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This Startup Is Re-imagining the Indian Gin Territory NAO Spirits & Beverages founders are trying to re-envision the way gin was crafted in India while channeling their creative energies and resilience to shepherd the startup

By Prabhjeet Bhatla

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The first written records of gin dates back to medieval Europe as a remedy for diseases related to the liver and digestive tract. These London dry gins traveled with the British colonizers to different parts of the world including India. Gin and tonic (G&T) was the staple of all colonial clubs and restaurants at the time. Gin became a popular spirit amongst the upper-class Indians. In the country where G&T was invented and where exotic gin botanicals are found in most home kitchens, the spirit got lost under the shadows of dark liquor.

There was a revival of gin globally five years back wherein India also witnessed the birth of a gin revolution, however, there were hardly any locally made craft gin brands present in the Indian market at the time. In order to serve the surging demand for superior quality gin by the millenials, Anand Virmani—who ran a bar in New Delhi back then—comprehended the need and decided to take matters into his own hands.

NAO Spirits & Beverages founder, chief executive officer, and distiller, Virmani with co-founders Aparajita Ninan and Abhinav Rajput has tried to re-envision the way gin was crafted in India while channeling their creative energies and resilience to shepherd this startup.

The 33-year-old distiller in a discussion with Entrepreneur India shared, "What led us to start was a 2 AM discussion that brought us to the realization that the gin renaissance which was taking place across the world had entirely skipped India. It was not the easiest country for small-scale imported brands to enter and the domestic producers were happily focused on making lots and lots of whisky and in general, cheap spirits."

With craft gins ruling the market, place of origin and botanicals have emerged as defining features for a good gin. Taking the same ideology forward, the company since its inception has focused on paying homage to long-lost Indian ingredients by infusing a wonderful blend of hand-picked Indian botanicals with contemporary spirits to offer their patrons a distinctive aroma and flavor.

The company was founded in 2015 with a vision to create a brand and the product, wherein Virmani felt that he could be proud of and that the industry as a whole would be able to rally around.

The name of the platform, NAO, which means boat in Hindi, stands for contemporary spirits infused with a bit of Indian heritage.

The company maintains that the lifetime sales to date are reaching around the 850,000 bottles mark and have recently raised $5 million in the round completed in December 2020, and will be raising a Series A round by the last quarter of 2021.

"We were always "Vocal for Local' and for that matter, most of our consumers were already in tune with that concept way before it was declared to the entire country," he stated.

The New-Delhi-based startup founder commented that they are on the road to profitability, "As we are only two years away from break-even now. Profitability in this Industry is linked directly to scale given the massive outlay that is required to set up and obtain annual licenses for selling in various states. This scalability is something we have been prepared for since day one and we're excited to be closing in on the tipping point on our P&L projections."

Virmani further added while the first five years have been about getting people to sit up and take notice, the team expects these next five years to be all about injecting some life into the spirits industry and owning the Indian narrative globally.

Increasing disposable income of Indian consumers, changing demographics, increasing awareness, and growing popularity of cocktails are the trends that have provided a robust stimulus resulting in the vertical growth of the gin market of India. These trends are expected to fuel the growth of the market and it is forecasted to grow and reach the mark of more than 3 million cases by volume by 2022-23.

Prabhjeet Bhatla

Former Staff

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