Lead Story

The Lure of Goa’s High Spirits

Besides its scenic beaches and old-world charm, a major driver of Goa’s economic growth is its alcoholic beverage, or alco-bev, industry. It is powered by indigenous recipes, a large number of distilleries and brands, the growing culture of craft spirits and a business-friendly environment among other factors 

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Far away from the beaches, the industrial city of Ponda in Goa is abuzz with commercial activity. With distilleries lined up against each other, it is the hub of alcoholic beverage, or alco-bev, production, bottling and distribution. Home to 92 licensed distilleries as per the 2021 data from the Goa excise department, the state has become the centre for alcohol innovation in recent years.

Fresh demand for distilling units has spurred growth like never before in the sunshine state. One contributing factor, as Anand Virmani, co-founder and CEO of Nao Spirits calls it, is the “gin-aissance”, or gin renaissance. Between 2015 and 2023, Goa has seen the launch of eight to 10 new gin brands every year. Other products like blended whisky, single malt whisky, homegrown rum, agave and feni have found greater acceptance, leading to greater production needs as well. Not far behind are alcoholic beverages, including craft beers, hard seltzers and bottled gin and tonic. An array of homegrown brands that are conceivably interested in experimenting with the drinking palate of consumers has made Goa an exciting “test” market. The up-and-coming restaurants, beach bars and eateries willing to share their shelves with newer brands further expose the visiting masses to a world of tipples where there is something for everyone.

Lifting the Spirits

Currently, there are about 31 different gins available in the state, manufactured in units within pre-existing distilleries. John Distilleries, which operated its own strategic manufacturing unit in Goa since 1999, recently launched Malhar gin in two variants. Its Goa unit has been manufacturing its flagship single malts since 2012. Speaking about the operations, chairman Paul P. John says, “All of our single malts are created in Goa and we cater to all our markets from here.” John Distilleries currently serves 16 states in India and plans to expand its geographical footprint to Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh later this year.

In 2022, alco-bev company Diageo India announced an investment of Rs 45 crore in a craft and innovation hub, spread across four acres in Ponda. When ready, it will offer end-to-end capabilities addressing requirements of distillation capabilities for malt, gin and rum. Hina Nagarajan, MD and CEO, Diageo India, says, “Goa is a hotbed for craft, the demand for which is growing rapidly, both in India and globally, among consumers who are keen to further discover and enjoy fine spirits.”

“Pre-existing manufacturing units in Goa provide brands with a distinct advantage when it comes to establishing their presence,” says Kasturi Banerjee, an investment banker-turned-distiller at Stilldistilling Spirits. Its Maka Zai brand has three distinct creations—a cocktail-focused White Rum (Bartender’s Edition), a sipping Gold Rum (Tribute Edition) and a limited-release barrel-aged rare rum called Mesma launched this June.

Another brand that has found a strong footing in the gin space is Samsara from Spaceman & Company. “The excise landscape of Goa was slightly easier to navigate as compared to that of other states. When we started our journey, we were fortunate to find a distillery in Goa that aligned with our vision. We repurposed the facility, meticulously transforming it to meet our unique requirements,” says Riddhi Aggarwal, co-founder of Spaceman.

It is not the taxation or the “ease of doing business” that has been the appeal for everyone, though. For Nao Spirits, a craft gin company which makes the Greater Than gin in the affordable segment and Hapusa Himalayan dry gin in the premium segment, Goa was a stroke of luck. “It was one of the many states where we could tie up with an existing manufacturer and build our own unit within its licensed unit. We had already finalised on a partner and a location near Pune, but we had also lined up meetings and visits in Goa to understand the lay of the land,” says Anand Virmani of Nao Spirits.

The company chose to partner with an existing facility to set up its pot stills. “What stood out for us was their ability to understand the craft and our requirements more than anyone else had been able to do previously. The fact that they could accommodate us got us to change our plans and come to Goa,” he adds.

Third Eye Distillery, whose portfolio of products includes Stranger & Sons gin, Short Story Spirits (gin, vodka and rum) and Svami non-alcoholic beverages, was set up in 2018 with an overarching idea of elevating cocktail culture in India. The company recently acquired Countertop, an end-to-end bar and beverage consultancy. “We wanted to highlight the young, modern and fresh India that has all the support that can take age-old traditions and make absolutely new products and business offerings, both in domestic and export markets,” says Vidur Gupta, co-founder of Third Eye. The company has raised $4.28 million across pre-seed and seed funding from angel investors and high-net-worth individuals till date.

Legacy Distillers

Goa’s legacy distillers have warmed up to innovation and market trends with changing times. Adinco Distilleries is a family-owned multi-spirit boutique distillery that started with Aleixo Diniz first distilling feni at his home in Quepem in the late 1800s. With its fourth generation in the business now, the Diniz family recognised the need to create a distinct identity in the global alcohol market and concentrated its efforts on building unique brands. The company, which makes the wildly popular Cabo coconut rum, Old Oak whisky and Tinto feni, has added brands like Tickle gin and Gilmore whisky to its expanding portfolio.

Solomon Diniz, MD of Adinco, is of the opinion that fresh thinking brought in by newer brands in terms of product and marketing has helped in the overall growth of the homegrown spirits space. “The courage to experiment with new thinking that Goa provides to our industry makes it special. Competition helps each brand better itself and embrace new approaches to marketing and distribution, so there is no reason to be wary of new entrants,” he says.

Fullarton Distilleries had an export-only distillery for over 25 years when the third generation took an interest in the business. Forced to quit professional dancing due to a mishap, Aman Thadani thought of getting into the family business of alcohol manufacturing in 2013. The Woodburns whisky, his pet project, was the company’s first launch for the Indian market in 2019, followed by Pumori gin in 2020 and two variants of Segredo Aldeia rum in 2021. “We aim to lead the premium spirits space for the country,” Thadani says.

Diageo India has a 52-year-old relationship with Ponda, thanks to the acquisition of Kesarval Beverages in 1970 which was renamed as McDowell’s and Company Limited. It focuses on driving grain-to-glass sustainability and nurturing the craft spirits ecosystem in India. It recently acquired a strategic minority stake in Nao Spirits.

Strategic Appeal

Makers often employ captivating strategies to reach out to connoisseurs. Chef’s table-led tasting events offer a harmonious fusion of culinary artistry and the craft of master distillers, creating an exceptional symphony of flavours. These exclusive gatherings provide a captivating experience for well-travelled visitors who seek immersive and experiential pursuits. Diageo India launched an artisanal single malt whisky in 2022, called Godawan, and applied strategic marketing techniques to encapsulate an evolved, whisky-drinking clientele with bespoke events in Goa as the test market. It is set to host a state-of-the-art consumer experience centre within its hub.

Consumer experience centres are the newest offering on the anvil from established distillers. At the Visitor Centre at John Distilleries in south Goa, visitors are shown the entire manufacturing process, and each session culminates with tastings of the various expressions. Priced nominally, the activity has found great response from visiting tourists.

A feni-tasting experience at Fazenda Cazulo adds a rustic charm to a Goa visit, where one can enjoy the spirit with Hansel Vaz, founder of the company. The table is set in freshwater from a spring, and visitors can enjoy a curated experience of tasting feni with exclusive food pairings.

Despite the gin boom, not many distilleries are yet open to visitors. Tapping into this space, Mumbai-based entrepreneurs Khalil Bachooali and Devika Bhagat decided to open up their distillery to visitors for an hour-long tour on weekends. Their Adventurist Spirits Distillery in Colvale hosts German-made Müeller copper still that produces Tamras gin, a fairly new addition to the premium gin category.

Business of Craft

Manpreet Singh, a sommelier, found an abundance of Punjab-grown kinnow being sold at throw-away prices at a market in Chandigarh. Wondering about possible uses of the extra-ripe kinnow, Singh toyed with the idea of creating a gin from fruit. “Farmers in India are exposed a lot to the vagaries of nature and, therefore,  price fluctuations,” he points out. He took the idea of creating a mid-range gin to Punjab Agro, an agri-processing organisation, in 2019. “By ensuring a consistent use of their produce in a value-added product as OreGin, we could offer the farmers a more stable income,” Singh says. In June 2023, Rhea Distilleries in Goa, which earlier manufactured grain and grape spirits for international markets only, launched OreGin, the citrus-flavoured gin made from kinnows sourced from Punjab.

Krupa Shah, founder of seltzer brand IST, believes that the state’s favourable norms facilitate a smoother business experience, particularly benefiting new entrants in the alco-bev industry. “The entrepreneurial environment promotes small-batch manufacturing, fostering the growth of start-ups,” she says. The influx of visitors also allows brands to receive feedback from a diverse and extensive audience, enabling them to gain valuable insights to tailor plans for entering other markets accordingly.

“Alcohol has an uncanny ability to bring people together, to foster connections and to create memories that last a lifetime,” says Pankaj Balachandran, co-founder of Bar Tesouro in South Goa and brand director of Short Story, a product range from Third Eye Distillery.
The sentiment of creating exciting small-batch, limited edition products is shared by other young distillers. “We launched just 600 bottles of Mesma, exclusively in Goa, out of which 400 were sold in less than a week,” says Banerjee of Stilldistilling Spirits.

“Gin seems to be well-suited to our climate and our palate as we live in a tropical country where for the most part, it is hot and humid. With our penchant for oily and spicy foods, a drink which is able to cut through that and cleanse the palate with each sip should be most welcome,” Virmani avers.

Goa has seen a huge influx of temporary residents since Covid-19 gripped the country. The presence of connoisseurs alongside visionary entrepreneurs has fostered a strong community that is willing to continuously taste, discuss and promote homegrown beverages over casual events and gatherings. National events like the India Cocktail Week and Gin Explorer’s Club along with flea markets, pop-up bars, bar takeovers and mixologist-based promotions are helming a revolution in alcohol marketing.

Cocktail bars and the culture around mixology are opening up the possibilities for new brands and making Goa the most sought-after destination to get the taste of a wide variety of homegrown liquor and liqueur. The lure of Goa’s high-spirited alco-bev industry is getting too strong to resist.


Paul P. John

Chairman, John Distilleries

Which is your favourite beach in Goa?

Cavelossim, Benaulim and Varca beaches. They are stunning and pristine.

What do you like the most about the state?

I have always loved the culture of Goa, the food and the beaches.

Which are your favourite bars in Goa?

Kiki by the Sea in Siolim, Seven Rivers Brewing Co. in Candolim, Mayan Club in Anjuna, Miss Margarita in Anjuna, Shiori Goa in Siolim and Azule in Mandrem are some of the bars that not only offer great choices in drinks but also have great vibe and food.

If you could give one tip to people visiting Goa for alcohol, what would it be?

That a trip to the Paul John Visitor Centre is a must!


Vidur Gupta

Co-founder, Third Eye Distillery

Which is your favourite bar in Goa?

I appreciate people who put in work into the ambience and cocktail culture. Many people are doing a very creative and fantastic job of it, so it won’t be my place to name just one.

What is your favourite outdoor activity in Goa?

I love to spend time on the beach, play frisbee and have a relaxed time with friends.

One thing that makes Goa exceptional to live in?

In urrak season I love to go urrak-hunting, I think it is even more exciting than the mango season. The whole idea of going into homes where it is being distilled and sourcing it from the source is quite appealing to me.

How much time do you spend in Goa every year?

A fair amount. I am dying to spend more time here than in Mumbai. But for the last four years, it has been six months at the least.


Kasturi Banerjee

Founder StillDistilling Spirits

Which is your favourite bar/tavern in Goa? Why?

Petisco Bar, because of its excellent hospitality, drinks and food; and Miski Bar, because of the wonderful community it is building.

What is your preferred tipple?

Anything that is matured —whisky and rum are my go-to drinks.

What makes the alcohol industry tick?

New-age entrepreneurs—people like us.

What is your favourite outdoor activity in Goa?

Walking with my dog on long stretches of empty beaches.


Pankaj Balachandran

Brand Director Short Story Spirits

Which is your favourite bar/tavern in Goa? Why?

I have never been disappointed at Hideaway or Pablos. I have been visiting Edge as well for some good drinks. One of my favorite places in recent times has been Clube Nacional in Panjim for their quirky snack and simple drinks.

What is your favourite alcohol type and why?

I love agave spirits, so my second choice would be tequila/mezcal after Short Story spirits.

What makes the alcohol industry tick?

There are more and more people recruited into the world of spirit consumption every year. It is like a time-travelling party that has never ended.

What is your favourite outdoor activity in Goa?

I love my weekly beach visits. Also my evening runs by the promenade from Miramar to Panjim by the Mandovi are refreshing.