Culture & Society

Spirited Tales | 'We Went To Goa And Made A Gin': Story Of India's First Craft Gin

If you want to make a gin, go to Goa! How and why this statement has come to be accepted as reality is still a mystery which we will try to get to the bottom of today.

The story of India's first craft gin

First things first though – in case you have missed it somehow, gin is back! Craft gin specifically is here and it is taking the country by storm. Ten years ago, this was not the case. Back then, gin was most definitely un-cool. It was a drink reserved almost exclusively for senior citizens and meant to be enjoyed in the afternoon sun of your local Gymkhana. If at all it found its way into a slightly younger scene, the perception was it could only be consumed by someone wearing lipstick, because Gin was most definitely a “Lady’s drink”. 

You couldn’t give gin away for free back then – Yes, I did try. 

By 2015, this had changed. Somehow the word got out that our senior citizens were onto something, or more likely, enough people travelled to the United Kingdom, Singapore and Spain where they developed a taste for good gin and tonic. We were at the time running a bar in New Delhi which happened to be just the right place to first notice the shift in consumer behaviour. We sensed at that stage that it was about the right time for someone to create the country’s first craft gin. 

When it became clear that no one else was thinking along these lines, I decided it was worth taking a stab at ourselves. I enlisted the help of a veteran of the distilling industry only to realise that the industry had never been geared towards small-scale. India’s alcohol-beverage space had been built around massive scale, which is why there really wasn’t any space for craft manufacturers. To be able to pull this off, we would need the support of one of these large producers and build our own exclusive space within their larger premises.

Goa was most definitely not the first port of call. Our logic was to look for a state with a friendly excise policy, or at the very least one with the right loopholes, and the first places we looked were around our home state of Delhi. We explored Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh among others only to discover that either the state excise would require us to make humongous investments we didn’t have just to get licenses. 

The only possibility to work this would have been to work under someone else’s license. This too was a problem because most distillers believed in the model they knew – building scale around cheap, mass-produced spirits. A craft gin was too much of a shock to the system and they just didn’t see business sense in it. We were swiftly dubbed “a waste of time”.

Goa was actually our last port of call. We were already semi-convinced at this point about using Maharashtra as our base and our visit to Goa was merely a pre-planned formality. However, during our visit we happened to cross paths with someone whose curiosity was piqued enough to entertain the idea. There was enough in that discussion to convince us as well to say that here we might have found the right people to work with – people who might go out on a limb to support us when we needed. It was the best decision we could have made.

In short, our decision to be in Goa was not about a friendly excise policy, or access to good water, or even our own private designs to work closer to the beach. This decision was based on finding right partners to work with. It’s the same policy we followed when choosing our pot still supplier, our bottle manufacturer and even some of our first few employees – would these people go that extra mile to support us when we needed them to? In an endeavour as far-fetched as ours, these relationships were the ones we were definitely going to grasp on to if we had to have any chance of surviving.

Once the decision was made to set up our distillery in Goa, we started to consider the possibility of the state as a market in which to sell our gin. This question was only even asked because we considered it might be interesting for people coming to visit our distillery to have the option to buy a bottle or two. Even at that point, no one (including us) thought Goa could become a real market for quality gin. We did not realise it would go on to become one of our top three markets in the country.

This piece is possibly the most important bit now. It isn’t really excise policies or access to raw materials that makes Goa a great choice for starting a gin distillery. In my opinion, the biggest real advantage to being in Goa is to have access to a fantastic consumer market. Here is a space that is visited by the upwardly mobile and curious consumers from all the major urban centres of the country. They are open to exploring new food and beverage options – both of which Goa has ample and increasing varieties to offer of. 

As of now, the best bar in the country is in Goa and some of the best restaurants in the country have a satellite in the state. The “right” people from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and beyond come to Goa and take back their experiences and quite often the actual products they experience. 

It took us a year to launch Greater Than Gin in Mumbai and a further six months for Delhi launch. In that time period though, there was already a good buzz for the brand in both these cities because more than enough people had gone to Goa and experienced the brand in one of the superb cocktail bars there. They had often also brought a couple of bottles back with them to showcase and distribute to their friends. The same happened with Hapusa Gin and our other limited-edition gins. 


What we realise now is that Goa has quickly become the epicentre of food and beverage (F&B) culture in India – believe it or not! It is no longer just shacks and fish thalis. Goa has an F&B scene that holds its own in comparison to the metropolitans of the country and because of this influence it becomes the best place for us to call home to our gin distillery. 

(Anand Virmani is the founder, CEO of Nao Spirits and Beverages. Views expressed are personal.)