A Mechanical Engineering + MBA degree and a 15 years stint with the likes of L&T, McKinsey, and Abbott kept a shy connection for Nitin VISHWAS, with the hospitality industry. He and his pal, Rohan REHANI, had very little idea that they’ll were destined to make India fall in love with the age-old beverage, MEAD. Today, the duo runs the country’s first Meadery, called MOONSHINE. With recipes being purely experimental and wisdom of their grandma’s spice cabinet in the kitchen, the brand has come a long way.
Further tuning, of what can easily be (now) called an established drink in the country, came from talking to home and professional brewers (mainly beer) and some chefs as well. Shailly of Independence Brewing Company and Oliver from Doolally are amongst the few people who mentored them along the way.
Team IWBS picked Nitin’s brains on his journey, thoughts, and the way forward.
What led you to choose to make mead in India?
A long international flight, a boring job, and an old friend who later became my cofounder in Moonshine.
I used to be a consultant with McKinsey and Co. in 2014 and my job kept me on the road and in the air quite often. It was on one such flight between Brussels and Munich, that I read about London’s first meadery, Gosnell in the Lufthansa inflight magazine. I took some pics of the article and sent it to Rohan, my childhood friend for over 33 years, with whom in the recent past, I had discussed about making beer (strictly as a hobby). When I returned, he had already arranged all the ingredients to make our first batch of mead and that started our long journey into starting Moonshine.
Mead, comes from the indo-latin word Medu, which comes from the Indian word Madhu. Hence, the words Madhira and Madhushala. So, it’s closer to home that most people think. Old Monk, Strong beer, Whiskey with Thumps Up, Water or Soda (to reduce the bitterness), Port wines all stand testament to the fact that Indian typically prefer sweeter carbonated alcoholic beverage. Mead, to our mind, was naturally in the ‘goldilocks’ spot.
When not savouring mead, what is your preferred drink?
I am not particularly fond of spirits. So it’s a nice red wine or a hoppy IPA for me.
How would you describe the taste of mead to a person who has never had it before?
Meads taste like a cider, minus the sour taste, with sweetness closer to that of a dry white wine. Also, the nose is very floral and a little complex. All in all, its arguably the most versatile beverage. The type of honey, changes the type of drink and in regards to fruits and spices, the versatility of nature can be reflected in the styles of meads one can make.
What were the main struggles to overcome in creating a unique style of beverages in/for India?
You have to convince 3 sets of people, if you plan to launch a new category of beverages in India
1. The government – We took 2.5 years to get a law passed to recognise mead as a category in India and then to get a license against this new law.
2. Customers – the human mind is quite interesting. Especially because it’s always trying to normalise an experience to something it has seen before. So, in a country like India, were alcohol is still a bit of a taboo and craft is only just taking off, convincing them to try a new category like mead is always a challenge; Especially when they haven’t had a cider before. Category building is always harder than brand building.
3. Restaurants – Convincing restaurants in India is usually even harder since you have to convince them that customers will come and ask for meads. They do not want to lock up capital for a category which is still unknown. Further, expecting the staff to push meads is a whole new challenge since most of the time, they are not able to field all questions asked by a customer.
What should India be drinking next?
I think there a bunch of very Indian alcohols which no one knows about! As much as I am not fond of distilled spirits, I really think Feni and more so, Urrak, is delicious! Unfortunately, these spirits have been classified as country liquor in India and hence cannot be exported out of Goa to other states. On the other hand, Goa exports Feni to Canada by the containers! Food for thought!
Once you master Mead, which is the next drink you’d like to reintroduce to India or have a take on?
I think we have a long way to go with meads. What we have done is make a low ABV mead, aka a Hydromel. What we want to do next is introduce high ABV meads (12-14%), aged for over a year and made using special Indian honeys sourced directly from tribals in various parts of the country! We have been working on one such mead for the last year and we plan to release 50 bottles sometime in 2020. This to my mind, is where Moonshine will go next!