India’s newest gin offers a glimpse into its production at a first-of-its-kind gin distillery tour.
Devika Bhagat and Khalil Bachooali enjoyed their spirits. Bhagat was a vodka drinker, and Bachooali liked Scotch.
Things changed in 2008. Screenwriter Bhagat was visiting a friend in London who took her out for a drink. About to order her regular vodka-tonic, her friend insisted on getting her something better, a gin & tonic. “At that point, I had barely tried any Indian gins and they gave me a headache. I had only one aunt who would drink gin…no one else in the family consumed it,” she says. Her friend insisted.
One sip down and Bhagat was left wondering, ‘what was this magic?’ Soon, she switched over to drinking gin. At that time, she was dating (ad filmmaker) Bachooali and insisted he too try a gin & tonic. “And then he basically appropriated it,” she says with a laugh, “He became the martini expert and negroni expert!” Now avid gin drinkers, they would seek out local gins wherever they travelled.
The couple got married, and their daughter Ahilya was born in 2016. It was about this time they decided to venture into a business together. “We didn’t know what that could be. Besides film and television, our interests are quite different.”
In 2018, they found a common interest.
The story, like many interesting ones, found its genesis in a bar. It was raining, and they had sought refuge in a bar, sipping on gin cocktails and chatting with their bartender. He told them about the growing gin scene in the UK (there were 300 gins available at that time), and then asked about the situation in India. “We drew a blank,” she says. They knew there were gin drinkers like them, and that Nao Spirits had just launched Greater Than, but little else.
Khalil turned to Bhagat and said, ‘let’s make gin’. “It was the first business idea he had that I approved of. I said, okay. But I made a deal with him: we have to educate ourselves before we begin the process,” she says.
They visited distilleries, researched recipes, learned about craft distilling and white labelling, did online courses and read up extensively. At a gin expo, they met Julia Nourney, master distiller and blender and independent spirits consultant, and she mentored them. They reached out to German company MÜLLER (known for their pot stills), whose head distiller tutored them online.
The three-year learning process found fruition this December, as the couple (under the company Adventurist Spirits) launched their gin Tāmras in Goa.
In another month, visitors will soon get to hear this gin origin story at the Tāmras distillery itself, in Colvale. In January, Adventurist Spirits will open its distillery doors for guided tours, a first for a gin company.
At the preview of the tour, we are taken around the spankingly clean distillery. The set-up feels like a swanky restaurant with a high ceiling lit by warm lights, comfortable sofas with potted plants for some greenery, and a long bar at one end. Beyond this, full-length glass walls offer a glimpse of the 237-litre copper pot still — whose name we soon learn is Odysseus — where Tāmras is distilled.
The name comes from the lotus flower and copper: the flower because it is used in the gin, and copper for the still in which it is distilled. The gin contains 16 botanicals including coriander seeds, black cardamom, green cardamom, fennel, lemon verbena, orris root, lemon, mint, lotus seeds and flowers, and whole mosambi (sweet lime).
Bhagat walks us through the journey, showing glass bottles containing the botanicals and passing around some for people to observe and taste. Then we get down to tasting. Tāmras is a crisp, citrus-forward gin, with a spicy finish. It opens up when mixed with ice, and stays consistent even with tonic, which smoothens out the spicy finish.
Their distiller is Nourney, who developed the recipe after much experimentation. She visited India in January 2019, touring spice and fruit markets and sampling different teas. Nourney chose mosambi (she hadn’t eaten it before), mint (which she found differed in flavour from European mint) and lotus seeds. There’s grapefruit in the recipe, sourced from Egypt. Incidentally, the couple do their own experiments in a small pot still they’ve called Alice, “as it takes us down a rabbit hole”.
As we leave the bar, Bachooali takes us behind to the distillery to show us Odysseus. Tāmras is a single shot, multiple-distilled gin. First is the base distillate, which has juniper and botanicals like coriander, angelica root, black and green cardamom, lime, cubeb pepper and fennel. Next is the citrus: fresh whole grapefruit, lemon and mosambi, followed by Nilgiri tea, mint, and finally, lotus seed in the charge, and lotus flower in the vapour basket.
The dilution process is a slow one, spread over 28 days, which brings the distillate down to the bottle strength of 42.8 percent. This process, Bachooali tells us, allows the flavour molecules to organically blend with each other, keeping the flavour intact and providing a smooth finish. The finished gin is bottled on site, too.
Our tour ends at the bar, where it began, with cocktails created by Evgenia Prazdnik, paired with a cheese platter. Bhagat says they may introduce flights (smaller pours) of the cocktails so people can get to try them all. The facility has an outdoor seating area too, with a mural on the wall, and hopefully soon, a well-populated lotus pond.
Adventurist is a self-funded venture, which they hope becomes a family business. They have a small team, and the couple do most things themselves, shuttling between Mumbai and Goa. They intend to expand their spirit line. Tāmras is just the beginning of the rabbit hole.
Tāmras retails in Goa for Rs 1,950 (700 ml). They will launch in Mumbai in January, and hope to start the tours by the end of January.