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Jamie Baxter: Sip the Complexity of Mahua and Basmati Rice-infused Gin

Curated By: Swati Chaturvedi


Last Updated: November 20, 2023, 09:33 IST

New Delhi, India

Jamie Baxter and Varun Jain aim to capture the authenticity of India's diverse landscapes with this sipping gin

Jamie Baxter and Varun Jain aim to capture the authenticity of India's diverse landscapes with this sipping gin

Jamie Baxter: Mohulo Gin is a heartfelt tribute to the deep cultural and regional influences of India, which shine through in its ingredients, production methods and even the bottle design and logo.

Mohulo, by SMOKE LAB, is a unique addition to India’s thriving gin scene. This innovative spirit aims to redefine your gin experience by featuring the exquisite Mahua flower as a central element, a botanical with deep cultural roots in the tribal communities of India’s heartland. Sourced from the lush regions of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the Mahua plant provides a glimpse into our rich heritage.

Mohulo, the artisanal gin, is meticulously crafted from a blend of 12 botanicals, including Juniper, Coriander, Angelica plant, Green Cardamom, Liquorice, Pink Peppercorn, Bay Leaf, Orange blossom, Orange peel, Mahua, Honey, and Basmati Rice. This carefully curated combination creates a flavorful symphony that takes your taste buds on a captivating journey through India’s cultural tapestry.

Noteworthy is the brand’s decision to use Basmati Rice as the base, deviating from the commonly preferred wheat or barley grains. This deliberate choice, spearheaded by Varun Jain, Founder, SMOKE LAB, and executed in collaboration with Master Distiller Jamie Baxter, a renowned figure in the world of distillation, aims to capture the authenticity of India’s diverse landscapes. The result is Mohulo, an innovative spirit that seamlessly bridges India’s past with the present, offering a remarkable and authentic drinking experience with every sip. In a conversation with Jamie Baxter, we understand more about this innovative gin: 

Question 1:  Gin has seen huge popularity in recent years. What do you think is driving this trend, and where does Mohulo feature in this evolution?

Answer 1: Gin’s recent surge in popularity can be attributed to various factors. Firstly, consumers are increasingly seeking unique and high-quality options, and gin, with its diverse botanical ingredients and distillation methods, offers a platform for creative experimentation. The revival of the cocktail culture has been instrumental as well. Mixologists, bartenders are pushing the boundaries, infusing unique flavours and experimenting with distinct blends. This shift from the classic gin and tonic to a wide range of gin-based cocktails has made gin a crowd-pleaser, particularly with the treasure trove of local herbs and spices in India – adding a delightful twist to the liquid’s popularity.

In this evolving landscape, Mohulo stands out by putting the spotlight on its ingredients. The liquid has been in the making for three years and its deep connection to the native Mahua plant that’s exclusively sourced from tribes and forests of Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh is really its USP. It’s a perfect example of how local, meaningful ingredients have been translated into a high-quality concoction using modern-day distillation.

Question 2: Could you tell us about your background in distillation and the diverse range of spirits you’ve worked?  How is the process different when it comes to gin?

Answer 2: As a distillery consultant for over a decade, I’ve had the honour of building over 100+ distilleries globally and representing over 5% of all UK distilleries. It was truly an unexpected detour where I was to initially set up a muesli factory but ended up co-founding Chase Distillery in 2006, one of the pioneers of craft distilleries, alongside Sipsmith and Sacred. The industry was unknown territory back then, with sceptics doubting the viability of smaller-scale distilling. However, our ground-breaking endeavor with Chase Vodka received an overwhelming response, and we rapidly gained recognition. By the end of 2011, I recognized the need for distillery expertise and got into consultancy, assisting folks with shared passion who didn’t have the technical knowhow.

For gin, the preparation of a high-purity neutral spirit is a vital foundation. The distillation process starts with the still being filled with the neutral spirit that’s diluted with water alongside all botanicals, herbs and spices which contain natural oils. Since alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, the former rises as vapour, carrying with it the botanicals that add the desired flavour profile to the liquid. The stills are usually made of copper which has good heat transfer properties, so the alcohol vapour is condensed back into liquid form where it gets re-boiled and becomes vapour once again. This back and forth with increasing copper content is what really makes the gin smooth. Copper also helps remove impurities like sulphides that may be in the water, so it is a crucial element of the process. The reflux condensation is also what ensures a high ABV alongside the smoothness. The final condenser has cold water running through it which condenses the hot alcohol vapour into liquid. But not all alcohol is good, so the skill of the distillery is to remove all the Butanol, Methanol from the desired Ethanol. This isn’t a timebound process but through years of experience, distillers know when to make the cut and when the liquid is ready for bottling.

Question 3: Gin is known for its diverse botanicals. What sets Mohulo gin apart from other gins in terms of flavour profile and botanicals used?

Answer 3: When we embarked on the journey of creating Mohulo, it was a truly collaborative effort with Varun Jain (Founder). They sent special Indian ingredients all the way to the UK for me to work with. These were ingredients I had never used before, so I spent a significant amount of time in the lab experimenting with these botanicals in different ratios. Some combinations were successful, while others didn’t quite meet the mark. After some rigorous work, I finally arrived at a product that I was satisfied with, and I sent 2-3 variations back to the team in India. Initially, the gin was made using water from the UK, but Varun insisted on maintaining the Indian touch, so we later replicated the process with Indian water. The goal was to craft a gin that pays homage to the cultural fabric of India.

A standout botanical in Mohulo is Mahua which was entirely new ingredient to me. Varun sent Mahua seeds, fruits and flowers for experimentation. I meticulously tested each element individually and in various combinations, ultimately selecting Mahua seeds as the ‘IT’ ingredient. Notably, Mohulo’s use of basmati rice as a base is also what sets it apart from other gins, which typically use barley, wheat or rye. Mohulo is a concoction of 12 botanicals including Juniper Berries, Coriander Seed, Cardamom, Wild Honey, Orange Blossom, Angelica Plant, Green Cardamom, Liquorice, Pink Peppercorn, Bay Leaf and Orange Peel – so it’s a harmonious and unique blend to begin with. Another USP is that before bottling the gin sits through a short saturation period of 3 weeks which is what melts all the flavours together. The result is Mohulo, a gin that I’m proud to have been a part of – a unique flavor profile and botanical selection that authentically captures the essence of India.

Question 4: How does the Mohulo Gin reflect the cultural and regional influences of India in its flavour and character?

Answer 4: Mohulo Gin is a heartfelt tribute to the deep cultural and regional influences of India, which shine through in its ingredients, production methods and even the bottle design and logo. The hero ingredient- Mahua holds deep-rooted cultural significance as the Baiga tribe, a local group relies on gathering and trading mahua for their livelihood. Hence, the ‘tree of life’ as they lovingly call the plant plays an intrinsic role in the lives of tribal communities residing in the region.

The bottle design incorporates grains of rice and bees to represent essential elements of the gin while the logo is a tribute to the tribal art, featuring an amalgamation of distinctive tattoos spotted on various body parts of the indigenous community. The gin’s character is shaped by a blend of ingredients that are kitchen staples in India alongside other unique addons – which is what gives the liquid a distinctive nutty flavour and a unique floral aroma.

Question 5: How has your experience in the UK’s distillation industry influenced your approach to gin production in India? How distinct is the Indian distillation process?

Answer 5: England represents the heartland of gin production, so the experience has provided me valuable insights that I carry along with me across the world. In the UK, gin production traditionally utilizes grains like barley, rye and wheat as the base for neutral spirit – emphasizing the importance of selecting high- quality ingredients right from the start. The UK’s distillation history also underlines the significance of seasonal botanicals, typically distilled in April and May. Traditionally, dried botanicals were used to ensure consistent quality throughout the year. However, with the rise of craft distilling, there has been a shift towards using fresh, locally sourced herbs and spices. This approach allows for the creation of unique, limited-edition batches, popularly known as ‘summer gin’ and ‘winter gin,’ which encapsulate the essence of a particular season. This is something we’re trying to do with Mohulo as well with only 2000 cases of the liquid produced worldwide.

The real challenge which by the way was absolutely thrilling for me was the introduction to unusual, local botanicals that I wasn’t familiar with. So, while the distilling process remains the same everywhere, it’s about finding the right ingredients and regional influences. This blend of international distillation expertise fused with India’s rich heritage has really created a distinctive approach to artisanal gin production, resulting in products like Mohulo Gin that embody the best of both worlds.

Question 6: What inspired the creation of India’s first sipping gin, and how does it differ from other gins in its sipping experience?

Answer 6: Mohulo is rooted in a desire to offer something truly distinctive to gin enthusiasts in India and around the world. While gin is often celebrated for its versatility in cocktails, we wanted to craft a gin that could be enjoyed on its own, savoured in a manner similar to single malts, fine whiskies or other premium spirits. This idea is what really led to creating India’s first sipping gin! The meticulously selected botanicals like Mahua and unique flavor profile and smoothness brought alive with Honey or Basmati Rice that adds a distinctive nutty flavour and aroma is what creates a harmonious and complex taste that evolves beautifully when sipped neat. Of course, needless to add that the craft liquid pairs beautifully with cocktails as well – infusing a burst of rare flavours to the mixers of your choice.

Question 7: Sipping gin is a relatively new concept in India. Can you explain the idea behind it and how do you think the concept will resonate with the Indian consumers?

Answer 7: Sipping gin represents an exciting new concept in India and it’s born from a desire to offer enthusiasts a fresh and intriguing way to enjoy their beloved spirit in its purest form. India has a rich culinary and beverage heritage with a diverse range of flavours and taste profiles, and we believe that sipping gin aligns perfectly with the evolving palate of Indian consumers. The concept offers a novel and enjoyable way to experience gin’s multifaceted taste without diluting its true essence. At Mohulo, we believe that discerning consumers who appreciate distinct flavours and exceptional culinary experiences blended with innovation, will embrace sipping gin as an exciting choice.

Question 8: With respect to the global gin market, what does the future hold for its growth journey? Any notable trends within the Indian gin segment that we can look forward to?

Answer 8: In recent years, gin has experienced a resurgence in popularity, driven by its versatility and the creativity of mixologists and consumers alike. This trend is expected to continue as more people explore the world of gin, both as a cocktail base and as a sipping spirit. Beyond the cocktail culture that’s thriving with gin being a staple in it – flavor innovation will be another key driver in the gin space.

The rise of indigenous craft distilleries is a testament to the growing fascination with artisanal gin production. These distilleries often draw inspiration from regional influences and integrate native ingredients to create distinct flavor profiles. Indian consumers are displaying an increasing preference for premium, handcrafted offerings, which is expected to propel the growth of high-quality Indian gins. Furthermore, the use of homegrown botanicals and the infusion of regional cultural elements, as exemplified by products like Mohulo Gin, reflect a trend towards gins that evoke a strong sense of place and a profound connection to the diverse tapestry of Indian traditions. This trend is anticipated to persist as more distillers find inspiration in India’s rich culinary and cultural heritage.

Last but most importantly, there is a much-needed focus on sustainability and ethical sourcing and we’re proud that Mohulo is produced at zero carbon footprint distilleries!

first published:November 20, 2023, 09:33 IST
last updated:November 20, 2023, 09:33 IST