Lifting spirits: Sakshi Saigal

The co-founder of Stranger & Sons, a botanical-rich gin distilled in Goa, on being inspired by India’s culinary history and how they’re giving back

Food and Drink 19 Dec 2019

Sakshi Saigal of Stranger & Sons
Stranger & Sons gin

I set up Stranger & Sons and Third Eye Distillery in Goa with my husband, Rahul Mehra, and cousin, Vidur Gupta, in 2018. It’s one of the first gins to be made in India since the country gained independence in the 1940s.

At Stranger & Sons we wanted to make a spirit that represents India on the global map, and pioneer the creation of quality gin, made in India. Many international gin brands speak of having origins in India, but one look at the back label, and it’s clear it was made anywhere but in this country. We realised that this could be an opportunity to tell the story of a new India through an interesting medium – gin – especially since the spirit has its own ties to the country.

It’s what makes us different: Stranger & Sons is an ode to contemporary India. We aim to highlight and celebrate the emergence of this nation in the modern world, while proudly celebrating the cultural diversity, knowledge and traditions of India.

Our gin is a contemporary ode to India’s love affair with spices. Roam through any state, city, village or corner of India and you’ll see that from a local chai stall to royal households, every kitchen has its own preference for spices and unique blends that they are fiercely proud and often protective of. All the spices used in Stranger & Sons come from the famous spice belt of India and have been selected because they form the backbone of country’s culinary heritage, both sweet and savoury.

The gin is distilled with nine bold botanicals grown in the country, including black pepper, coriander seeds, mace and cassia bark – spices used in everyday Indian cooking – as well as nutmeg, liquorice, angelica, juniper, and citrus peels. Every part of our country has a citrus fruit that represents the region, so we went for sourcing the best; Gondhoraj from East India, Nagpur Oranges, Indian Bergamot and Indian lime.

Sakshi Saigal with Vidur Gupta, left, and Rahul Mehra
Sakshi Saigal with Vidur Gupta, left, and Rahul Mehra

The gin is made in our iStill and then rested for five weeks and we think the result is a versatile gin with robust and generous flavours. The Stranger & Sons citrus peel mix gives it beautiful freshness to start, while the local pepper, coriander and mace give a strong-spiced middle palate. Liquorice, cassia and nutmeg give it a lovely, warm sweet finish. Our barley and wheat spirit brings a soft smooth feel, allowing all of these intense spices to play in harmony. The gin offers a very solid foundation to any cocktail and a variety of flavours to play with. And we hope to always encourage people to be playful with it.

Goa is among India’s most fertile states and has been a key player in the spice trade for centuries, so was a natural choice for us as a location. A lot of the botanicals we use are sourced from lush spice farms surrounding our distillery, making Goa the beating heart of our gin. The challenges we faced are that India is primarily a whisky-drinking nation and alcohol is largely a taboo subject here. Though we know that our laws here are framed around limiting the consumption of liquor, they are even worse if you want to make high-quality liquor, making it very challenging to set up a distillery for small-batch spirits in India.

It’s important for us to be responsible in our operations. Over the last year, we have already taken a few steps in this direction particularly in managing water waste at the distillery. Most distilleries use a constant flow of cold water, which is drained out, meaning it’s a very water-intensive process. To reduce the amount of water we use for our 16-hour distillation run, we invested in a tank that recycles the water. With the help of our chiller and tank, we are able to save 10,000l of water per run. When we do drain the water from the chiller, it is directed to our botanical garden.

For the citrus peels that perfume our gin, women from a local self-help group visit our distillery on the day we make a new batch to help us peel the citrus fruits. These women are typically housewives keen on learning different vocations to gain some extra income. They also help with our botanical garden, as they have traditional knowledge about farming spices and know best which botanicals and fruits will flourish on our land. Once the peel is utilised, we return the remains of the fruit to the women, which they use to make pickles and cordials for our hero cocktails, the Gimlet and the Gibson.

Women have been underrepresented in the drinks business, but India is seeing a slow, yet steady rise in the representation of women the industry. Just like in any other industry, being a woman, you would like to see more representation, so we are delighted with the strong female team we have built today: our head distiller, head of marketing and brand ambassador are all women. More than just having a healthy gender diversity, we believe that a balanced team is a more powerful and productive team. And rather than exalting the virtues of any particular gender, it is more important to cultivate a respectful, encouraging environment and we’re proud of the values we aim to implement.

Stranger & Sons gin is now available in the UK for the first time and is available to buy from Masters of Malt,