Masala Magazine Thailand

Home » The Essential Guide to Authentic Indian Alcoholic Beverages

The Essential Guide to Authentic Indian Alcoholic Beverages

by Nikki Kumar

Be sure to take a shot of these drinks when travelling through India!


In most people’s minds, the thought of India is immediately associated with colours, spices, delicious cuisine, stunning architecture, and, yes, for many Thai-Indians, a seemingly-endless series of weddings and family reunions. However, India’s alcohol scene is often ignored, perhaps because of the sky-high alcohol tax in some states (my recent trip to Mumbai had me reeling at the 20 percent tax on a single cocktail), or the fact that some states have completely abolished liquor sales, ‘moonshine’ versions notwithstanding. Nevertheless, India’s different climates, fertile lands, and innovative people lend itself to a growing local alcohol scene, with Indian spirits winning international accolades, and an Indian whisky, Indri Diwali Collector’s Edition 2023, winning the ‘Best in Show, Double Gold’ award at the 2023 Whiskies of the World Awards. We’ve put together a list of where in India to find some of these coveted spirits, as well as lesser-known local liquors that are still worth a shot. 

It’s worth noting that many of these labels from harder-to-reach distilleries will be available at the nearest big city or state, so Haryana, Goa, Mumbai, and Delhi will carry many of these bottles. 


As anyone who has attended an Indian wedding or event where alcohol is involved will attest, whisky is the lifeblood of the celebration, especially among our beloved uncles – in fact, each year, around 6 billion litres of whisky are consumed in India. Aside from a deliciously-smooth Glinlivet or the classic Johnny Walker (Blue Label, of course), parties have now been incorporating Indian whiskies, as India has been producing labels that are considered some of the best in the world. Names such as Indri and Rampur Asava are being recognised globally, but there are plenty more single-malt labels being brewed around the country. 


Your first stop should be the state of Haryana, the home of Piccadilly Distilleries, where Indri whiskies are produced. Just started in 2021, it has produced Indri-Trini, India’s first-ever triple-barrel single malt, and the label has won numerous accolades in just the few years since it was produced. Part of the appeal of the smoky-flavoured whisky is its maturation period in PX sherry casks in North India’s subtropical climate, lending it fruity, nutty, and spiced notes. While you’re up North, consider heading even further north to Jammu, where you can find GianChad, one of India’s newer single malts, just launched in 2022. With the cooler climes, the whiskies brewed here are mellow and easy to drink, with spicy and fruity notes, and only a hint of smokiness. Brewed in swan-neck copper pots, they’re sure to be unique to the region. Or, from Haryana take a trip a little south to Uttar Pradesh, to check out the whiskies from Rampur Distillery, which are unusually robust because of the disparity in temperature between the region’s summers and winter. 

Western Coast

 If you’re heading to Goa to party, make sure to try India’s first charred whisky, from Adinco Distillery, only just produced in 2023. Called Cotombi Reserve, the whisky uses charred barrels in the production of the bourbon, and infuses it with coconut shells, toasted vanilla, and oak chips that are deep roasted for robust flavours. Other whiskies from Goa include any from Paul John Distilleries, known throughout the world and with an array of flavour profiles to satisfy even the most discerning whiskey aficionado. However, the one thing tying all the labels together is that Goa is their inspiration, whether it’s the cinnamon and spices used or simply the stunning landscapes. Fullarton Distilleries is also based in Goa, in Candepar, and it produces Woodburns Contemporary Whisky. Although it’s not a single malt, this blended whisky is unusually bold, with dark chocolate notes. Aged in charred oak barrels, it’s also won a few accolades already, and is worth a tumbler, or two. 

While you’re at the Western coast, head to Maharashtra and try the whiskies from South Seas Distilleries & Breweries, which has been brewing since the 90s but has only recently launched their first consumer-focused single-malt whisky, Crazy Cock, made by distilling six-row North Indian barley. 


If you’re heading south from Goa to Bengaluru, try the famed Amrut single malts, a household name when it comes to Indian whiskies. Their range of labels is immense, and you’ll be treated to uniquely local spice notes such as molasses and liquorice.


Gin has found a foothold in India only in recent years, but since then, its popularity has skyrocketed, thanks in part to brands like NÄO Spirits, who were at the vanguard of the trend in the country. As any gin lover (me included) will tell you, what sets gin apart is the botanicals used in its flavouring, spanning herbs, spices, fruits, and flowers. India, of course, is home to a diverse range of flora unique to the country, so it’s no surprise that the gins brewed there are distinctive and delicious. 


Deserving of a separate category by itself, no search for gin in India is complete without a visit to Goa, known in contemporary circles as the gin capital of India. The catalyst for this so-called “gin-aissance” was NÄO Spirits, who decided to make India’s first official gin label, Greater Than, in Goa, using local ingredients such as fennel, coriander, and ginger, and employing the London dry distillation process. From its popularity, Hapusa, their premium label, was born, which infused the gin with even more local flavours, including turmeric, mango, and coriander seeds, going so far as to source their juniper from the Himalayan region. Other must-try options in the region include Seqer, produced by Spirit de Goa and featuring 10 botanicals including cashews as a homage to Goa; Samsara, which has a popular pink gin label and favours flavours such as vetiver grass, orange, and Kashmiri kahwa and saffron; Jin Jiji, an Indian Dry Gin that includes tea-inspired labels; Terry Sent Me!, a label with notes of cardamom and cinnamon that’s currently only available in Goa; Satiwa, a gin that includes hemp and is a self-proclaimed “happy, high gin”; Stranger & Sons, which uses nine different botanicals, with citrus-forward flavours; and Doja, an Indo-Japanese gin with Indian spices mixed with distinctively Japanese elements such as yuzu lemon and sansho pepper.  


When you’re visiting the northern regions of India, make sure to try out Kumaon & I, made with fresh Himalayan springwater and brewed in Himmaleh Spirits, an Uttarakhand-based distillery. With a focus on local ingredients, this gin uses 11 different types of botanicals and including kalmegh bark, and is distilled for nine hours, lending it robust flavours. Or, if you’re visiting Delhi a little further south, buy a bottle of Mohulo, from Smoke Lab distillery, which uses the local mahua seed as the hero ingredient of the label, and the recipe was made by collaborating with indigenous tribes in Chhattisgarh, with proceeds going to NGOs supporting them. Alternatively, when visiting Uttar Pradesh, opt for their Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin, from the Rampur distillery, a triple-distilled gin made in a traditional copper pot that features botanicals such as lemongrass and Darjeeling green tea.


If you’re swinging by the Northeastern states, check out Cherrapunji Gin from Meghalaya, which is an ode to the Northeast of India with its hyperlocal focus, using only Northeastern botanicals and Cherrapunji rainwater. Make sure to take home the unique and eye-catching stainless steel bottle it comes in, which features art of life in Meghalaya.  


If you’re a fan of fruity gins, Great Indian Gin (GiG) is available in Pondicherry and Bengaluru, and offers options such as their Shimla green apple gin and their Nagpur orange gin. Perfect for an end-of-day gin and tonic or enjoyed plain, to really savour the flavours. 


Agave-based spirits are experiencing a renaissance around the world, with tequila touting itself as the ‘healthiest’ spirit due to its low calorie count, and discerning barflys discovering its versatility beyond ill-conceived flights of shots. India is no exception, with tequila bars recently popping up throughout the country, featuring top-shelf tequila and mescal brands. In India’s Deccan plateau, the semi-arid climate and volcanic soil rich in nutrients have provided the perfect environment to grow Agave Americana, which is usually native to just Mexico. This has allowed two agave-based brands to flourish, with more sure to come. 


 Both the brands are in Goa, so don’t miss the opportunity to check them out, maybe in bars like Barfly, which focus on agave-based spirits. Desmondji was the first brand to produce Indian ‘tequila,’ thanks to innovator Desmond Nazareth, and the spirit is distilled multiple times in pots, lending it a unique flavour. Pistola is another spirit found in Goa and made from 100 percent agave, with three varieties: Joven, Reposado, and Rosa, with the latter rested for up to three months in Cabernet Sauvignon wine barrels to lend it extra flavour. 


When visiting India, however, it’s worth it to try any of India’s array of Indian-made Indian Liquor (also known as desi daaru), which has a rich and storied history dating back centuries.  

Visit Kerala to try Toddy, a fermented drink made from coconut palm sap, which undergoes natural fermentation due to airborne yeast, resulting in a mildly sweet and tart beverage. If left to ferment further, it turns into the popular arrack. Or head to central India to try Mahua, made from fermenting Mahua flowers and flavoured with cane sugar; to Ladakh and Zalaidi to try any of India’s fruit wines; or to Goa to try the cashew-based Fenti. Or perhaps try the herbaceous Royal liqueurs in Jaipur.. Either way, they’ll be sure to raise your spirits!  

Related Articles