Discover why it’s just the be-gin-ning for this talented Goan-based team!
By Ashima Sethi
A few years ago marked the beginning of Sakshi Saigal, Rahul Mehra, and Vidur Gupta’s journey into the multifaceted business of alcohol. Sakshi was working towards an MBA in Barcelona, Spain; Vidur was studying in the UK; and Rahul had just set up a craft brewery in Mumbai. The trio were always cocktail enthusiasts, but their various positions across the world ended up giving them the perfect vantage point to observe the start of the global gin revolution.
This led the trio to wonder why India wasn’t up to speed, despite the fact that many gin manufacturers looked to the nation to source their botanicals. In digging deeper, they discovered that there was no domestic, quality product that conveyed the story they wanted to tell about India. To change that, they established Third Eye Distillery, home to Stranger & Sons, in Goa.
Why did you choose Goa?
Goa is the beating heart of our narrative. A special place for most Indians, it’s where the cuisine, architecture, and culture of India and Portugal come together. Among the nation’s most fertile states, Goa was a natural choice because of its lush expanse of spice farms, giving us the ideal playground to experiment and perfect the recipe for our three-dimensional spirit.
The mace, cassia bark, liquorice, black pepper, and nutmeg that perfume our gin are sourced from farms surrounding our distillery. We also engage with the local community for peeling the Indian citrus, and making pickles and cordials from the remaining fruits. When we aren’t distilling, you’ll find us sitting on a porch sipping on cocktails made using our pickles!
What was your inspiration behind creating a truly authentic Indian gin?
It was an opportunity to tell the story of a new India through an interesting medium, gin. We chose gin not only because we enjoyed drinking it, but it was a completely lean market that almost nobody had explored. Moreover, India’s diverse agricultural heritage, and being one of the youngest nations with a wide set of people exposed to international cultures, we couldn’t think of a better time or place to produce our gin!
Furthermore, what makes Stranger & Sons interesting is how we celebrate our complex history while recognising India in its current context instead of the stereotypical version of palaces and elephants. Embracing this wonderful strangeness inherent to India through our gin allows consumers to connect with our story and brand in a very organic manner.
Can you tell us about your creative process and how you conceptualised the brand?
Stranger & Sons captures the essence of India in every bottle for the curious consumer. The ‘Strange’ is an ode to the diversity that this country represents. Not just the geography from region to region, but the nuanced diversity amongst people, as each person you meet will have a story unlike anything you’ve ever heard before.
The ‘& Sons’ pays homage to the multi-generational businesses in India. While still debating the name, Rahul and I got married, which in a way marked the start of this modern-day family business that’s running along with my cousin Vidur. As family traditions are a norm in India, we added ‘& Sons’ to our name as a tribute to the Indian entrepreneurial spirit.
And what about the mythical creature at the heart of all the branding?
As Indians, storytelling is in our genes. Ours begins with a strange two-tailed, three-eyed mythical being who is seldom spotted roaming the Western Ghats and is known to make appearances at dusk and dawn. She is our elusive protagonist and acts as our hat tip to myths that have come to surround India, as well as the whimsical force that permeates all we do.
While this strange being is the tangible heart of our story, there is another more abstract force at work which stems from India’s cultural diversity, the colours, the customs, the chaos, and the harmonious co-existence of it all.
Can you walk us through the distilling process?
We began by tasting approximately 400 different gins, picking out the styles that we liked best. The one thing we knew was that we wanted to create a robust gin with distinctly Indian botanicals, without any cultural appropriations to the flavour profile.
Unlike gin made in European countries, we had the problem of abundance when it came to botanicals. With so many amazing herbs, roots, spices, and citruses to choose from, we found ourselves overwhelmed. This motivated us to travel to the Netherlands, birthplace of gin, to complete a distilling course.
Once we attained the necessary knowledge and had our gin ready, we had Dimi Lezinska (Head of Brand Advocacy and Partner) offer his extensive experience and expertise to guide us through the final stages. We tasted the gin in a precise and meticulous manner until we perfected the recipe of the strange and spectacular spirit we had hoped to make.
How did you finally settle on a flavour profile?
Stranger & Sons is a three dimensional gin, where the distiller’s precision is paramount to getting the flavours right in one go, and ensuring that we are able to extract the most subtle flavours of each botanical. Our unique citrus peel mix of Indian bergamot, nimbu (Indian limes), Nagpur oranges, and gondhoraj represents different parts of the country and gives our gin a beautiful freshness on the front palate. The local pepper, coriander, and mace gives it a strong spiced middle while liquorice, cassia, and nutmeg gives it a lovely, warm sweet finish.
Just reading about your distillery, it seems like sustainability is very important to your team. How have you embraced it?
We’re mindful of our impact on the environment and one of our core commitments is to choose practices and partners that help us stay true to our sustainability goals.
From managing the distillery’s water waste to reusing the remaining fruits to make pickles and cordials, we make sure to collaborate with brands that have social consciousness built into their DNA, such as No Nasties, a brand committed to organic, fair trade and vegan clothes for our merchandise, and Corugami, which promotes the use of innovative packaging design and products made from sustainable materials that are 100 percent biodegradable. We’re always looking at ways to improve our impact on society and the environment, and with every stage of growth, we expect to do more.
The craft scene in India has really blossomed over the years. Can you offer some insight into where you think the scene is heading?
There is indeed a shift with consumers leaning towards more creative choices. Today, we see that a lot of Indian consumers are excited to try homegrown products without it being a compromise, and brands like ours are able to ensure our high standards. Moreover, with India’s growing cocktail culture, consumers are open to trying new, atypical cocktails as well as local products and that has definitely contributed to the rise of craft producers.
Gin has definitely caught the attention of consumers in India. Though its presence in its current form is limited to the main metro cities, gin is going through an extremely exciting phase and is still transcending into the mainstream and I think we definitely played an important role in highlighting the above.
What were some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome regarding establishing a gin brand in India?
India has always been known for the sheer volume of alcohol it produces, and the distilleries are mostly large-scale, daunting structures and it’s difficult to contract distil small quantities, which is often the way for craft distillers to begin their journey. Furthermore, India follows a federal system of laws and when it comes to alcohol, the guidelines and regulations vary across each state. Adding to the challenge, each local market brings a new, diverse consumer base which makes the experience thrilling!
With the ongoing pandemic, have you faced challenges in trying to expand?
It’s been an extremely tough time for the hospitality industry, but thanks to our team’s creativity and persistence, we never lost sight of our consumers, favourite bars, and bartenders.
During the pandemic, we launched ‘Strange Times’ bottled cocktails in collaboration with Singapore’s leading bars as an initiative to support the trade. We also shipped bottles to 100,000 homes across the UK when we got selected as the first Indian brand for Craft Gin Club, and successfully launched India’s first distilled cocktail with seasonal pink guavas called Perry Road Peru in collaboration with The Bombay Canteen.
What do you plan for your global reach?
We’re currently available in the UK, Singapore, Thailand and the UAE, and we look forward to launching in Australia, Mauritius, New Zealand, and more very soon.
Why did you choose Thailand?
We really appreciate bars who keep our product centre stage on their shelves and all the bartenders who support our work by creating some of the fi nest cocktails we’ve ever tried. It’s rewarding when we win prestigious awards such as Gold Outstanding at IWSC 2020 (we’re one of only eight gins to receive this recognition) and many more including the most recent Master Medal at The Spirits Business Asian Spirits Masters 2021, and Gold at The Drinks Business & Spirits Business Blind Tasting 2021.
Given that Thailand is home to some of the best bars in Asia and is really making its mark in the global cocktail scene, it just made sense to introduce our gin to this exciting market with a thriving cocktail culture. We’ve experienced this first-hand during our visits, so it didn’t take us long to realise that it was the right step. Our seriousness for the market is backed by our brand advocacy programme (Saimai, Arron Grendon, and Kenny Thianthong) and a robust calendar of trade and consumer promotions for the year!
How is the gin positioned in the market?
Across all of our markets we are positioned as a premium, inherently Indian gin with a three-dimensional flavour profile that showcases the diversity that India represents.
What kind of target markets are you looking for?
Our focus has always been centered on cocktail bars, luxury hotels, and traditional retail. However, we are always exploring new opportunities and would love it if someone decided to have an Indian spirited gin at their wedding!
What is the gin best paired with?
Our signature serves reflect the all-day versatility of our gin while paying homage to the Indian tradition of making fruit cordials and pickles and can be paired with a plethora of dishes. They range from flavourful gimlets perfect for sipping under the sun to deliciously savoury gibsons ideal for after dark.
Strange G&T (Stranger & Sons 45 ml, Indian tonic water 120 ml, and ginger) heroes an ingredient found in every kitchen in India – a slice of ginger, which brings out the balance of the botanicals, resulting in a refreshing, aromatic thirst quencher.
Strange Gibson: Stranger & Sons 50 ml, dry vermouth 10 ml, pickled onion brine 15 ml
Strange Gimlet: Stranger & Sons 60 ml, gondhoraj cordial 20 ml, cardamom tincture 1 drop
Do you have any big plans for the near future that we should keep a tab on?
From the get go, Third Eye Distillery was never built as a one product company. There are so many things we’re working on at the moment when it comes to innovation and new releases, no thought goes untested, and no idea wins without a fight! One thing we know for sure is that the product we release next won’t just be another bottle on the shelf, it will add to the conversation we’ve started, and be integral to taking our cocktail culture to the next level.
Find Stranger & Sons at Stella at Capella Bangkok, BKK Social Club at the Four Seasons Bangkok, ABar at Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, Tropic City, Havana Social, Teens of Thailand, and Sugar Ray, You’ve Just Been Poisoned. Or, buy a bottle at Gourmet Market Emporium and Paragon, Leone Ari and Pathumthani, and Prawaski Thonglor.