Strangely, the bulk of strong liquor sold in India is of the brown variety.
One might have imagined that stifling heat, the British Raj, rampant malaria and the like would have embedded gin, like the Indian Railways, into the national consciousness – but sadly seems not to be the case, but there is some hope in sight!
Seems that Scotch is the bevvy of the aspiring Indian middle classes and the local second and third class cheap Indian whiskies are for those that can’t afford the crazy prices of the real stuff. Booze is everywhere in Goa and also in Kolkata, though more discreet the drinking goes like the trains, day and night, with rhythm and intensity! Alcohol seems to have a perverse relationship with India and Indians – both despised and consumed in equal measure!
Gin is very much the poor relation, however!
Imported gin is widely available in Goa – typically Gordon’s or Bombay Saphire at around £30 – £35 + a 75 cl bottle or £3 – £4 a peg* in a bar, so if you are serious about gin as a daily dose, buy it duty free on your way in to Goa to avoid the eye watering cost of this essential!
If, however, you like going native (like me now and then) you can enjoy the local gin if you know what to look out for.
The bog standard ubiquitous Indian made gin in India is Blue Ribbon. The poshest bars will simply not stock or advertise this as they prefer to ramp up the cost of your premium spirits! Blue Ribbon is a brilliant litmus test of the kind of bar you are drinking in! I prefer this to the home brewed Gilbeys which steals some of the clothes but is also a home brew.
The cheapest shots of Blue Ribbon can be 25 rupees per half peg (30ml) (about 30 pence) (Longhuinos in Margao, well away from the tourist trail) ranging to 130 rupees per shot if you are beachside in a tourist spot (Jo Jos bar at Bon Appetit in Sinquerim). Bear in mind a 75cl bottle will only set you back around 270 rupees (or £3 approx) in a bottle store. Of course you get what you pay for and the views and ambience at places like Jo Jo’s are beyond compare, whereas drinking a peg of Blue Riband at breakfast in Longhuinos might, even to me, seem a little excessive, especially if one has to transport Head Office on the back of a hot Enfield 500 cc afterwards in some sort of good order another 40 km to our hotel at Agonda!
Blue Ribbon is a cheap and quite cheerful substitute if you don’t want to spend on the premium gins (which will be three or four times the cost), or if, like me, you dropped your bottle of duty free at Dabolim airport into a thousand smithereens and soaked poor teddy that was destined for Dominics (our taxi driver) baby daughter to the point poor teddy was completely pissed and stank of gin for ever after!
Notably Blue Ribbon (nor any Indian distilled gin for that matter) is NOT available in Kolkata in any bar or off licence – only some pastiche (and utterly vile ) gin mix concoction flavoured with orange which must be avoided! Poured down hotel loo as orange descaler!)
If you do need to do side trips out of Goa, pack the Gin and Tonics!!
You will see Strangers gin in some more upmarket F & B joints which is also an Indian Gin. Most supermarkets stock Schweppes and some tourist supermarkets stock premium tonics at stupid prices (like Newtons n Calangute).
Stick to Schweppes and avoid the local tonic called Twist if you can its crazy sweet!
New arrivals on the drinky winky scene in Goa are several new exciting gins, including
You can find out lots more about these innovative gins clicking the links above. The first two gins are distilled in Margao by Nao distillers on a part time basis and only available in Goa, Dehli and Bangalore.
*A peg is a measure of gin of 30cl (as opposed to UK s 25 cl measure) the nomenclature dates from the days of the British Raj. Its etymology derives from the British Coal mines where they used to dispense a shot of strong drink at the end of each day to each miner – known as a ‘Precious Evening Glass’ it became abbreviated to “PEG”. A ‘large peg’ – usually necessary(!) is therefore 60cl.