W Power 2024

How Third Eye Distillery is playing a part in India's gin revolution

The producer of Stranger & Sons gin, among other alcoholic offerings, has got a stronghold in India's liquor market in only five years of operations

Samidha Jain
Published: Mar 4, 2024 12:29:33 PM IST
Updated: Mar 4, 2024 03:53:17 PM IST

How Third Eye Distillery is playing a part in India's gin revolution(From L to R): Vidur Gupta, Sakshi Saigal, and Rahul Mehra, co-founders, Third Eye Distillery. Image: Bajirao Pawar for Forbes India; Location: The Bombay Canteen, Mumbai

When Vidur Gupta was growing up, he would often hear about a certain uncle or aunt visiting from abroad who would bring back a great bottle of booze, which would taste much better than anything they had in India. The trend continued till much later when he himself went to study abroad. When Gupta, his cousin Sakshi Saigal, and her husband Rahul Mehra got together to start a company, they started with wanting to change this perception of ‘only imported liquor is premium’, as one of their motives.

Gupta, Saigal, and Mehra are co-founders of the Goa-based Third Eye Distillery, which produces the popular Stranger & Sons gin, among other alcoholic drinks. Before the three founders got together to start the distillery in 2018, Mehra was already in the alco-bev space in India, being the co-founder of Svami, a company that produces mixers for alcoholic drinks, while Gupta and Saigal were based in the UK and Barcelona respectively.

“Randomly, one day, we got together, and somehow through conversation it came up that there is this whole alco-bev market in India, which we were very excited about addressing and we started putting our heads together to start this business,” says Mehra. The three founders, who were all working in the food and drinks space, realised that in the rest of the world, a gin premiumisation was taking place, from a business point of view.

“We knew that India was going to follow, and we wanted to start creating the Indian response. We couldn't understand why India has the best ingredients, people, and process, and is one of the largest markets for alcohol in the world and yet we weren’t creating many gin brands that can be scaled from India outwards,” says Gupta.

At the time when they began, India didn’t have a lot of premium gin brands, and those that were being consumed were mostly imported, as per Gupta. Today, the scenario is different. As per a report published by Allied Market Research in 2022, the market size of gin in India was valued at $914.7 million in 2020, and is projected to reach $1,598.2 million by 2030, growing at a CAGR of 5.9 percent during the forecast period 2021 to 2030.
How Third Eye Distillery is playing a part in India's gin revolution
Third Eye Distillery, with its Stranger & Sons gin, can be considered a big player in this gin revolution that India has been witnessing. In only five years since its inception, the gin has won many accolades, including being declared as one of the top gins in the world by the International Wine & Spirit Competition (IWSC) in 2020, and has been also named the Indian Gin of the Year at the New York International Spirits Competition 2023.

‘How do you explain India in a bottle’ – was the question that the founders wanted to answer when they decided on the name of their distillery, the brand name of their gin, and the story that they’ve woven around it. According to the story, a two-tailed, three-eyed creature who lives in the jungles of Western Ghats in India represents the gin. “I think we wanted to add some myth and mystique to the overall brand when we started, which was our lens of how we see India,” says Mehra.

Why gin?

The founders of the distillery, who want to delve into all categories of alcohol, wanted to start off with a gin because they thought that the agricultural story and botanical boundary of India could be best represented through a gin. “We wanted to focus on expressing through the liquid. Despite the agricultural abundance in India and botanicals that we have available here, nobody was really making spirits that were actually expressing and showcasing that agricultural heritage from India, and we thought of changing that with our gin,” adds Saigal.

Also read: Behind India's 'gin in the bottle' movement

To add to that, they realised that in India, there were multiple players in the whiskey space, but gin was a space which was not yet touched upon. “I believe that we started some kind of a small revolution in the gin space in India with Stranger & Sons, which made a lot more people trying and appreciating Indian made gins which has been an ignored category for a very long period in the country,” says Mehra.

Another reason they thought that gin was a good start was because of Mehra’s insight on the growing craze for mixers, which he gained from his work with Svami. “We realised that people suddenly wanted to drink premium mixers along with the gin and other alcoholic drinks - which gave us a lot of confidence that gin is the right product to start with.”
How Third Eye Distillery is playing a part in India's gin revolution
Though bootstrapped in the early days, wherein the founders had pooled together half a million amongst them to start the business, Third Eye Distillery has since then raised a total of US$10 million over three rounds so far, from marquee investors such as Niren Shah of Norwest India, Priya Sharma Ranjan, Ritesh Sidhwani, investment banker Pramit Jhaveri and Akshay Tanna, among a few others. In terms of revenue, in the first year, the distillery made $1 million and has grown 100 percent year-on-year ever since. As per the founders, this year, they are expecting to be grossing over $7 million.

When Priya Sharma Ranjan, angel investor and brand strategist, who is one of the investors at Third Eye Distillery met the founders, she was clear that they were building a high quality brand which she felt would resonate in India, and globally. “Their strategy to establish Third Eye Distillery as the leading purveyor of premium brands in the alcoholic beverage sector was appealing. The Indian market has considerable size and is rapidly expanding, particularly in the premium segment, which makes it an exciting landscape to develop amazing brands,” says Ranjan.

Other offerings

Having started with Stranger & Sons gin, the Third Eye team went on to create a unique cocktail in a bottle, which they chanced upon trying during the pandemic – Perry Road Peru – named after the Perry Road in Mumbai’s Bandra, and made from guavas. The cocktail bottles, which the team decided to sell from Bombay Canteen, a cafe/bar based in Mumbai, turned out to be an ultimate hit among consumers and the team found it difficult to produce enough bottles to keep the shelves stacked up.

Apart from that, in August 2022, Third Eye Distillery also launched ‘Short Story’, a new portfolio of white spirits, consisting of a triple-distilled vodka, a pot-distilled London dry gin, and a rum.  As another experiment, the distillery also tried a limited edition - Stranger & Sons Sherry Cask Aged Gin, for which we they rested Stranger & Sons Gin for over a year in ex-Amontillado and Oloroso Sherry Casks and then infused it with Wild Honey and Cascara.

Also read: 'Indri Whisky has carved a place for itself as one of the best whiskies in not just India but the world': Surrinder Kumar, master blender, Piccadily Distilleries

As the founders recall, the gin was very well received as soon as they launched it. In the first year of its launch, it was sold out and the team ran out of bottles to sell. “What we estimated to sell in a year, we sold in three months. It was a learning experience. It is never a good problem to be sold out,” says Mehra. As per Gupta, a big consumer perception about gin was that it was considered to be a lady’s drink. But, with the sales and consumption pattern which the Third Eye team noticed with their gin, and Perry Road Peru cocktail, the reality was completely different. “We noticed that a lot of men were drinking it. We even saw some whisky consumers making a shift,” says Gupta to which he adds: "Even though Perry Road Peru is a difficult product to make, given the seasonal nature of guavas, we have never been able to take it off the shelf.” The team now has to be in constant touch with farmers to stockpile guavas for them.

Apurva Shah, general manager, marketing at a media company, who is a frequent consumer of Stranger & Sons particularly likes the spice element in the Gin, which in his opinion, gives it a unique taste. “I think that the gin culture has changed the way we consume our drinks at home. Earlier we had to open a wine and whiskey bottle because of the diverse preferences of my wife and I. Now we just open a bottle of gin which allows us to enjoy the same drink, which we both have a liking for, together,” says the 41-year-old, based in Mumbai.

The distilling process

As for the ingredients that make for Stranger & Sons, the gin includes juniper, black pepper, nutmeg, mace, coriander seed, angelica, liquorice, cassia, and a medley of citrus peels (four varieties), which are all sourced locally. According to Charnelle Martins, the head distiller at Third Eye Distillery, says that making the gin requires fresh botanicals for every batch and is a hands-on process. The water used in the distillation of the gin is recycled. The gin is allowed to rest for a period of five weeks, which allows the flavour to settle in. “I believe Stranger & Sons gin makes for a great base for an array of cocktails, given to its unique flavour profile, making it a very sought after choice for mixologists,” says the 31-year-old who graduated from Abertay University, UK, in 2014, with an MSc in Food and Alcohol Biotechnology, and joined Third Eye Distillery in 2018.

Also read: Kingfisher is India's favourite Indian beer; Bacardi, its favourite rum, and Jägermeister, its favourite liqueur

After the first year of operation and sales in India, Stranger & Sons launched its first international market in the UK in 2019, and as of today has expanded its presence in 11 domestic markets like Maharashtra, Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka and more, and over 17 international markets like UK, USA, UAE, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, Italy, and Vietnam. “We concentrate on about seven-eight markets internationally, even though we are present in a lot more. We do have feet on the ground where required,” says Mehra. The gin is available in bars and high street retail in international markets, and even online in a few of them.

In terms of competition in India, Stranger & Sons competes with the likes of Jaisalmer, Greater Than, Malhar, and Kumaon & I, to name a few. Its international competitors include Bombay Sapphire, and London Dry, among others.

Also read: Bartending is a very hard job, but also extremely gratifying: Federico Lombardi, head bartender, Paradiso

In 2021-22, Third Eye Distillery collaborated with renowned Australia-based Four Pillars Distillery to launch two new minted-edition gins called Trading Tides and Spice Trade Gin in 2022, which were sold in various markets. As per the Third Eye team it was a unique collaboration which started with emails and zoom meetings, and moved to an exchange of botanicals from both countries.  

Beyond spirits, the founders also want to also start looking at the whole value chain. In August 2022, they acquired a majority stake in mixers brand Svami, which the founders believe is a complementary product and is bound to grow with their brand, and has a decent market share. They also undertook a small acquisition on Countertop, which is an end to end services business that helps foreign brands and bars set up in India. In association with Countertop, Third Eye Distillery imported and launched Plantation Rum in India, in 2022 which marked the debut of its imports division. “As the market grows, we want to have a hand to play in anything that happens in the premium space. That’s the vision for us to eventually become a house of brands that is coming out of India and is also playing in the entire value chain,” says Gupta.

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