India's growing penchant for homegrown drinks brands

Not long ago, India was known as a country that produced whisky from molasses, and the majority of sales came from the category of spirits called IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor).

However, there has been a swift shift towards grain and malt based spirits and an upward movement towards premium and quality drinks in recent times. The country’s current ruling party’s favourable #makeinIndia, #Vocalforlocal and #Supportlocal campaigns have given birth to a new breed of entrepreneurs launching homegrown and craft drinks brands in India.

The journey that began with the first Indian single malt producer, Amrut Distilleries, 15 years back has given the necessary morale boost to domestic spirits producers. Following the footsteps of Amrut, brands such as Paul John, Rampur and Wild Tiger rum first made waves in the international market and were later introduced in India owing to the rising demand from consumers. So much so that Paul John whisky has introduced all of its variants in the domestic market, barring a few with higher abv. The company also introduced its most affordable world-class single malt, called Nirvana, in the domestic market last year.

Even the blended whisky category has been hotting up as new companies are entering the market. Aman Thadani, director of business development at Fullarton Distilleries and founder of Woodburns whisky, said: “Woodburns has been a great journey for us so far. We have seen interest grow in the product month on month in both the retail and HoReCa.”

The whisky launched in Goa in March 2019 and in Mumbai in September 2019, and it had seen growth of around 450% before Covid-19 disrupted the business. “Unfortunately Covid-19 has turned the hospitality industry upside down,” said Thadani. “So while growth for us was good initially, Covid has definitely had its effect. We now are seeing growing interest in the retail side post-lockdown and have plans to expand to other states in India as well as improve our existing distribution networks in the cities and states where we already sell.”
To capitalise upon this increased demand, even global spirits producer Beam Suntory recently launched the blended Oaksmith range of whiskies, produced and sold exclusively in the Indian market. 

The drinks industry has also opened doors to homegrown gins, ciders and mead producers. At present there are eight homegrown gin brands, from which three brands – Gin Gin (India’s first hemp craft gin), Samsara (a contemporary Indian craft gin) and Terai (labeled as India Dry Gin) – are the new launches of 2020. Nao Spirits & Beverages, the company which produces Greater Than and Hapusa Gin, has become a household name now. Anand Virmani, founder, chief executive and distiller, said: “Between the two gin brands we have seen a massive growth from year one to two in the ballpark of about 10 times. This is of course great, but probably good to keep in mind that its growth from a very small base to begin with.

“Future growth is expected equally from sinking our teeth further into the 6 states and 16 countries where we are present along with carefully growing our footprint into new markets.”

The country’s first mead producer, Moonshine Meadery, has seen double-digit growth in the last two years. Rohan Rehani, co-founder, said: “Moonshine grew steadily over the last two years, buoyed by an adoption by discerning consumers who are looking for a craft beverage, which is packed with flavour and goes beyond (usually) bitter beers. We’ve taken a sustainable approach to growth, choosing to focus on increasing volumes in Maharashtra and Goa before venturing into other states.”

Even homegrown ciders and craft beers have seen a surge in demand with new brands making their way into the domestic market more often than ever before.

Rojita Tiwari is an award winning drinks writer, educator and consultant based in Mumbai, India. She can be reached at