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Tequila®* – ‘Made in India’???

NOT!            (*see note at the end of this article)

BUT… world-class premium Agave spirits are very much ‘Made in India’, as of 2004 in experimental form, and 2011 in a market-released (Goa), bottled and branded avatar.

Tequila®* and Mezcal®* are Agave spirits made in Mexico with the trade names owned by the Mexican Government. But what’s in a name?

I am pleased to write this blog for Swizzle/Tulleeho readers. It’s a great opportunity to share a wee bit of the 14 year (till-date) ‘India pride’ brand story of the genesis and progression of India’s first official microdistillery, Agave spirit and sugarcane spirit manufacturer, Agave India, and its (close to) 4 year old master brand, DesmondJi®.


Visual 1
Agave India craft distillery in southern AP

I am frequently asked about the origin of my ideas and ‘birth’ of DesmondJi, so I will start from the beginning!

I had a reputation for making cocktails-with-a-twist while based in the US. When I moved base to my birth place, Bombay, in late 1999, several friends asked me to revive my interest in the art of cocktail making. So I found myself searching liquor stores for the ingredients of popular cocktails, including the Margarita. At that time, even ‘middle-shelf’ Tequila®s* were extremely hard to find, and when available, were exorbitantly priced.

A random question was triggered off in my mind: why is Tequila®*, a globally known alcoholic beverage, made in only one country (Mexico), whereas almost any other equally well-known alcoholic beverage (whisky, vodka, rum, gin, champagne, wine, beer) has multiple producers in multiple countries?

Researching this, I saw photos of the blue Agave used in Mexico and had an ‘aha’ moment – I was sure I had seen similar blue-green Agave plants growing in India during my childhood. I immediately looked up a map of the world and traced the latitude lines for the Agave growing regions in Mexico (Jalisco & Oaxaca) across to India. They crossed right through the Deccan plateau! Several other key geo-climatic (‘terroir’) parameters, i.e. soil, rainfall, temperature, altitude, necessary for the possible migration of Agave species, were startlingly close matches as well. I concluded that I must have seen these plants while travelling through the Deccan on trains in my youth!

I continued my research for the next few years and collected enough information to develop a process for making Agave spirits from the blue-green Agave, if only I could find it in India! Shortly after moving to Goa, in 2003, and after connecting with the ‘right’ collaborators in Goa who could help me find the plants and experiment, and armed with all my data files, we set off on a road trip into the Deccan, in search of the blue-green Agave – lo and behold, we found some within a day!

Visual 2
Deccan blue-green Agave used to make DesmondJi Agave spirits

That moment marked the ‘accidental birth’ of Agave spirits in India – the result of a conjunction of historical events:

  • Geology and climate: a ~65 million years ago earth-shaking, mass extinction event, followed by continental drift, created the perfect growing conditions for Agave on the Deccan plateau;
  • Culture: migration of Agave species from the New World to the Old World via the Columbian Exchange;
  • Personal: my returning to India in the year 2000 (as opposed to ten years earlier or later).

But more on these interesting antecedents in a later blog, if readers are really interested…

A few words about our smile-generating brand name, ‘DesmondJi’…

Desmond‘ is the first name of Agave India’s main founder (yours truly) and speaks to a ‘truth’ behind the brand.

I came up with the original idea in the year 2000; personally did the R&D for spirits and liqueurs over nearly fourteen years; personally raised the funds from an international group of angel investors; handled India’s notorious bureaucratic process first-hand; front-ended the search for the micro-distillery site in rural AP; the selection and handling of the architect, contractors and the construction of buildings; worked very closely with the custom designers of equipment, bottles and labels; personally hired and trained all the technical staff and serve as official ‘master distiller’ and ‘master blender’, among other things.

The ‘Ji‘ part reflects both the purely Indian source of raw materials and Indian technical ingenuity (no foreign experts were involved), while simultaneously making the concatenation ‘light and easy’ and fun to play with. That’s ‘what’s in a name’!

Visual 4
With our team in AP, working our huge pot-stills


Agave India is the only artisanal producer of small batch, international quality, ‘field-to-bottle’ Agave spirits in Eurasia. DesmondJi is the proud flag-bearer of global and regional firsts in several categories… innovation and entrepreneurial chutzpah at its best! Against all odds and totally in-house we have pulled off world class innovation that most Asians would proudly relate to.

Agave India goes further and makes artisanal cane spirit (à la Brazilian cachaça) used in caipirinhas, mojitos, etc., much loved orange liqueurs using the Nagpur orange, and alcoholic margarita blends – all under the master brand, DesmondJi. Our 8 products sell in Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Pondicherry and Daman.

Chillin’ in Goa with the DesmondJi range
Chillin’ in Goa with the DesmondJi range

We invite the tipplers and booze connoisseurs in India to check out DesmondJi products (btw, they make much-appreciated gifts) and share our ‘India pride’ offerings around the world!

Till the next time… Cheers, saúde and salud!!!

Desmond Nazareth

* Trademarks referenced in this article are the property of their respective owners.