The Travel Series: India
As we thought, India did not cease to amaze us. It is a vast country and so offers a deep variety in all aspects it is famed for: rich culture, mouthwatering cuisine, breathtaking scenery and interesting heritage. It boasts beautiful, majestic palaces, but also suffers widespread poverty and desperation. It is home to lush and serene landscapes, but also to overpopulated, heaving metropolis’. It’s quite hard to understand it, to know what to expect, until you experience it.
Back home, it’s hard to ignore the gin revolution that is well and truly underway. It has become virtually impossible to enter a bar that doesn’t boast an ‘extensive gin selection’ and an ‘expansive cocktail list’’. It’s become almost like a drug. Just as it did for our ancestors during the British Empire, it is once again being used to soothe ailments. Nowadays almost obligatory for ones’ sanity after a stressful day in the office, many believe that gin was as crucial for the soldiers well-being as their fighting weapons. Even Churchill agreed, conceding that “the gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire”. And where did this all begin? Right in the jewel of that Empire. India!
When stationed out there, our troops were certainly dealt the upper hand when their mechanical artillery came up against societies still using swords and spears, but they held the same bad hand when playing against their, perhaps more deadly and unexpected opponent, the mosquito. In the 19th century, Malaria was completely eradicated throughout Europe, but even when it was still rife, our strain did not come close to that which was suffered in the tropics. This killer discriminated against neither the colonised or the coloniser and unfortunately, our soldiers were not prepared and began to fold, coming down with this often fatal disease.
Another chink in the British army’s armour was the knowledge that an active ingredient found in cinchona bark to be a cure for malaria, and more importantly, a preventative. And so, quinine powder quickly became the preferred treatment in Britain, but also another powerful weapon in the feat to discover – and ultimately conquer – distant nations. Our troops relied on the powder for their fight against their ‘mitey’ opposition, but its’ bitter taste led them to experiment and through mixing it with sugar and water, the tonic water was born.
'Gin equates for less than 2% of the Country's spirits industry.'
It is because of this thought, of fatigued British soldiers languishing in the afternoon heat with a G&T in hand, that you expect the gin culture in India to be alive and kicking. But, it isn’t – there is not even a twitch. We were shocked to learn that gin equates to less than 2% of the Country’s spirits industry. Tonic water is sold and served in almost every establishment, but gin is not. If you are brave enough to tackle the country’s bustling, and often illegal, alcohol jaunts, you will probably only manage to get your hands on a bottle of, what would be better used as rocket fuel, Blue Riband. If in the rare case that they are flogging some well-known imported brand, you would be forced to consider remortgaging your house to afford the bottle.
But interestingly, the whole social culture that we deem synonymous to a tipple is definitely present, it’s just slightly different. Perhaps the main reason for the lack of a drinking culture, many Indians do not drink for religious reasons, and instead meet at dawn – the coolest part of the day – to share stories and put the world to right over breakfast and cups of sweet chai. This very much reflects the ‘after work pint’ and ‘coffee with the girls’ culture that we have at home – we’re just too lazy to meet at sunrise for a steaming brew before work. But there are some juniper pioneers that are making waves in trying to help people appreciate the spirit as we are back home in the UK. This ripple is Greater Than.
Its’ passionate distillers wanted to produce a gin that people are able to enjoy regularly, and so, they have cleverly marketed it well below the extortionate prices of the few imported brands that can scarcely be found on the market. But this decision didn’t mean that the distillers were going to compromise on the quality, oh no! Greater Than is a London Dry, which is more expensive to manufacture than if they had opted for the cold compounding method. In general, juniper and any other chosen botanicals are used to flavour an already-distilled neutral alcohol, and this somewhat straightforward manufacturing process is unfortunately how gin came to be infamously known as ‘mothers ruin’.
Cold compound gins are those that are diluted and bottled as soon as any solid botanicals have been removed, but a London Dry gin is redistilled after these botanicals are added. Yes, this method is lengthier and costlier, but as it intensifies the flavours, it’s arguably tastier and therefore worth the effort. We definitely think that Greater Than succeeding in creating a gin that people can enjoy regularly, not only because its’ justifiable RRP means that the gin lovers of India are now able to enjoy a quality spirit at an affordable price, but because it would be simply impossible not to enjoy its’ juniper-led, crisp, citrusy taste – and trust us, we’ve tried it!
We have been fortunate enough to experience India’s diverse culture as our journey has taken us the length of the country, from the North to the South, In Delhi, we witnessed the beauty of the Taj Mahal, we got lost in the overcrowded, underdeveloped streets of the Old town, but we couldn’t find a quality gin. In Udaipur, we marvelled at the ornate ceilings of the Lake Palace, we swooned at the colours of the handicrafts and artwork stalls that covered the markets, but we couldn’t find a quality gin. In Goa, we danced from sunset to sunrise beneath the stars, we devoured incredible seafood in wooden beach shacks, and although we were lucky enough to find Greater Than’s distillery in this state, in the bars, shops, and restaurants, we couldn’t find a quality gin. In Kerala, we trekked through lush tea plantations relishing the clean air, we floated down leafy, serene backwaters in the summer sun, but we couldn’t find a quality gin.
However, we were very kindly gifted with our very own bottle of Greater Than whilst touring the distillery, which we have carried with us and guarded with our life throughout the rest of this journey. This gesture afforded us the opportunity to sit out on our balcony that overlooked the famous hill station of Munnar, and enjoy a glass of our favourite tipple. Sitting there together with a gin and tonic was so much more enjoyable than sitting there with the usual offerings of a cup of chai or a cheaply brewed beer. For us, gin has been something that we have naturally turned to – when one of us was sad? Gin. When we had a reason to celebrate? Gin. A free Wednesday night? Gin. It is something that we have created a lot of memories with, both happy and sad. So sitting there, together at moonlight, reflecting over a gin and tonic, made the experience perfect.
India, you are quite similar to a gin yourself. Your states, – colourful Rajasthan, scenic Kerala, bustling Mumbai – they are your botanicals. Alone, yes, they are intriguing, but when they are blended together that is where the magic happens. Together, they make you what you are; a country that is truly one of a kind. So, come on India, join the revolution – after all we have you to thank for the quintessential ‘G&T’ that we all know and love. Go ahead, stand up and reclaim your ‘Spirit’!
So, until next time - Bottoms up!
Written by A
18th April 2018
SHARING IS CARING:
After a few months of passive aggressive wall-knocking and sliding notes under the door, it took a first date – that turned into an eleven drink-long bar crawl – to realise we had a lot in common. Travel, food, and gin.