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Now, get high on heritage liquor

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Startups such as Agave India, Native Brews and Cazulo are attempting to make spirits from the mahua flower and agave plant — the primary ingredient in the Mexican tequila or even the feni, which has deep roots in Goan history. Their aim is to produce a national alcoholic beverage — just like the scotch whisky of Scotland, tequila of Mexico, or Cuban rum — and make Indians aware of indigenous tastes.

BENGALURU: Several startup spirit makers are looking to give India a taste of its own heritage liquor, albeit in a purer and distilled form. Such drinks have always been popular among millions of tribal people, but have never come to the forefront as they were considered second-grade compared to the imported and Indian-Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) due to their manufacturing process and safety.

Startups such as Agave India, Native Brews and Cazulo are attempting to make spirits from the mahua flower and agave plant — the primary ingredient in the Mexican tequila or even the feni, which has deep roots in Goan history. Their aim is to produce a national alcoholic beverage — just like the scotch whisky of Scotland, tequila of Mexico, or Cuban rum — and make Indians aware of indigenous tastes.

Now, get high on heritage liquor

Agave India, founded by IITian Desmond Nazareth, makes spirits from agave, mahua, cane and orange. The agave plant is collected from the red and black volcanic soils of the Deccan Plateau and nourished in a semi-arid micro-climate similar to that of central America. The company, which sold 11,500 cases of its products last fiscal in Goa, Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Pune, has a micro distillery in Chittoor in Andhra Pradesh and a bottling plant in Goa. Its other flagship product, Desmondji Mahua, is sold only in Goa as Indian law does not allow heritage liquor to be sold beyond the state borders it is manufactured in. “My goal is to make mahua India’s national spirit. Mahua is the only distilled spirit in the world that is made from naturally sweet flowers,” Nazareth says.

Mumbai-based Native Brews, which was founded four years ago, is also in the process of making mahua spirits and is three months away from setting up a distillery in Goa and beginning production by the end of the year. Susan Dias, director of Native Brews, says, “It can only be native in every sense when the raw material, process and story is rooted in our culture.” Her mahua spirit will follow the international norm of having alcohol content of 42.8%. But challenges remain and the biggest one for Dias, who is also a chartered accountant, has been the regulations.

Feni maker Cazulo Premium Feni is trying to make the centuries-old, handcrafted traditional spirit of Goa more popular among the youth. Like tequila and French champagne, feni has a GI (geographical indication) tag, which was awarded in 2009, stating that it can be called so only if produced in Goa. Cazulo founder Hansel Vaz says, “Very few people know that there are about 18 varieties of feni, include cashew, coconut and ginger.”

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