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Published on: Feb. 6, 2022, 7:58 p.m.
Stranger no more
  • Gupta, Mehra,Saigal: capturing the essence of contemporary India in every bottle

By Suman Tarafdar

For the better part of the last two centuries, culinary links between India and the UK have found expression in the strangest of forms. Few can top gin perhaps, which was invented in India as a way to make the bitter tasting quinine – essential to cure malaria – palatable for British soldiers in the 19th century. However, London remains gin’s favourite haunt, its spiritual home, with an astonishing number of brands and establishments concocting ever more inventive beverages to entice the aficionado.

In recent years, India has seen a spurt in home-grown gin brands. Arguably the pioneer has been the Goa-based Stranger & Sons. “Made from inherently Indian botanicals, Stranger & Sons Gin captures the essence of contemporary India in every bottle for the curious and discerning consumer,” says Sakshi Saigal, who started the venture along with partners Rahul Mehra and Vidur Gupta in 2018.

Their journey to launching the brand was perhaps organic. “The three of us are not just cocktail enthusiasts but we also had the vantage of observing the beginnings of the gin revolution first hand. I was working towards my MBA in Barcelona, while Vidur was studying in the UK and Rahul had just set up his craft brewery in Mumbai,” says Saigal.

“While we were tasting and drinking a variety of gins every day – whether in London’s cocktail bars or the gin tonics of Barcelona, we were getting well acquainted with the gin landscape. That’s when it piqued our interest. We asked ourselves why India wasn’t up to speed with Gin although Gin manufacturers all over the world looked to India when it came to sourcing botanicals. We encountered so many brands based on a vision of India that we knew had never been a reality. This made us question why products with these botanicals are made everywhere but here.  With the idea of building a truly Indian Gin, we saw this as an opportunity to tell the story of a new India through an interesting medium – gin,” adds he.

Stranger & Sons was created in contemporary India, a country that is diverse, nuanced and eccentric, adds Gupta. “There’s a peculiar quality to India that always makes you look twice and puts you on the path of seeking, in our case, seeking the strange. Our brand name ‘Stranger & Sons’ is an ode to the wonderful strangeness of India and a nod to the creative entrepreneurial spirit inherent in most Indians.”

Why gin?

In a predominantly brown spirits market, gin is increasingly growing in popularity, especially amongst the almost totally urban SEC A audience. “Gin has caught the attention of consumers in India,” says Mehra. “I think the abundance of botanicals available locally – so many amazing herbs, roots, spices and citrus to choose from –  is what’s really unique and special about Indian gin. As people travel, they have started to understand India’s rich history when it comes to gin and agricultural bounty, so it has become an obvious choice for gin makers. I can say with some confidence that we played an important role in highlighting these facets and continue to work tirelessly to add to the India conversation. Although the gin consumption style in India is slowly evolving, we believe that the journey for gin in India is just beginning. India continues to be a largely brown spirits market; however, with gin-based cocktails being amongst the best-selling drinks on the menu, more bars and restaurants are looking to include a variety of gins in their offerings. Stranger & Sons is also doing its share in popularising Gimlets and Gibsons.”

  • Gimlet No. 9 by Strangers & Sons

“Today, we see that a lot of Indian consumers are excited to try a good homegrown product without it feeling like a compromise and a brand like ours is able to communicate and ensure high quality standards,” adds Saigal. “India’s growing cocktail culture is also proof that Indian consumers are open to trying new, atypical cocktails as well as local, home-grown products, which has, in turn, contributed to the rise of craft producers in the country. Though its presence in its current form is limited to the metro cities, gin is going through an exciting phase and still transcending into the mainstream. There aren’t just new consumers every day but new gins too!”

India calling

The Indian gin market is estimated to be about $278.5 million in terms of value in 2018. It is predicted to grow at 5 per cent CAGR during 2019-27 and is estimated to reach about $413.7 million by end 2027, according to a report by Coherent Market Insights. Industry insiders put the gin market in India at about 1 per cent of the spirit segment.

The growth has been massive ever since we launched Stranger & Sons in 2018 and has gone way beyond our expectations, informs Saigal, though avoiding sharing numbers. “Starting out as early innovators in the Indian gin landscape to winning the highest honours at the Asian Spirit Masters 2021, the response we have received from across the globe for our spirit has been a humbling experience for us.”

“We have more of a singular focus on our flagship spirit – Stranger & Sons,” says Gupta. “What makes Stranger & Sons different is how we celebrate our diverse, unique and complicated history, while recognising India in its current context, instead of the stereotypical version with just palaces, elephants and so on. We have embraced this wonderful strangeness inherent in contemporary India, the India of the here and now, allowing consumers to connect with the story and the brand in a organic manner.”

Covid challenges notwithstanding, Stranger & Sons is now available shores beyond India, including the UK, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, New Zealand and the UAE. Of course, there have been changes. “Before Covid, the split used to be 60-40 for home and HORECA consumption,” points out Gupta. “The industry average generally tends to be about 80-20 but the proportion has of course been impacted since the pandemic, taking the number to about 90-10.”

To support their favourite bars, the brand launched Strange Times –  their first collection of pre-batched cocktails and cordials, made in collaboration with some of Asia's best bars, including five bars from Singapore: Tippling Club, Neon Pigeon, 28 Hong Kong Street, The Old Man, Native, besides Cin Cin and O Pedro in India. It also collaborated with The Bombay Canteen to create the limited-edition Perry Road Peru –  India’s first Distilled Cocktail.

“In a strange situation no one is a stranger.” That being said, who can be a stranger to the charms of Stranger & Sons?

  • Perry Road Peru by Stranger & Sons

    Perry Road Peru by Stranger & Sons

Botanical delight

Made from inherently Indian botanicals, the robust flavour of Stranger & Sons comes from a blend of the black pepper, nutmeg, mace, coriander, liquorice, cassia bark, angelica, juniper and a medley of four aromatic citrus peels. The citrus peels give the gin freshness on the front palate, which is rounded off with a robust blend of warm spices, including black pepper, mace, nutmeg and coriander that give it a strong spiced middle. Liquorice, cassia bark and mace make the finishing flourish smooth, earthy and sweet.

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