Liven up drinks with homegrown liqueurs

Liqueurs work like flavour bombs in cocktails.  (Istockphoto)
Liqueurs work like flavour bombs in cocktails. (Istockphoto)


Indian liqueurs are trickling into the homegrown cocktail scene, and it’s time to give them a try

Homegrown spirits, from gins to whiskies and rums, are filling shelves, but there is a made-in-India alcohol category that’s slowly coming into focus. Indian liqueurs are trickling in, and it’s time to give them a try.

In January, Kumaon-based Himmaleh Spirits—the makers of Kumaon & I gin—introduced a cold brew coffee liqueur, Bandarful. It uses regional rice varieties, like Noori basmati rice from Uttarakhand, locally sourced brown sugar and single-estate Arabica coffee beans from Chikmagalur. In 2018, Goa-based liquor brand DesmondJi introduced mahua-based liqueur, DJ Mahua Liqueur, made with the eponymous flower from central India. Quaffine, another Goa-based cold-brewed coffee liqueur brand, launched in 2020. All of these can be enjoyed on their own mixed with ice, soda or chilled water.

Although there are a handful of made-in-India liqueurs, it’s hard to spot them in bars. Brands like the French Cointreau, Italian Sambuca and Mexican Kahlua are more commonplace. Do Indian bars prefer imported liqueurs over homegrown ones? Prantik Haldar, Beverage Innovations Head of Mumbai’s The Bombay Canteen says, “We don’t necessarily prefer imported liqueurs over homegrown ones. It’s more about availability. We often use liqueurs like amaretto, limoncello and Baileys, which aren’t locally made or widely available here. In India, we have some homegrown liqueurs like coffee liqueur, sambuca, and triple sec, but the variety is limited. Indian distillers can look at introducing liqueurs like amaretto, which goes into many classic cocktail recipes. It will attract more customers compared to less familiar options."

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Despite the limitations to homegrown liqueurs in bars, the segment is picking up. Rajasthan’s heritage liqueurs, known locally as asaav and dating to the 15th and 16th centuries, need a special mention. They were made with herbs and were known for their medicinal rather than intoxicating properties. In 2005, the former Mahansar royal family of Shekhawati in Rajasthan took the onus of reviving these heritage liqueurs. They launched the Maharani Mahansar range of liqueurs, featuring the saffron-flavoured Somras, the rose-based Shahi Gulab and the citrusy Narangam (orange). It takes 8-10 days to process liqueurs from herbs, spices, dry fruits, flowers and fruit with generations-old recipes. For now, these are available in Rajasthan, Haryana, Delhi, Punjab, Madhya Pradesh, Daman, Diu, Silvasa and Goa. “We aim to be pan-India brand by 2025. We will also start exporting to Australia, New Zealand, United Arab Emirates and Japan soon," says Surendra Pratap Singh, managing director of Shekhawati Heritage Herbal, the parent company of the brand.

In 2006, Goa’s Adinco Distilleries launched Cabo White Rum With Coconut Liqueur, which has since gained a cult following. Solomon Diniz, managing director of Adinco Distilleries, dislikes Cabo being compared to Caribbean Malibu and strongly advocates its provenance as a spirit-liqueur hybrid made by infusing natural coconut extract in white rum. Diniz aims to export it to Thailand soon.

The gin market is crowded and rum is picking up, but the liqueur industry has ample space for experiments and new launches. With the rise of cocktail culture and popularity of indigenous ingredients, homegrown liqueurs will get the much-needed impetus.

To end on a sweet note, enjoy Bandarful like a dessert shot. Mix 30ml of Bandarful with 15ml of caramel sauce and coconut cream each, shake with ice and pour into a waffle cone. Garnish with roasted marshmallow and raise a toast.

Sayoni Bhaduri is a lifestyle journalist based in Mumbai.

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