As the festive season launches and parties move to drawing rooms, craft beverage brands rush to equip home bars with refreshing, healthier lemonades, ginger ales and even fragrant edible garnishes
From Deepavali till New Year, there is a surge in consumption, driven by a younger population with considerable spending capacity and a desire to experiment with new flavours. Enter homegrown, craft, non-alcoholic bottled beverages that offer respite from sugary fruit juices and regular mass-produced colas. While there was a flurry of premium tonic waters pre-pandemic, now it is time for craft lemonades and ginger concoctions.
Such is the Indian penchant for soft drinks, that the industry is growing at 16.2% to reach a mammoth $20.4 billion by 2030, according to Goldstein Market Research.
Sepoy and Co. Mixers, known for its variety box of tonics, launched a line of lemonades (at ₹95 per 200ml bottle) as soon as the second wave of COVID-19 subsided in June 2021. “Growing up, we always had some sort of lime cordial or a lemon fizzy drink. So, we wanted to look beyond the lemon offerings currently available in stores,” says founder Angad Soni.
Sepoy’s classic lemonade fashioned out of Italian lemon juice has gentle carbonation, while the tropical lemonade brings flavours of pineapple, cardamom and passion fruit to the table, mellow yet distinctly recognisable at the first sip. “We chose Italian over Indian lemons since we were going for a distinct flavour profile that paired well with our variants. For our rose lemonade we chose the rose from India, and we are careful to use only natural colours and fruit sugar across our beverages,” he says.
Pairing with DIY cocktails
The pandemic affected business in early 2020 with restaurants and bars being shut for protracted periods, but this meant the D2C (direct to consumer) market opened up considerably. “From around 2,000 cases a month pre-pandemic we now sell over 6,000 cases every month, helped largely by e-commerce, and the desire of the Indian consumer to experiment with their home bar,” states Angad.
Experiments in home bars have led to a demand for inventive mixers — either to be had on their own, or in DIY cocktails. Rashmi Singh, a graphic designer in Bengaluru says, “Instead of the usual canned options, these new mixers are great when I make my own drinks for friends. The flavour profiles offer variety, and I’d rather spend a wee bit extra on these beverages, because they offer a refined palate experience.”
This is the market that Svami, a non-alcoholic beverage company is breaking into. 2021 has been a momentous year for Svami. It announced its arrival in 2018 with a bouquet of tonic water and ginger ales, and this September the brand rolled out its 2cal Cola and Salted Lemonade.
Co-founder Aneesh Bhasin says Svami wants to create the most versatile mixers in the market — “Our salted lemonade is reminiscent of a salt and sweet fresh lime soda, a staple at most restaurants. With the cola, we want to offer a tasty alternative to the big beverage giants.”
Edible garnish sprays
The 2cal Cola uses aspartame as the sweetener and holds onto the caffeine for the cola edge, but the carbonation gives you soft bubbles that land well. The salted lemonade balances notes of tart, sweet and salty, refreshing yet not too effervescent. “We have priced these 200 ml bottles at ₹65,” adds Bhasin.
With an eye on the home-bar market Svami has also introduced its line of edible garnish sprays, with bergamot, aniseed, rosemary and cinnamon. The garnishes need to be sprayed two to four inches away from the glass to recreate flavours that would normally entail a lot of prep work. “There is a feeling of freshness that you get with these natural ingredients,” says Bhasin.
Craft beer brand Kati Patang, meanwhile, has pivoted away from the surfeit of alcohol launches to launch its NOT series, a range of non-alcoholic drinks. Co-founder and director Lata Upadhyay reasons, “The pandemic has helped shift our focus to a healthier lifestyle. We have been very mindful of the ingredients we use — all natural extracts and no artificial sweeteners or preservatives.”
The 275 ml bottles, including varieties such as the NOT Cosmopolitan, NOT Gin & Tonic and NOT Old Fashioned, retail at ₹130.
Ginger is the road ahead
While lemonades may be the flavour of the season, Sarthak Aggarwal and Abhishek Gupta of Mohali-based Gunsberg Brewing have bet on ginger from the very start. Aggarwal says the provenance of the ginger beer and ales is his German neighbour. “My mother would often make ginger ale for us growing up, with a recipe from a German friend. So our ginger beverages draw from that memory, and even the name of the company is inspired by the quaint German town of Gunsberg.”
Both the ginger beer and ale use fresh ingredients squeezed on the day of production; the ginger comes from Sirmaur district in Himachal Pradesh, and the lime from Punjab. The grapefruit ale is created with an imported natural grapefruit extract from Germany.
Gunsberg brews come in custom-made stubby bottles that hold 330ml, priced at ₹89 a piece. The ginger beer is the strongest of the lot in terms of the fresh, pungent and unmistakable taste of the root, while the ale is a softer ginger iteration and the grapefruit marries the sour-bitter notes of grapefruit with the spicy ginger and a pleasant fizz.
For Gunsberg too, the pandemic skewed the distribution pattern in favour of home consumption. “Initially, offline sales were 80% while 20% came from online channels. The percentage changed post lockdown with both contributing almost an equal share,” Gupta explains, adding, “We plan to add a few more flavours, increase our channels across West and South India, as well as launch in Dubai and Singapore by the end of the year.”
As the festive season brings back celebrations, albeit slightly subdued, Varun Jalan, who manages Daspan House, a heritage hotel in Jodhpur, says it is the prerogative of restobars to fashion new drinking habits and complement beverage choices at house parties.
“We have stopped stocking mass produced tonic and ginger ales. I think the onus is on us as restaurateurs, to offer a superior drinking experience, by offering affordable made-in-India products that taste better.”