It’s a big day for gin lovers this weekend! World Gin Day arrives on June 12!! How am I celebrating – with a completely Indian Gin and Tonic.
Even though the G and T originated in India, until just recently, there had never been a truly Indian gin. Now that has all changed. Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin is a tour of India in one sip, and my tour guide today is Kunal Madan, AVP of International Business for Jaisalmer Gin.
He’s actually the first guest on my new “How To Drink” season to talk gin and just in time for the big day. Discover how they managed to fit all of India in one glass!
On this episode, you’ll find out:
- What spirits are the most popular in India
- Which Indian botanicals are used in Jaisalmer Gin
- What is the connection between Jailalmer the city and Jaisalmer the gin
- How the iconic bottle was conceived
- How to make the Maharaja Mojito!
Disclaimer: Some of these posts contain affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. That means that I may receive compensation if you click on these links and buy something, but, don’t worry, it won’t cost you a dime!
Where you can buy Jaisalmer Gin
Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Kunal. Just remember that I own the copyright in and to all content in and transcripts of Lush Life podcast, with all rights reserved, as well as my right of publicity. So if you want to use any of this, please email me!
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Susan: Well, I am thrilled to have you here. It’s so exciting. You’re the first person to talk about gin in my new How to Drink season. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself first and then let’s get into Jaisalmer Gin.
Kunal: I’m excited to join your podcast, Susan, and thanks for having me and great to know that I’ll be the first person to talk about gin on your show and an Indian gin.
Susan: Definitely. You’re the first Indian gin.
Kunal: That’s good. All right. So just a brief bio of mine. To be honest with you. I’m actually an Electronics Engineer by qualification, and I started my career, obviously in the electronics industry, selling refrigerators and LED TVs and, by accident, I ended up in the drinks industry. I’m coming to the drinks industry from an engineering background, from an engineering company, and selling alcohol, traveling around the world, and meeting all sorts of people. I would say it was an occupational hazard, but a brilliant one.
Susan: A happy accident?
Kunal: Yes, a happy and a lovely accident. Yeah. So, this is all about me. So, since the time I have joined Radico Khaitan eight years back it started being a worldwide journey for me. Not only have we created a single malt, the craft gin and lots of other brands, the main thing is that you enjoy the happiness and the liveliness when you sell alcohol, rather than selling an electronic product, it’s all different. It’s more of a human touch.
Susan: I’m sure. I’m sure. There’s no equivalent to a bartender in the engineering field. I don’t think.
Kunal: I don’t know that, but, one day, if I have a chance, I’d love to be behind the bar, because I’m a lousy home bartender, but I would love to be one, if need be, if there’s a chance.
Susan: Engineer/Bartender. So, tell me a bit about the gin and how it began.
Kunal: So, Jaisalmer, Susan, is one of the first authentic, I repeat, authentic Indian Craft gins made by Rampur Distillery. This is one of the first fully owned Indian alcoholic beverage companies in India. Technically, we have Pernod and Diageo in India, but this is a fully owned Indian distillery and one of the oldest, established in 1943, when there were hardly any industries in India. We produce close to 13 million liters of alcohol every month. We have a small population in India of 1.4 billion people, so we must support them!
Not only do we make Rampur Indian Single Malt, we have one of the world’s largest selling vodkas called Magic Moments Vodka. We have close to 4 million cases of those, other blended whiskies, rum, and all kinds of spirits. If you talk about, specifically about, Jaisalmer Gin, there are a lot of stories, a lot of history, and everybody would love to hear about that.
To start with, we need to travel back in time. Why tonic water is called Indian tonic, right? Where was the first iconic cocktail, the G and T discovered? One has the ponder all these questions and the answer would come, if you Google it, you search it, it would be India.
Susan: Of course, of course.
Kunal: But there has never been an Indian craft gin. As history says, quinine which comes from a tree called the Cinchona tree in Congo, popularly known as the fever tree, is tonic water’s primary ingredient. Quinine plays an important role in the history of malaria treatment in 1820s.
When the benefits of quinine came to be known, the officers in the British Indian army who were stationed in India, were using it to fight malaria, one of the diseases. Quinine was invented. It was bitter to have it directly. So, they mixed it with salt, soda, sugar, and water, and that gave rise to tonic water. It was more palatable when gin came across from Britain to India, so they mixed the gin with tonic and there we have, voilà, a Gin and Tonic.
Susan: It’s incredible that there was never, even back then, an Indian gin!
Kunal: Never ever, never ever. That was the point. This is classical history or a paradox, I would say now. When we launched our Single Malt, traveling around the world, close to 79 countries. I keep a count of them, I’m sorry I’m not being boastful about that.
Susan: By the way, I’ve had the whisky and it’s delicious.
Kunal: Oh, yeah, I appreciate that. It’s another gem. So doing travels, when I was actually traveling around the world and promoting our single malts and I was seeing a Gin-aissance across the world. Many craft gins coming up, many innovative cocktails developed by bartenders, many gin bars popping up here and there.
We saw that all people, all the world having gin cocktails, the G and Ts, and all kinds of gin with Indian nomenclature, like Bombay Sapphire, Jodhpur, Indian Summer, Old Raj. All of them were getting served and there was not even single gin from India. That’s when we decided to launch Jaisalmer, the first Indian authentic craft gin. So, this is the whole story behind Jaisalmer.
Susan: What year was that?
Kunal: The summer of 2018.
Susan: You would think – it’s so late? When you say Indian craft gin, how would you even start to make it? Other than the juniper, the coriander seed, or the usual things, how did you approach finding that perfect recipe?
Kunal: Yeah, so again, people say I’m a big storyteller. So whatever questions, details you would ask me, Susan, I’ll be telling you tons of stories while you keep on sipping on a Jaisalmer cocktail, and you will love it.
Susan: Great. We’re here to tell stories. So go ahead. Tell me the first one, well ,the second one.
Kunal: So, what happened on the very first day of conception of our idea of making this Indian craft gin, Jaisalmer. We started with a clean state. We didn’t have anything on our mind. We just wanted to make an Indian production. We sat with our Master Blender, Mr. Anup Barik, who comes from the family of four generation of Master Blenders.
He went in search of the botanicals. Since the idea was authentic, which was not only botanicals native to India, but we did want to showcase and put the whole of India, what we call the whole of India, in one black bottle. So how to incorporate the whole of India in one bottle?
Here comes the Master Blender or the chef, I would say. During his travels and, yes, you said coriander, which is one of the common ingredients in gin. Coriander, if you know that, is used in the daily cooking of Indian cuisine, be it the coriander seeds, which are used as spices, or be it the coriander leaves, which are used for garnishing Indian curries.
The whole idea was to give India to the world. He shortlisted coriander for a little bit of spicy notes. Then he also shortlisted Vetiver. Vetiver, which was actually invented in India, the roots have cooling properties, and the grass is used again for decoration or garnish purposes. This was found near the fields in and round Jaisalmer. This is the Northern part of India. Jaisalmer is situated in the Northwestern part of India.
Then he traveled to the central India. Where he found sweetest of orange peels which are grown there. We selected those orange peels which tend to give the citrusy, floral tones to our gin. Then he shortlisted Cubeb berries from our own south India, aromatic Cubeb berries, which give off a feeling off roasted-ness or smokiness. It’s amazing.
Obviously people knew about India, and they could relate India with Darjeeling tea leaves. He went all the way to Darjeeling and, like a whisky tasting, gin tasting, any spirit tasting, there’s also tea tastings. After a long marathon of tea tasting, he finally shortlisted a few special handpicked Darjeeling tea leaves that were incorporated into the Jaisalmer recipe.
Apart from that, we finally shortlisted some lemon peel from Eastern part of India, as well as lemongrass, which was again, originated in medieval India. So out of all the 11 botanicals, the 7 botanicals I just mentioned to you were discovered actually from the four corners and the central part of India, just like India has five seasons. I would not say four, but five seasons, including spring. We discovered these botanicals from all the five parts of India.
Apart from that, we took licorice, caraway seeds, and of course, a beautiful juniper from Macedonia. The whole concept was that, as I told you in the beginning, to give India to the world. We tried to retain the soul flavor, juniper, but as well to give that spiciness, the refreshing floral tones of India, and hence this recipe of 11 botanicals was made as Jaisalmer.
Susan: When you think India is such a huge country with so many different cuisines, with so many different spices, that to be able to pin it down to just seven of the 11 within India is an incredible job, really, because there are so many to choose from.
Kunal: Hats off, hats off to the Master Blender.
Susan: How long did it take him?
Kunal: We started in the beginning of 2017 and we ended up with a recipe in 2018, after 11 to 12 months of traveling and finalizing with botanicals. You rightly said there are many gins which use a 100 botanicals, 200 botanicals, 35 botanicals. He really wanted to do everything. But at the end of the day, he said, we need to retain the soul of juniper. That is gin. You cannot lose that thing and put in all the botanicals, because India is very rich in herbs and spices as you rightly said. Finally, we shortlisted these botanicals.
Helping the cause that as I mentioned, coriander and vetiver comes from the field of Jaisalmer. Jaisalmer, actually the golden city in the Northwestern part of India, in the state of Rajasthan, often called the jewel in India’s crown, is steeped in the history and is the home of the renown Golden Fort.
It’s an amazing fort, once we ever have a chance to explain, you must visit this place. It’s amazing. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site constructed only with sandstone walls and it’s just golden during sunset. It’s amazing.
Susan: I know I’ve been to India once and ,unfortunately, although we did travel throughout Rajasthan, we didn’t get a chance to go there, which I’m sad about. I’m sure he found all these other botanicals all over India. What was it about Jaisalmer that I know you said the vetiver and the coriander came from there, but was there anything else that you had to choose it as the name as well?
Kunal: The basic reason was that, as I told you, it was a no brainer because Jaisalmer is one of the most beautiful cities in India and plus the botanicals were coming from there. We could incorporate that luxury into the bottle. Jaisalmer was a reflection of the gin we wanted to present.
It’s a luxury gin, Jaisalmer is all about luxury, royalty. The black bottle itself shows a dark desert night. The golden embroidery on the label shows the royalty, the richness of Jaisalmer coming into the bottle. It helped us decide on the design, the botanicals came from there, the whole heritage about the city: royalty, heritage, and the knowledge of herbs, all put together led us to the name.
Susan: And the logo that’s on the bottle?
Kunal: That’s a fun fact actually, to be honest with you. The stag is the state animal of Jaisalmer, as you see, it’s on the royal flag. If you see the outline, the golden outline of the Fort, it’s actually the real Golden Fort of Jaisalmer.
This is the whole design concept. The black bottle represents the dark desert night and the gold represents the crown, the black bock represents the state animal and the outline of the fort. This is how the whole concept of design came into the bottle.
Susan: It’s beautiful. It’s gorgeous. You said it took a year to get the recipe. Were you just thrilled when you had the first sip? Was it everything you thought? Oh my God. Yes. This is it. This incorporates all of India into one gin!
Kunal: To be honest with you, this is a secret, but I can know say it to everyone. Too many delegations, back and forth, back and forth. Finally, when this blend actually clicked, everyone, be it the master blender, be it us, be it anybody else in the distillery, it was still a thought process. We thought, “We can add this botanical. Oh no, we can add this botanical. Oh, we can do this.” Finally, when we tasted this, then everyone was super happy about it, and we just went ahead with the packaging and the bottle.
Susan: When it was in the bottle and produced, how did you conceive it being drunk? Did you immediately think this just has to be with the gin and tonic? Were you thinking we can’t way to get this in the hand of bartenders or home bartenders? What were you thinking about the after process?
Kunal: So traditionally, gin is a great mixer. It can used in a number of cocktails, gin, and tonic, as simple as that. To be honest with you, during our travels, during our understanding and research of the gin, we knew that it can be drunk in any way people like, whichever way you want to mix it.
The most important thing would be how a bartender or how anybody else would try to experiment with an Indian gin. If we put ourselves in their shoes, how they would be experiencing it, we thought that, if they have an idea and they associate Jaisalmer with India and they think about India, they think that, India means maybe spicy.
Yes. India means maybe a lot of colors, maybe a lot of flowers and fruits and everything. So, if they’re able to register that, In their mindset, then they can do whatever they want to do. Whatever they want to mix it with. Then let them do it because we have to just showcase to them that it reminds you of Indian flavors.
If you strengthen that fact, like for example, the new world whiskies, once it was only Scottish, now Japanese, Australia, Indian, everybody’s on the scene. This was a new world gin. So, what we have to do, we have to just enhance the fact that the country of origin, where it is being produced, is India. Try to associate it with India and accordingly, they will register that India means this flavor and let them do whatever they want to do.
Susan: In India, traditionally, what is the preferred gin cocktail?
Kunal: To be honest, what happens is that the majority of people in India are brown spirits drinker. They love their spirits, but the majority of them are brown spirits drinkers. Most of them are whisky drinkers. Lately, due to a lot of travel and Indians going abroad, generally things happening in Europe, the gin scene is exploding everywhere.
Everybody started experimenting with white spirits. First, it was vodka, now it is gin which has become hugely popular in past four, five years. So not only us, there are five to six other Indian craft gins which have just sprung up suddenly over the last five years. So, people are, again, following the west in terms of gin.
They know their whisky. Trust me, they know their whisky. They know how to drink their whisky, but gin, it’s the new kid on the block for them. As of now, trust me, in the next coming years, apart from the Gin and Tonic and the cocktails which we’re having right now, there will be different gin scenes in India.
Then, we will be creating any number of things, I would say any number of things. Not only that, even I would say, cuisine has incorporated gin. I remember with Jaisalmer; I went to Auckland in New Zealand. I had an Indian dessert infused with Jaisalmer. It was called the Gulab Ginmun. The actual name is Gulab Jammun.
It’s a fried sweet milk-solid bowl. It’s brown in color and they infused gin into it and it was fabulous. People are not only experimenting gin with drinks. They are experimenting with drinks in Indian cuisine. That was amazing. It’s just a matter of time.
Susan: Of course, it’s so ironic that the Gin and Tonic was invented in India. Yet, no one in India was drinking it, except for the British. No, we’re going to have our brown spirits…until now.
If someone, a home bartender buys one of the bottles of your gin, what are the things do you think that they should try first with it? Are there any specific, easy cocktails that you recommend to start off with?
Kunal: I’ve been honest with you, it’s quite exciting and fun in these unprecedented times, where most of us have become a home bartender. I think you would agree with me with this. I’m making cocktails be it stupid or be it good at it .
it’s a matter of luck if I get it right. It gives you confidence to be honest and it gives you a kick to make a nice cocktail. You can present it to your guests out there. So, for the home bartenders, I would say, keep it simple at home. If somebody visits you, you can tell a story and then you can say this, see, this is a G and T, it’s an Indian gin G and T. It’s not only Indian tonic water, but it’s an Indian gin. Other person just gets mesmerized with the thought of, oh, it’s an Indian Gin and Tonic and just with some orange peel as a garnish. It’s amazing.
Susan: So, what would you consider the Jaisalmer perfect serve?
Kunal: I would say, again, it’s about India. This cocktail would be called, Made in India. You can take Jaisalmer Gin, a homemade Vetiver Syrup or you can buy it from a supermarket, a dash of orange bitters, concentrate of Darjeeling or Himalayan tea, and just build it over ice with a balloon glass, garnish with dehydrated oranges or a basil spray. There you go!
Susan: Ooo, that sounds great. And how about the perfect serve, is there one Gin and Tonic, is there a special lemon peel or orange peel or lime, what do you suggest brings out the best?
Kunal: I think it’s a twisted orange peel that brings it out really nicely. It compliments this amazingly because it already has got orange peel inside the recipe.
Susan: Which means I’ll have to change mine because I had put in a lime, so next time.
Kunal: That’s fine.
Susan: My next one will be with an orange peel. Do you have any other stories that you can tell me about the gin and the creation?
Kunal: Apart from the creation and the travel and the recipe we conceived, with Jaisalmer Gin, we have seen a lot of great food pairings on the world. Indian cuisine has really burst onto the scene. As you know, Indian curries have a huge impact in the UK, Chicken Tikka Masala is supposed to be the national dish of the UK, which is actually from India.
Gin really compliments Indian cuisine well. Across the globe, in fact, people are using different kinds of ingredients. For example, we were traveling to Singapore and Malaysia, they were using Laska leaves, a kind of curry leaves which are grown locally, with the Jaisalmer cocktails.
They called it “Back to Home” because, again, this was a British colony, Singapore, and the cocktail traveled from the UK to India to Singapore. The bartender brought all the good things from the UK and India to Singapore, and used the gin. The cocktail was named “Back to Home.” Indian restaurants, Indian cuisine is bursting on the scene. It’s been a pleasure seeing Jaisalmer being served with that as an authentic gin from India rather than any English or London Dry Gin, so it’s a great honor. I would say that’s heartening, trust me.
Susan: In your travels, have you ever seen it being used some way other than the food? That just was so surprising to you, you never thought you saw the gin being used that way
Kunal: Yeah, As I told you one was that because that was a dessert, that Gulab Ginmun I mentioned to you. Apart from that, in France, if I remember correctly, there’s a festival called Cocktail Street. People are enjoying music, having fun, drinking. We happened to see a Jaisalmer Peppertini, which, again, reminded people of Indian spices.
They used Jaisalmer with peppercorns and pepper infusion. It was supposedly delicious. And again, I saw how things changed. It was like a five to six hour gathering there. Initially, I would say that, nobody was interested in it, but slowly, slowly as the night progressed, people were just hogging that stand So again, all these experiences in the past three years, they’ve helped us know where our gin stands; what we did and what our master blender did. I’ve put a lot of hard work behind this. It haspaid off.
Susan: Now World Gin Day is right around the corner.
Susan: Are you celebrating any way special? Are you going to be making a special cocktail for it? Is there anything on the horizon that we should look out for the next weekend?
Kunal: Yes, we are making a craft cocktail which actually was not invented by us, but we want to popularize it. It is made using local Indian ingredients in New York and giving the name behind the cocktail.
We are showing that as well. It’s one of the cities of cocktails. There are many other recipes which we are coming up which are still under wraps, but the one which I’m talking about, I can share with you. It’s called “Dunes and Daisies,” which was actually done by a New York bartender. It’s got Jaisalmer Gin, pineapple and again, an ingredient invented in India known specifically for these medicinal properties, turmeric. So, turmeric with pineapple lime juice, as well as reduced pineapple juice. And again, garnished with half a slice of pineapple. Trust me, it’s my personal favorite. It’s lovely.
Susan: It sounds amazing. It sounds amazing. Now I always ask anyone I interview a final question which is: if you could be having any cocktail anywhere right now, where would that be?
Kunal: If you would have asked me this question three years back, I would’ve said a certain place, a certain bar, or a certain area, but now, to be honest with you, I would love to enjoy my dream. To have that feeling, to relive those moments with people, people who are enjoying life, people who are talking, dancing, drinking, and see the atmosphere.
I want to relive that atmosphere in this unprecedented time. Whether it’s Chile, Peru, New York, Miami, I don’t care. It’s just to be in that place where a bunch of people do not have to wear any masks. We don’t need to socially distance ourselves from anybody. We can just have a normal chat ,conversation, soak in that atmosphere.
Susan: Well, cheers to that. I can’t wait as well. Tonight, I’m actually going to my first bar!
Susan: Like, inside for a year and a half.
Kunal: Lovely. Lucky!
Susan: I totally understand that. It was so thrilling to have you, as I said I long to get back to India. I feel like, through you, I’ve been there. Every time I take a sip, I’m there. So, thank you so much for joining me.
Kunal: I appreciate chatting with you.
Susan: You too.
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