India is witnessing a gin revolution since the last decade and it is said to be picking up pace. But it still remains in its early stages, and as a result, we are seeing more and more Indian gin brands crop up in various parts of the country. Said to be best enjoyed with tonic – G&T has its separate fandom – the botanicals come alive when consumed with tonic water. But here comes a gin, from the house of Himmaleh Spirits, that the makers want you to experiment with. Say hello to Kumaon & I, India’s first provincial gin.
Uttarakhand Gets Its First Gin Distillery
While Goa is a state that time after time is carrying on the baton of being the gin-producing state (more than 15 brands emerge from the sunshine state), Uttarakhand with its naturally growing botanicals and spices gets its first gin distillery.
Himmaleh Spirits invited me to come down for an experiential and see the process first-hand. And, boy, it was something! Started by family friends, Ansh Khanna (28) and Samarth Prasad (24), Himmaleh Spirits aims to put Uttarakhand on the distillery map. They have launched their first spirit, i.e. Kumaon & I gin, India’s first provincial gin with 100% traceability of its botanicals and spices.
The distillery is located close to IIM-Kashipur, inside Udham Singh Nagar district. The area is rapidly growing, you will see a stark contrast in the skyline of Kashipur in the next 5 years. You would easily mistake it for a farmhouse when passing by the distillery. Because it looks like one. My first impression of it was that it looked like a holiday home and I am checking into it. (Wouldn’t mind, per se!). Designed beautifully by Studio Lotus, there is a reason that it looks a certain way. In the near future, the plans are to open up a restaurant and who knows, maybe, a stay option too. It is spread across four acres, so there is ample opportunity for that.
Greeted by a small oasis of ingredients and select botanicals growing in their own garden, the hard-to-miss “Farm To Bottle” signage reflects their intent quite positively. As we tour the facility, we are introduced to the vision, the concept and the brand ethos.
From Distilling To Bottling, All Of It Happens Under One Roof
It is not a cakewalk to come up in the spirits and beverages business and things take time to cook. Intent may be the first step, but what comes after that is what gives form to it. Samarth and Ansh put their brains together and then ultimately their team to achieve what they set out to do — craft premium artisanal spirits that enhance and put the Kumaon region on the map.
Ask them how much recce went into the making and how many gin distilleries they toured, Ansh answers, “Between Japan, UK, USA, and Ireland, we’ve done our fair share of distillery visits and research to ensure that the Himmaleh Spirits distillery sets the global standard for distilleries.”
As we continue with the tour, we are introduced to the various components of gin-making. But the star of the whole unit (after the finished gin, of course) is the one-of-a-kind 1000-litre Hungarian Copper pot still from the world’s most technologically advanced still maker. A key thing to note here is that the gin is made from a freshwater source which is located close to the distillery.
“Our Gin is made from fresh Himalayan spring water and a careful curation of 11 regional botanicals that are distilled at source for 9 hours — to extract the maximum flavour, lending a distinct texture to the spirit,” say Samarth and Ansh.
Not just the distillation, the bottling also takes place here. Housing a distillation unit, a laboratory to test out flavours and do R&D, and even a tasting room upstairs, the distillery is designed on the principles of minimalism in terms of look & feel and maximalism in terms of output.
I am pretty sure that once the whole set-up is complete, the walls will tell a different story. But what we were an audience to is a classy and minimalistic place that has a touch of inspiration donning the shelves and walls. Be it in the Aipah artwork (which is a GI-tagged ritualistic folk art native to the Kumaon region) that inspired the logo of the gin or a miniature copper still that is reflective of the space; it is all in these small details. And. how beautifully they have captured it.
How Is Kumaon & I Uttarakhand In A Bottle?
What makes a gin unique? On a surface level, one can always point towards the botanicals, ENA and spices used to make it. Kumaon & I has 11 such botanicals and spices indigenous to the region. The botanicals used in making Kumaon & I are:
- Himalayan Juniper berries, available in the foothills of Himalayas
- Timur, a berry-like Szechuan pepper,
- Black turmeric, that’s cultivated above 10,000 feet and can be foraged,
- Galgal, a local citrus variety,
- Kinu (Kinnow), Uttarakhand’s Tangerine
- Coriander Seeds
- Thuner, a yew native to the Himalayan region
- Walnuts, sourced from their family estate
- Black Cardamom
- Kalmegh, a bark known for its health benefits
But why is it called a provincial gin? Samarth takes the floor to explain, “Kumaon & I is a 100% traceable Gin, which means that every ingredient and botanical used can be traced back to a local community of farmers, foragers, and harvesters in Uttarakhand. Our hyperlocal approach ensures circularity of ingredients and eco-conscious farming, helping us foster sustainable progress for the region. Our use of only regional botanicals enables us to create a Gin that truly represents the spirit of Uttarakhand, making it India’s first premium provincial dry Gin.”
Even the bottle, which looks like a work of art, shows why it is a Uttarakhand on the bottle. He adds, “We celebrate the region through our logo and bottle design as well, which draw inspiration from the traditions and culture that unite the Kumaon community. The black circles symbolise the circularity of sustainable farming, while the lines embody the commitment to traceability through local sourcing and the dedication to the ‘farm to bottle’ ethos. The colours (white and red) trace their roots to Aipan, a local hand-painted art form drawn on a smooth surface of wet ochre mud (geru), which is red. A white paste (Bisvar), made by grounding cooked rice in water, is used by women to draw patterns on this surface.”
What are the tasting notes?
Further, we also engaged in a fun tasting of their product and it was an eye-opener. Why? Because we not only decoded each of the botanicals and the spice that went into the gin step-by-step, but we also learnt a great deal about the method of tasting. Breathwork, how to hold the glass, how to whiff and exhale, and more nuanced details. It is truly an art and personally a great experience for me.
We picked botanicals and understood their core flavours and how they come across in the gin. My personal favourites are timur and thenur. The black haldi is strong and it has too many health benefits to list. Same goes for kalmegh. The most interesting addition, according to me, is rose. Chances are you will not be able to even identify it if it is not pointed out to you.
Now if you ask me how I liked it? Well, it was almost Christmas in a glass for me. I think I could pinpoint the spices more than the citrusy notes. Interestingly, how one perceives the taste is very personal and quite literally, to each their own. But overall, the tasting notes are supposed to be “cool spicy peppercorns, citrus, and herbal rainforest nose, with a rich textural palate, and a medium dry long finish”.
While they want you to experiment with how to consume their Dry gin, it is also recommended to down it in a classic G&T style or make a Negroni with it. I preferred G&T and Negroni was not enjoyed by me as much. I am anyway a G&T person, and I think the flavours come out beautifully when it is mixed with tonic water. But yes, I really like the bottle. It is classy and also a bit edgy. The design is such that one will surely ask about inspiration behind it. And when you get to know that and the roots, it is quite alluring.
Ask them if any of the botanicals are GI-tagged, Samarth quips, “At the moment, no. For Kumaon & I, none of the botanicals are GI-tagged as per the Government of India. These are unique botanicals that are not so widely known yet, as they are extremely provincial to this region and often used in local food.”
I did ask them about how many tasting sessions were conducted before finalising the exact flavour profile of the Kumaon & I and what the deciding factor in the current flavour profile was. To which, Samarth says, “As our Gin contains new botanicals that have never been used before, we initially faced challenges in learning how to use these botanicals in our production process. We overcame this by studying each ingredient closely, understanding if they mirror more widely used botanicals, and running several production trials. After some trial and error, we were able to achieve the right balance, ensuring our botanicals sing together rather than just co-exist.”
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What’s interesting to note is that in Uttarakhand, there are many local fermented alcoholic beverages. Instead of a Jaan or Chakti or Daru, I asked them why they picked gin. To which Ansh replies, “Our first and foremost goal when we started was that we didn’t set out to produce a specific beverage category, rather we wanted to showcase the beauty of Uttarakhand in any way we could. Through our exploration of the region’s rich terroir, we discovered that it was home to several unique botanicals, some of which had never been used in Gin before. For example, the Timur berry, which is a type of pepper that is unique to the region and commonly used to make chutneys. Thus, we set out to produce a provincial Gin – a spirit that represents the region in its totality. We had many options when it came to picking which botanicals to use. Later, we were able to narrow down on the best botanicals that truly represent the Kumaon region in its best form.”
In the pipeline are plans to open up the distillery for tasting tours and have a restaurant on the premises too. Ask them if it could probably be opening doors as a resort in a distant future, Samarth answers, “The idea is not to take away from the existing tourism in the region but to add more to it. The region already offers beautiful hospitality choices and our idea with the distillery is to give people more experiences that highlight everything the region has to offer – art, flavours, culture, and everything in between.”
Given the location and the idea they have charted out with it is going to be what wineries have done in India, especially in Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, with its scenic locales, crisp air, and gorgeous landscape offers visitors another unique experience. Since it is about 1 hour away from popular resorts like The Taj Corbett & Spa, Club Mahindra Corbett Resort, The Riverview Retreat Corbett, etc, people coming for the Jim Corbett experience can certainly opt for this one too. By early next year (in 2024), Himmaleh Spirits will be ready to open doors to the public for tours and tastings, and that is certainly something to look forward to.
Where Is Kumaon & I Currently Available?
Uttarakhand, Goa, Gurgaon, Maharashtra, Haryana, and very soon in Karnataka. They are looking at USA, Canada, UK, France, Italy, Singapore, Thailand, Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia, too, to expand in global markets by the end of FY 2023-24.
Cost of the bottle: ₹2,700 (Uttarakhand)
Where (Distillery): Himmaleh Spirits, Plot no 2A, Sector 4, Distt, IIE, Escort Farm, Kashipur, Uttarakhand 244713
Cost of the distillery tour: TBA when it opens
The editor was invited for an experience by the Team Himmaleh Spirits
Cover Image Courtesy: Supplied & Rachna Srivastava
PS: Consumption of alcohol is injurious to health. Be safe, don’t drink and drive.
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