If I was on a holiday in a foreign country and my flight got cancelled on the day I was to go back home, I would panic, throw a tantrum or have a breakdown. Delhi-based Anjali Batra, on the other hand, chose to be engrossed in a gin manual when she was rerouted to stay in a hotel after her flight in South America got rescheduled. When a gentleman sitting next to her began chatting with her about the manual, he aptly pointed out how crazy she was about gin. That along with her immense love for the spirit made her realise that India needed a platform that celebrates gin. A delayed flight and a conversation with a stranger sparked the idea of the Gin Explorers Club. What started as a small-scale event with over 2000 people on a weekend in New Delhi has now transformed into the World’s Largest Gin Festival. Spanning its influence from Delhi to Mumbai and Bangalore, it has successfully cultivated an astonishing attendance exceeding 1,00,000 since its inception in 2018.
A Festival For All
“I have been collecting gins for the last 10-15 years of my life,” Anjali shares. “After seeing it grow as a trend globally, we thought of bringing that as a concept to India and creating a property that teaches people about our gin, giving them their first experience, giving someone a nostalgic memory of what they grew up sipping,” she adds. Being the founder of Anthem India–a marketing agency that has Food Talk India as one of its brands that’s into creating and highlighting food experiences–teaming up with her business partner Shuchir Suri for a gin fest was right up her alley.
The first time I attended Gin Explorers Club was Mumbai’s first edition in 2022 and took my parents with me as company. I didn’t feel awkward at all as the space brought so many gin lovers from different (drinking) age groups and backgrounds under one roof. We discovered different homegrown and international gins, sipped on cocktails, vibed to live DJs performing and also got a glitter tattoo on our faces. Anjali who was happy to learn about this when I shared it with her on call, said, “My grandfather too loves to attend the festival in Delhi. It’s kind of crafted in a way where there is something as an experience for everyone. We do incredible sessions in the daytime for people who want to learn a little bit more. And then for those who just want to enjoy having a great cocktail with music. So it’s designed in a way where there is enough to whet every kind of appetite from your newbies to your gin connoisseurs and nerds,” Anjali says.
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A Spirit For All
There was a time when gin (or any other white spirit per se) was dubbed as the “lady’s drink,” whereas whisky was seen as something the men would prefer. However, that notion has truly changed today with everyone sharing their love for the spirit. Gin has gone beyond the stereotypes. “It’s because it’s an easy drink to enjoy. And the fact that you can have it in so many different ways has made it acceptable across the genders. You can have a great cocktail when you want to sit down to have a conversation with someone, or head to a nightclub and order a gin and tonic. So that whole perception of it being a day drink, ladies’ drink or an ‘old people’ drink has been shunned away over the last couple of years. I want to say we played a slight amount of role in kind of bringing people together and giving them that experience. Also, I think the really strong movement of wanting to explore more in the homegrown space has added to it.”
Homegrown Gin For The Win
Indian brands started to see a rise in the space of this incredible spirit, which is very easy to make. You can turn a bedroom into a distillery for gin, and this gave rise to the entire entrepreneurial space in this category. Admitting that Indian gins are at par with the global names, she adds, “It’s great that we’re getting there now because we are the birthplace of the gin and tonic; it was invented in India as a cure for malaria, which is why it’s called Indian tonic water. And now we’re finally putting Indian gin on the map and you can have the Indian tonic water with it. We are the richest in terms of ingredients; we have all these incredible spices from different regions and all of these beautiful stories of heritage and provenance. It’s not just how it tastes, but it’s how it looks. It’s the stories that they all cook up. It’s like opening a storybook and getting lost in the world of a mythical universe. And I think there’s some cool stuff that’s coming from the Indian landscape now.”
What Stands Out?
In times when we have new Indian gins sprouting in the alco-bev space, some miss the mark of making it big. So which ones make the cut? “The right balance of citrus, juniper and a unique flavour, because there’s lots of like classic London dries. But I would turn to a gin if it’s got a very interesting botanical that stands out from the rest, but yet is not extremely overpowering,” Anjali shares. “I think packaging and marketing also go a long way. A lot of people are jumping the gun and creating products without doing enough R&D. It’s a very price-sensitive market, so a good price point also contributes to the success of a brand. It can’t just be flavour,” she adds.
Is Gin Here To Stay?
While the Indian gin space still sees an uptick, homegrown rum and tequila brands are gaining momentum. It’s a great time for the alco-bev scene at the moment. But what does that mean for the future of gin? “I think a lot of them need to thank the gin brands for being the first ones to jump on the bandwagon and bring India the home run. It’s given everybody else the courage that they may not have had earlier. So I think they owe massively to all of these brave entrepreneurs who have really kind of steered the path and opened up that space. But gin is here to stay. I think we’ve just scratched the surface. There’s so much more to come out. They’re all going to grow together because I don’t think one cuts out the other. They expand together the strength of how India is now finally drinking homegrown,” she fairly points out.