel.
It’s an unassuming pepper. It looks like Sichuan or the local Goan tefla (teppal), but possesses a fragrant lemony aroma. On the palate, it numbs the tongue, leaving behind a lasting spiciness.
It is this aftertaste that lingers on sipping the newest gin in the Indian market.
Doja is a sipping gin, which boasts of being the first of its kind containing botanicals from India and Japan. The name is a tribute to that union: In(do-Ja)pan. The spirit from the new East Side Distillery has been created by Jai Anand of Mumbai-based music curator agency Milkman, and Sanjiv Anand of Cedar Consulting.
“No, the name doesn’t have anything to do with Doja Cat (the artist whose songs are trending on Instagram Reels),” says Jai, his laugh belying the fact that this is a question he has received many times before.
Doja is a lockdown project. Last year, when COVID brought the music industry to a halt, Jai decided to turn his sights on something else. He was drinking gin with a friend in the States when they got talking about the booming market in India. A gin fan himself, it sparked the idea in Jai’s mind that he could make his own gin. To offer something different, he chose Japanese botanicals. “Japan is very dear to me. We’ve been visiting since we were kids as our maasi lives there,” he says. “The botanicals we’ve chosen remind me of the time I have spent there.”
Doja’s botanicals are certainly different: Yuzu, sansho peppers, hinoki chips, and cedar leaf from Wakayama, Japan. These offer earthiness, and lemony citrus notes to the gin. The Indian botanicals include coriander, fennel, cardamom and peppermint (most of them sourced from Kerala). The gin is distilled in Japan for the global, and in Goa for the Indian market.
Finalising the recipe during a lockdown was quite the challenge. The company worked with Nakano BC distillery in Wakayama, which makes its own gin, sake and sochu. Meetings were held over Zoom, with translators. Small samples were sent back and forth via courier. “It was truly a cultural exchange,” says Jai. Once the recipe was finalised, it was a matter of translating it in India.
At a distillery in South Goa, Victor de Benito (head distiller) works with a Holstein copper still to create a Doja spirit unique to India. He uses a single-shot distillation method, which accounts for smoothness in the sipping gin. “The final spirit retains all the essential oils of the botanicals,” says Victor. “The full-bodied gin is fruity, earthy and has a citrus note running through it.”
Doja has an easily noticeable flavour. There’s a heavy hint of cardamom on the nose and palate, with peppermint and fennel adding herbal notes, and the sansho pepper leaving an aftertaste. Because of its strong flavour, Doja works best when had on the rocks, or with a splash of water with some lemon peel.
Doja is priced at Rs 2,050 in Goa and will be retailed at Rs 3,700 in Mumbai.