Will 2022 be the year that will change the face of the Indian alcobev industry forever? Only time will tell but our spirits expert has gazed into the crystal ball to come up with seven key trends that we can definitely expect this year.
To paraphrase a famous misquote, the rumours of gin’s death are greatly exaggerated. On a visit earlier this month to Goa, after a hearty fish thali lunch at Vinayak’s family restaurant in Assagao, I stopped off at the well-stocked Govenkar wines next door. Lulled into flexing my debit card by a few pints of Goa Brewing’s People’s Lager, I went into ‘point and pick’ overdrive, picking up in short order, bottles of Doja, Seqer, Samsara Pink and Greater Than No Sleep (more about that later). That combined with the bottle of Tamras that was gifted to me later, made for a set of brands that have already started making incumbents like Stranger & Sons and Greater Than seem like they’ve been around forever.
2022 will see more gins on the way, including the interesting Sector from Living Root Distillery and a work in progress from John Distillers, makers of Paul John single malt. Also, expect to see more brand extensions in the vein of No Sleep, Samsara Pink and Perry Road Peru (from Stranger & Sons). Indian brands seem relatively unfazed by the falling prices of multi-national brands, and we can expect them to further premiumise in 2022.
The gin wave is yet to hit Tier-2 and Tier-3 towns. A shake out I’m sure is also on the cards, and one will see a couple of relatively new entrants fade out. Transactions in the Indian alcobev space have been few and far between, but I predict 2022 for the first one, and most likely in gin, with one of the newbies gobbled up, either by a mid-sized Indian company that is yet to launch their own, or else by a multi-national.
Collaborate or be damned
Having been a part of this industry for 21 years now, I’ve hitherto always seen older attitudes at play, especially when it comes to collaboration. The emergence of first-generation entrepreneurs and the rise of the next generation in mid-sized companies has led to a welcome breath of fresh air, and an eagerness to also learn from each other. No Sleep Gin launched by Greater Than is India’s first coffee-infused gin, and the result of a collaboration between Nao Spirits and Sleepy Owl coffee, that as the release also says, brings together “two of the world’s most popular beverages”.
Also released last week is Maya Pistola, a 100 percent agave spirit, launched by Radhika and Rakshay, the duo behind Passcode Hospitality. Maya Pistola is unique as a collab in that it involves spirit sourced from Agave India in Andhra (where the Desmondji agave spirit brand is also made), which is then rested in American oak barrels before bottling.
Very clearly, collaboration is being taken seriously by the industry, and perhaps the pandemic has also been a contributory causation to sometimes strange bedfellows.
Leaving aside the pandemic panjandrum, D2C (direct 2 consumer) is emerging as a new buzzword for companies. The large format events, however, that we have seen in the recent past like Gin Explorer’s Club and India Cocktail Week are likely to be more muted and irregular, as restrictions on large gatherings continue through the year. Conventional wisdom in the beverage industry, given that India is a media dark market, was that brands are built in the on-trade (bars and pubs) and then the last mile is closed via retail.
As brand owners premiumise and launch limited edition/small-batch products, expect the route to market to change with brands pursuing smaller format, more intimate interactions with highly targeted customer sets. Expect private tastings and finely curated dinners to be the new means of brand discovery by consumers, with retail not a means of discovery but just to close the loop. Customer data will be king as major brands beef up their organisation structure to focus on this channel.
In a recent podcast episode, Giuseppe Gallo, long-time Martini brand ambassador and then founder of Italicus, an aperitivo liqueur, said that if the first wave of drinks entrepreneurship came from Aperitifs and Vermouths, the next came via Gins, and the latest via non-alcoholic spirits. The West is now abuzz with brands like Seedlip, Aecorn and Lyre to name just a few.
Expect a 0.0 wave in 2022, especially via non-alcoholic beer and spirits brands, that will make deeper inroads into premium bars and pubs, and build a growing digital footprint. In light of the pandemic, a consumer inclination to drink less will help further fuel this trend. Primarily the terrain of imported brands so far, but I’m sure the first Indian beer and spirits brands are on the way. Indian breweries are not equipped to make 0.0 beer, but some Indian brands are likely to brew overseas and import into India. I tasted a sample the other day, and it was hard to tell the difference from the real thing.
Reinforcing the D2C trend, some beer and spirits brands with the wherewithal will take the consumer to their heart, or the said brewery/distillery where the magic happens. Adventurist Spirits in Goa will be welcoming small groups to their distillery February onwards, where their gin Tamras is made. In North India, India Craft Spirits Co is also expected to do the same at their distillery in Behror, where Terai gin is made. Considering that Dublin’s biggest tourist attraction is the Guinness Storehouse, one wonders if we will see a Kingfisher World come up in Bengaluru, unless Bira beats them to the draw!
Rice, rice baby
Conventional wisdom always has been that spirits made around the world use native crops that are in surplus, whether it be corn and rye in North America, grapes in France or the sugarcane in Brazil. Not so for India though, where most of our spirits have either used molasses (for cheaper spirits) as a base, or else barley or wheat. Rice has hitherto been neglected, even though it’s the number one crop in India, and we’re the world’s second-largest producer. That trend changed in the last two years, with a flurry of launches, ranging from Goa Brewing’s People’s Lager (using an heirloom rice variant), Smoke Vodka from NV Spirits and, most recently, Tamras Gin (whose source distillate is made from rice) and Epitome’s Single Grain from Diageo. Expect our discovery of rice to continue, and, also, I’m sure a deeper discovery of our other Indian native grains like ragi and bajra. Somewhere your grandmother is laughing.
Big boys can dance
After two decades of either releasing their global brands in India, or else minutely segmenting the Indian whisky market via a barrage of launches, or else falling in love with strong beer, multi-nationals have finally woken up to the need to keep in step with what’s happening in the Indian drinks industry, as upstart beer and spirits brands capture a larger share of voice, and in some cases, volumes too. ABInbev with 7Rivers Brewing (a collab with Taj Hotels) and Diageo with Epitome Reserve (single grain and single malt whiskies) have been first off the blocks. Expect 2022 to see these companies and others start testing the waters, not just via local product development, but also in innovations in the on and off trade, that could take the form of brands launching their own signature bars as well.
Vikram Achanta is founder and CEO of Tulleeho, a drinks training and consulting firm, and a co-founder of www.tulleeho.com, a drinks website. He is also co-founder of 30 Best Bars India, India’s first bar awards and ranking platform. His Instagram handle is @rumdoodle69.