Founded in 2018, Stranger & Sons is an Indian company that makes gin at its distillery in Goa. The spirit of the brand lies in the country’s agricultural diversity and traditions. The emphasis is on bringing gin to the table that tastes inherently Indian. The company uses botanicals like black pepper, coriander, mace and nutmeg to make its spirits.
The brand’s gin is available in Goa, Mumbai, Pune, London, Singapore and Thailand and they plan to expand in the near future. On World Gin Day, we spoke to Co-Founders Vidur Gupta, Sakshi Saigal and Rahul Mehra.
What was the idea behind founding this company?
Many international gin brands speak of having origins in India, but one look at the back label and it’s clear that it was made anywhere, but here. We realised that this could be an opportunity to tell our story through gin as, historically, the liquid has a connection with India (The gin & tonic cocktail was introduced by the army of the British East India Company in India. In India and other tropical regions, malaria was a persistent problem. In the 1700s Scottish doctor George Cleghorn studied how quinine, a traditional cure for malaria, could be used to prevent the disease. The quinine was drunk in tonic water, however, the bitter taste was unpleasant. British officers in India in the early 19th century took to adding a mixture of water, sugar, lime and gin to the quinine in order to make the drink more palatable, thus gin and tonic was born. Soldiers in India were already given a gin ration, and the sweet concoction made sense.)
That’s when we knew it was time to build a gin, which is truly Indian and can not just proudly sit on the shelves of the top bars in the world, but fit in just as well in the colourful and vibrant bars in the bylanes of Fontainhas in Panjim.
Why did you set up the distillery in Goa?
Among India’s most fertile states, Goa was a natural choice for us for its lush expanse of spice farms. The mace, cassia bark, licorice and nutmeg that perfumes our gin are sourced from spice farms surrounding our distillery, making Goa not only a key player in India’s spice trade for years, but also the heart of our narrative. It has also been the traditional seat of the alcohol trade in India since the time Portuguese governed the state.
What kind of gin-related trends you’ve noticed lately?
Internationally, many bars experiment with gin cocktails, especially the speakeasy bars. You won’t find a simple gin & tonic in a premium bar in London, but you will see a lot of classic cocktails like the Gimlets & Last Word making a comeback. A Negroni, for example, is really popular and now in India too you’ll find it listed in bar menus. Globally, bars are moving back to the classic cocktails, but these will take some time to reach Indian bars because it’s difficult to find liqueurs like Chartreuse or Vermouth that are essentials for any bar serving cocktails.
India is primarily a whisky-consuming nation. Are Indian consumers warming up to gin?
People travel and that’s always a big influence when you watch trends move from country to country. The gin tonic trend (at least the way we know it today) started in Spain, which was always known for its wines and sangrias, but suddenly Spain became synonymous with gin & tonic. This spread to Europe eventually made inroads in urban India by way of a small demand for imported gins. Gin & tonic, a classic, easy-to-drink, easy-to-serve cocktail works best in hot, tropical climate. Hence, it wasn’t too long before the Indian market saw a steady rise in imported gins. Today, many Indian consumers are willing to try a good Indian product and the same goes for an inherently good Indian gin.
What’s the consumer profile like?
For a spirit like a whisky or vodka, you could possibly have an age group, but that’s not the case with gin. We have seen people from all age groups enjoying something as simple as a gin & tonic to making cordials and pickles at home for their Gibsons & Gimlets. It can be a casual drink as well as a complex drink.
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When do Indians prefer drinking gin?
There is no defined occasion to have gin, it is a spirit that can be enjoyed from dawn to dusk as well as from dusk to dawn. Keeping in mind the diversity of colours, languages, spices, culture, cuisines and craftsmanship in India; Stranger & Sons has curated a few ways to drink gin that highlights our well-defined gin.
Gin & Tonic: A cocktail that was born in India during the British rule, easy-to-make with a strange twist that brings about another layer of zest and spice by adding a humble and handy slice of ginger.
Gibson: It is a variation to a Martini style of cocktail, where the usage of pickled vegetables and dried fruits come to life and bring the Indian craft of pickling into the curation of this cocktail.
Gimlet: The inheritance of cordial/sherbets with infusions of various fruits and Indian ingredients was something that every Indian household serves a guest.
What is your manufacturing and supply process like?
Stranger & Sons is a three-dimensional gin with robust and generous flavours. We source different types of citrus fruits representing different parts of the country. This is what gives it a beautiful freshness to start with. The local pepper, coriander and mace give a strong spiced middle palate. Liquorice, cassia and nutmeg give it a lovely, warm and sweet finish. Ensuring that we are batch distilled, lends a soft, smooth mouthfeel. Cut in our high precision still and rested for five weeks; helps condition, amalgamate and bring all the flavours together before we bottle it. The versatility of our gin provides bartenders with a very solid foundation for any cocktail and a variety of flavours to play with, and we hope we always encourage people to do that. Each state in India has different laws and regulations when it comes to sales and distribution of alcohol. Distilleries aren’t allowed to sell directly to consumers so we work with distributors in each state to sell.
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With every batch of our inherently Indian gin, we leave the first bottle for our mythical being in the jungle of the Western Ghats. Placed beneath a pug marked tree, she takes it when the jungle sleeps and the night is still. #StrangerAndSons #IndianSpiritedCocktails #InherentlyIndian #HomeGrownGin #IndianGin #Mixology #PerfectServe #Cocktails #Botanicals #CraftCocktails #Goa
What are the challenges in increasing gin sales in India?
India is primarily a whisky-drinking nation and alcohol is largely a taboo subject here. Though we know that our laws here are framed around prohibiting the consumption of liquor, they are even worse if you want to make high-quality liquor, which is why as a country, we’re largely known for the quantity or volume of things we produce rather than the quality of our products—this is something we’re committed to changing. So there are a lot of challenges in setting up your own distillery for small-batch spirits in India.
How can bars, hotels and restaurants push gins?
Today, bartenders in India enjoy an unprecedented influence over the spirit, which becomes a part of their bar. Also, with the rise of maker culture and an overwhelming emphasis on carefully chosen and high-quality native ingredients, a restaurant’s cocktail menu is fast becoming a significant contributor to why people visit it in the first place.”
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Not many things get our mythical being angry. We can’t tell you the whole story here, but safe to say, cassia bark wouldn’t have found its way into our gin if it hadn’t been for her tearing it off the bark of a cassia tree in a fit of rage. #StrangerAndSons #IndianSpiritedGin
How will the drinking experience change in the near future, in this crisis?
Home consumption is bound to increase as we have seen globally as well. As bars and restaurants haven’t opened yer, people are getting more creative with cocktail making at home.
What are your marketing strategies?
We use a lot of storytelling as a way of reinforcing our brand ethos and stories that appeal to everyone. We are affirming our strategy as we go. Taking our cue from the childhood tales we were regaled with about the mythical creatures of lore, our very own mythical creature helps us tell our stories. With the help of our brand ambassadors who build advocacy for our spirit and cocktails, we focus on using seasonal fruits and Indian elements to establish the provenance of India in our own ‘strange’ way.
What are the business plans for 2020-2021? Are you looking to expand?
Currently, we are available in Goa, Mumbai, Pune, London, Singapore and Thailand. As international travel hasn’t resumed yet, we are focusing on the domestic market and will be launching in Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Kolkata by the end of this year.
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If our beautiful bar seems familiar to you, it’s probably because it reminds you of quintessential Indian furniture. Inspired by Indian furniture heirlooms passed from generation to generation and house to house, our bar is an ode to the cabinets, cupboards and craftsmanship that played backdrop to most of our home lives. #StrangerAndSons #IndianSpiritedCocktails #InherentlyIndian #HomeGrownGin #IndianGin #Mixology #PerfectServe #Cocktails #Botanicals #CraftCocktails #Goa
Yours is a relatively young company. How are you dealing with the current economic slowdown?
Like all other businesses that are moving towards online, social interaction, we too are finding new ways to engage with our consumers online. We successfully hosted two housie parties on Instagram—all the proceeds went to NRAI’s “Feed the Needy” initiative and everyone who bought a ticket will got a Strange G&T at select bars across Mumbai, Goa and Pune. We are constantly ideating and working on new ways to engage with our audience and also support the industry, in whatever way we can.