Add the flavours of Central and South America to your bar with a selection of spirits that star the agave, sugarcane and grape
The Americas may not be on our travel itineraries for a while longer, but we can experience it vicariously — via the native spirits of the region. Full of flavour, these form the base of some exquisite cocktails finding fans across the globe, and now they are available in India (selectively available in markets such as Maharashtra, Delhi, Gurgaon and Bengaluru). The prices may just break the bank, but their appeal in your bar is unparalleled.
I attended a mezcal tasting in 2017 hosted by Sergio Inurrigarro, a Master Mezcalier (the only certification endorsed by the Mexican government). Mezcal, like tequila, is an agave-based spirit. The key difference is that while the latter can only be made from one type of agave, the Agave Tequilana or the Blue Weber, the former can be made from up to 30 different types of agave. Inurrigarro did an expert job of guiding us through the four different mezcal brands. He also explained the importance of the kiss method (taking small sips, much like small kisses) as a way to let the enzymes in the saliva break down the alcohol. This is particularly important because the smoky, earthy spirit, he claimed, represents the purest form of alcohol. A point later reinforced by Jay Khan, owner of Coa in Hong Kong, a bar devoted to agave spirits. He explained his passion for the agave succinctly: “These spirits are the only ones that express their flavour naturally.” (The Caffeinated Negroni, with a splash of mezcal, is one of their signatures. So good, I had two!)
Captivated by the brands I drank that evening, I searched for them locally, only to be bitterly disappointed. Flash forward to 2021, and we have not one, but three mezcal brands available in the market: Creyente (represented by Monika Enterprises, ₹7,400*), Perro de San Juan (represented by Two Friends, ₹9,975*), and Mezcal Meteoro (represented by The Vault, ₹11,600*). And although it may be late to the party, it very much appears to be a product that can ride the premiumisation wave in India, a trend that will parallel what we have seen over recent years internationally.
Of late, it has gained considerable popularity among consumers and has also become a darling of the bartender community. “I love mezcal because of its extraordinary smoky character,” says Santanu Chanda, from Home in New Delhi. “While making a mezcal drink, you can use it as an aroma [such as spray, mist, etc], but it also works radiantly as the main spirit, especially in ‘sour’ drinks.”
Meanwhile, Keshav Prakash of The Vault feels that mezcal (and the other spirits profiled here) are going to be at the fore very soon and they “might run concurrent with gin post its euphoria”.
This spirit from South America is one I’ve unsuccessfully searched for in India until now. The Vault has recently introduced Capucana, a premium cachaca brand in India. The distilled spirit is made from sugarcane juice and can be considered the national spirit of Brazil. It reaches its apex in a cocktail called the Caipirinha. Visitors to the Oberoi in Mumbai can enjoy one.
Capucana comes from the Piracicaba region of Brazil, and the name literally means ‘House of Canes’. It’s produced in the oldest cachaçera in Piracicaba, and the distinctive drink is a blend of nine varieties of fermented sugarcane from three farms — all distillates of different ages — which are matured for three years in American oak barrels. It has the grassiness of a typical Cachaca, but also a mellowness that comes from the time it spends in barrels.
A pisco break
I’ve always been a fan of the Pisco Sour and was pleasantly surprised to find out that Peru has a National Pisco Sour Day in February. Even better, they’d called me, not to Peru of course, but to the house of the Deputy Chief of Mission, to celebrate the day with them. In the house to talk about pisco — and La Botija, the brand imported by Monika Enterprises — was Dushyant Tanwar, their brand ambassador.
Pisco for those unclear, is a grape brandy, a spirit distilled from wine. Any one of eight varieties of grapes can be used, but the one I drank, La Botija’s Pisco Quebranta (₹4,499*), is distilled Quebranta grape juice, the widest grape varietal grown in Peru for the production of pisco.
Clay jars for storing Pisco | Photo Credit: KARI
We started the evening by tasting the pisco neat. It’s drier in style, with aromas and flavours of fruits and some spice and, as Dushyant explained, in the case of the Peruvian pisco, nothing can be added to the spirit after distillation. Also, it’s bottled straight from the still. The Pisco Sour followed, as did two variations of it, the Amazonian Sour made with bananas and the Inca Sour, with avocados.
Given the slump in the hospitality industry pan India, it was good to see the diplomatic community playing ambassador for their nation’s spirits, with the Mexican embassy supporting the launch of Creyente Mezcal in Gurugram earlier this year.
Maybe a flight of fancy, but do you think someday we might see an Indian diplomat on a foreign mission, organise a feni or mahua tasting? Until then, let’s raise that glass of Pisco Sour high and enjoy.
* All pricing for Maharashtra
The writer is CEO of Tulleeho and co-founder of 30 Best Bars India
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