Mahua goes mainstream: Goa’s alcohol man taps into flower power

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Panaji, June 15 (IANS) If everything Midas touched turned to gold, in the case of the 60-something Desmond Nazareth, everything he touches, including, agave, sugarcane and now mahua, seems to transform into distilled alcohol.

For Nazareth, promoter of Desmondji, an Indian brand specialising in distilled alcohol, liqueurs and the like, the latest two offerings, mahua alcohol and mahua liqueur, are testimony to his efforts to promote Indian spirits — in this case right from the forests of central India where mahua trees grow in abundance, to slick bottles in upper-crust bars across the country, beginning with Goa.

“Mahua spirit is literally in a category of its own, as it is one of the few global flower-based spirits — elderflower from Europe comes to mind — and so it is totally unlike fruit- and vegetable-based spirits like feni (cashew fruit), cider (not a spirit but fermented apple juice), agave (the plant from which tequila is made), ouzo (anise seed flavoured neutral alcohol), mead (fermented honey),” Nazareth told IANS soon after launching his new offering here.

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Mahua is essentially tribal produce originating in India’s east-west-central regions which has achieved “secret cult status” among urban consumers. However, bad hygiene and non-standardisation have resulted in the drink, known for its unique flowery aroma, being relegated to country liquor status, thereby stemming its reach.

But that is all set to change, Nazareth said.

“Typically, tribal mahua spirits are not made hygienically, single-distilled, bottled and sold at around 10 per cent alc/vol. DJ mahua and the DJ Mahua liqueur based on it are hygienically made, multiple-distilled, bottled and sold at 40 per cent alc/vol,” he pointed out.

“We have plans to make a DJ sparkling mahua as well, which will compete with champagne and sparkling prosecco, as a flowery Indian bubbly. There’s scope for a wonderful after-dinner mahua flower sweetened brandy-like offering as well,” Nazareth further said, adding that 10 years hence, he would like to see his mahua-based alcohol products selling all over urban India and in several foreign markets, positioned as a uniquely Indian product, proudly made in India to international standards.

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Asked if he is sceptical about the upper middle class consumer willing to accept mahua’s pygmalion-like transformation from a rustic brew to an international quality offering, Nazareth said: “Experimental bartenders in urban areas will have a field day creating all kinds of wonderful concoctions, which will hopefully appeal to the middle class-and-above urban consumer. We see acceptance and embrace of our proudly made in India, forest-to-bottle products from such consumers, who will also savour a great tribal cultural backstory, along with the now better known DesmondJi brand story.”

Desmondji started as a craft distillery in 2007, aiming of taking Indian spirits like agave, cane, mahua, feni to world-class levels.

Agave and cane spirit distilling were first strategically chosen order to establish “our mastery by competing with international products on a quality basis”, Nazareth maintained.

“Then we would start making Indian mahua and other Indian spirits and derivative liqueurs, which were relatively unknown nationally and internationally and let them ride on the quality shoulders of the DesmondJi (DJ) brand reputation,” he added.

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Around 100,000 tonnes of mahua flowers are harvested every year across India, out of which 90 per cent are used for crudely distilled country spirit, by tribals, apart from tapping the flower for other food products, making it a key source of livelihood for them.

The nectar-rich flower, which is typically sun-dried and stored for use through the non-flowering 11 months of the year by tribals, and its liquor, has unique delicate floral sensory characteristics, which makes it a great base for superb cocktails, blending easily with Indian tonic water, a slice of lime and ice, as well as with most flavoured and plain sodas and juices in cocktails.

And the best part, according to Nazareth, which will please any happy tippler: “Mahua comes thru as a pleasant aftertaste. It gives a clean high as long as it is not drunk with other questionable non-DJ alcohol products.”

(Mayabhushan Nagvenkar can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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