heritage brews & distills

While on one hand, Indian have loads to learn in terms of distillation and brewing technologies, international taste and quality, India has much to offer by way of indigenous and heritage alcoholic drinks. The need of the hour is to bring these domestic brews to the mainstream market locally and worldwide. Boutique manufacturers looking to tap this growing market, need to be encouraged by the government at the union and state levels. The reasons are not far to look at - exports, employment, foreign exchange, farmer welfare, import substitution, cost-efficiencies, health supplements, saving on foreign royalties, cheaper local brews, better quality control, use of natural produce, etc.

India does not have indigenous liquor with a nationwide footprint such as China’s baijiu, said to be the world's most consumed alcoholic spirit, or Japanese rice wine, sake. Nearly each Indian state has its own version of distilled spirit, such as toddy in Kerala. Manufacturers are looking to garner support from government bodies such as Trifed, besides gaining Geographical Indication (GI) status to protect and promote the spirits, in the hope of being able to sell them across borders.

The Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India (Trifed) is also planning to get into the business with its own mahua, which uses flowers sourced from farmers in Bastar, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra — states in which the drink is also popular. Indians are keen on experimenting with new, local flavours. Desmond Nazareth, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumnus and founder of alcobev brand Desmondji makes and sells mahua as well as other spirits. Distillers making desi spirits and those popular among the country’s indigenous communities such as mahua and Goan Feni to Assamese Judima are aggressively attempting to raise the profile of these liquors in their home states to earn heritage status and gain broader acceptance.

“In a year-long collaboration with IIT-Delhi, we have formulated our own mahua spirit. We are in talks with the national consultancy centre of the department of scientific and industrial research (DSIR), ministry of science and technology, for production and marketing plans,” said Pravir Krishna, managing director of Trifed, which comes under the ministry of tribal affairs. “We will launch operations by rolling out bottled mahua in two states – Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra” Krishna said.

Goan feni, which has already earned heritage status and GI registry alongside Nashik Valley wine, is a category gaining attention in the local field-to-bottle segment. Hansel Vaz, member of the All Goa Cashew Feni Distillers and Bottlers Association and owner of Cazulo Premium Feni, said a new policy is being drawn up as part of an image makeover. “The excise department has been supportive of late, and Goa is set to get a Feni policy for the first time in its history,” Vaz said. “The policy will help create a road map to take the heritage liquor forward.”

India’s GI cell has seen a flurry of indigenous liquors from the northeastern states seeking registration. The Judima Traditional Brewer Industrial Cooperative Society in Haflong, Assam, recently filed an application for GI registry for the judima rice wine made by the Dimasa tribe in the region. “There has been a rise in enquiries from cooperatives working with tribals of the northeast that brew many ‘potential’ pot distilled liquors,” said Sushil K Satpute, director, department for promotion of industry and internal trade in the ministry of commerce & industry. These include Chuak rice beer from Tripura, Chhaang beer from Sikkim, Zutho rice beer from Nagaland, Kiadum rice beer from Meghalaya and Apong and Xaj brews from Assam.

Mead from Egypt, which is a derivative of primarily honey, water and yeast, has been one of the pioneers of the alcohol-beverage family. Today, the market is brimming with mead products in Europe but India is a brand-new audience to the idea of Meads. Moonshine Meadery, which claims to be Asia’s first and India’s only Meadery aims to bring back the oldest fermented beverage into the market with a whole new variety of concocted versatility of meads. Founded in September 2017, it all started when Nitin Vishwas, co-founder of Moonshine Meadery, was travelling in Europe and came across an article about meads. He took some pictures and sent them to Rohan Rehani, his friend and also the co-founder. This sparked off an endeavour to trace the roots of meads and come up with something for the modern day consumers.

So What Makes Them Different? Rehani points, “Meads are versatile and can range from 3% ABV to 21% ABV. While the mead making process is closer to wine, our meads are carbonated and sessionable at 6.5% ABV. This places them squarely in the space between beer and wine.” Moonshine Meadery promises that meads are made from 100% pure honey, leading to a natural craft beverage with no artificial colour, aroma or flavour. Bourbon Oaked Apple Mead, the Kaffir Lime & Vanilla Mead, the Guava Chilli Mead, a tart Strawberry Mead are some of the popular results by this brand.

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