Sometime back, I was reading through a newsletter of the Tulleeho Academy, and I came across a brand of Indian Agave Spirits called Desmondji, sometimes shortened to DJ. It is completely made in India, with no foreign collaboration. It had my curiosity and my attention since then. As luck would have it, I never got the opportunity to try it out myself till now. But I made it a point to meet the man behind the innovation – Desmond Nazareth. This time when I made my trip to Goa, I made sure to try to meet him, and luckily for me, he kindly accepted. Desmond, is a simple Gandhian, as he puts it.
An alumni of IIT-Chennai, Desmond studied film making and also pioneered Y2K software solutions in the US. He was fond of mixing spirits and creating something new, something his friends were quite fond of as well. When he returned to India, the alcobev scene in India was in a different stage and the Indian palette was yet to grow and develop to embrace the wide range of spirits the world had to offer. India is primarily a whisky drinking nation, while the white spirits (mostly vodka) where still in a nascent stage in the Indian market. The tequila available in India was consumed only by few, and it was considerably expensive. Tequila is another agave based spirit made in Mexico and is a registered GI in Mexico owned by the Mexican Government.
The sunrise of Agave India was not an overnight story, it took years and years of research, hard work and patience. From his numerous train journeys across the country, Desmond remembered seeing agave plants growing wildly somewhere, but couldn’t remember where exactly. Studying the conditions of agave growing regions in Mexico and matching them with regions having similar conditions in India, Desmond realized it had to be somewhere in the South in the Deccan belt. With this, he went out on a road trip to discover this plant, and see if this is what could help him build what he had in mind. And he bumped into the Agave plants, growing wildly as a fence to some farms in the region. He bought the plants, loaded it up and drove back home. After more than a decade of research, about 14 years to be precise, and no foreign help, Desmond came up with Agave India an entirely Indian brand of Agave spirits which today has a wide product range in its kitty, and some more in the offing. He raised the money for this on his own, and broke through all the bureaucratic red tape as well, which by no means has been an easy feat. A lot of people tend to lose hope and spirit, when having to deal with the troubles that a start-up especially in a category not known to the market before has to, but not Desmond.
Today, Agave India is India’s first micro-distillery. It is also the first alcobev company in India to make high quality Margarita blends, Agave spirits and Orange liqueurs using original production methods and materials while adhering to international standards and procedures.
On display on the shelf at his humble home, are all the eight products that the company currently manufactures, which Desmond shows me with pride. 51% agave, 51% agave gold (oak finish), the interesting 100% agave, pure cane with the cane aroma notes, margarita, blue margarita, orange liqueur and blue curacao. What captures my attention is the interesting shape of the bottles. Unlike most alcobev bottles, these are not round cylindrical regular bottles. They have a unique shape. Round on one side, flat on the other. They won’t roll off if you keep it flat on the table. The key feature of the ‘100% Agave’, ‘51% Agave Gold (Oak Finish) and ‘51% Agave’ double-distilled spirit products is that they are made from blue-green Agave species growing on India’s Deccan Plateau. ‘100% Agave’ is very smooth and pleasantly aromatic and hence capable of being sipped (most Mexicans sip their 100% Agave and do not drink ‘51% Agave’); ‘51% Agave Gold (Oak Finish)’ is their path-breaking sip-able brown agave spirit – the big difference is that in DesmondJi Agave Gold, unlike in Tequila®*Gold (which uses caramel for coloring), they finish their Agave Gold with charred oak chips, which provide the golden color and the oaky smoky taste, and which should make their first brown spirit, a product of interest to scotch whisky drinkers in India, as it is smooth and sip-able, (especially ‘on the rocks’) while also being used for cocktails and shots as well. ‘51% Agave’ is great for doing shots and making Agave spirit based cocktails. All their Agave spirits are strong, at 37.1% alcohol by volume.
The key feature of the ‘Orange Liqueur’ and ‘Blue Curaçao’ liqueur is that they are made using the natural essential oils of India’s famed Nagpur oranges. These oranges have very distinct and pleasant sensory characteristics which are easily recognized, particularly by Indians. Their essential oils are blended with superior quality triple-distilled grain spirit and a high grade of sugar. Our liqueurs are strong, at 37.1% alcohol by volume, which is close to the strength of the imported French orange liqueur, Cointreau®*
The key feature of the ‘Pure Cane’ double-distilled product is that it is made from 100% pure sugarcane juice, squeezed from a specially selected sugarcane species growing on India’s Deccan Plateau. This smooth and flavorful sugarcane spirit captures the nose of fresh sugarcane juice and sugarcane in the fields, and it is made in artisan style, thereby inheriting the familial association to the famed Brazilian Cachaça* and to the Rhum Agricole* of the West Indies. It would make terrific Mojitos, Caipirinhas, Daiquiris, Pina Coladas and other cocktails that call for a floral light white ‘rum’
You would never see flashy advertisements or hoardings of Desmondji, I most definitely never have. Desmond tells me that word of mouth is his strongest mode of advertisement. He ensures that his product is of the best quality and the prices are kept low, making it available to a larger market. And his product are amazing, no doubt about that. I got a sniff of the pure cane, and it was so refreshing. It is made in the typical Brazilian CachaÇa-style and is a 100% pure sugarcane spirit, distilled in small batch pot-stills. If just the whiff was so fresh and tempting, I can only imagine how the product taste could be. Desmond emphasizes the amazing brand story he has, and how it makes each bottle manufactured really special. In fact, it has been found that in a blind tasting it is quite hard to find any difference between DesmondJi 100% Agave and Don Julio Blanco. International connoisseurs often find it difficult to accept that this amazing spirit could come from India.
What strikes me the most as I sit at his home and talk to him, is the simplicity of the man before me. He talks to me as friend and makes me feel at ease through the entire conversation. His story has been really inspiring, at a time when I tend to lose hope and feel frustrated with my work every few days, he is a man who stood by his idea, kept pushing and making things work to bring his idea to fruition. We talk about if he would explore the largest tequila consuming nation in the world – the United States, he smiles and says, maybe someday. It is currently available in India in Goa, Daman, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Puducherry, Delhi NCR and Karnataka.
Would-be entrepreneurs must read his story and talk to Desmond if they get a chance. His story is immensely inspiring and motivating, and shows how an idea can make a difference.