Gin-gle All The Way: Broken Cricket Bats Make For Winning Spirit
Image Credit: Facebook/@greaterthangin

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WELL, it started off as a joke,” says Anand Virmani, the co-founder, CEO and distiller at Nao Spirits, the makers of Greater Than and Hapusa Indian craft gin brands, about the origins of their latest limited edition offering – Broken Bat. And he was laughing all the way to the podium, when this gin just won the ‘Best Gin in Asia’ award at The Gin Guide Awards 2023, as well as winning in the ‘Best Aged Gin’ category. 

Over the phone from his new home in Goa, he tells us “the story of Broken Bat” starts with his distillery team’s “obsession and interest in doing something different every year” for their limited edition gin range “as a craft gin brand”. In 2020, they launched their first limited edition gin, the Juniper Bomb, “which was basically gin with super accentuated juniper notes, where we used three times the amount of juniper we usually use,” he tells us. The next year, they collaborated with homegrown coffee brand Sleepy Owl to produce No Sleep. And true to their production ethos, “we didn’t just use coffee flavour” but rather they “infused their gin with cold brew coffee” and it gave them “something interesting, and was something they hadn’t done before,” he adds. 

When brainstorming for their third limited gin offering, they “wanted to push themselves and not just replicate what everyone else is doing around the world,” he says. It was important for them to continue to “define what we can be and what we can do as a modern Indian craft gin brand,” Virmani explains. With these motivations firmly planted, they set out to make a barrel-aged gin. “Typically, a barrel-aged gin is one’s regular gin matured in an oak cask for two-three months… this is how everyone else in the world does it,” he observes of the production process.

 However, while this “was great and tried-and tested,” Virmani and his team wondered “if it would be more interesting if we were able to work with a wood that India identifies with”. Initially, they thought teak or mango, and were going down the list of other possibilities when Virmani jokingly remarked on the wood Indians are most passionate about: “cricket bats”. While it started off as a joke, they actually got a cricket bat — most popularly made of Kashmiri willow in India — and infused it into their regular Greater Than Gin. 

Well, not the whole cricket bat; “they cleaned it out, cut it up, toasted it” and infused those wood chips into their regular gin for about a month. And the resulting spirit was “interesting, yes but it wasn’t interesting just because we wanted it to be,” he clarifies. “We really liked it.” Initially dismissed as the jovial musings of a cricket fan, “everyone was surprised that (the gin) actually worked” and “it tasted really nice — it was somewhere between a gin and a whiskey. It was complex. The Kashmiri willow added to the gin but didn’t overpower it. It worked. And it worked pretty well,” he happily reports. 

Nine months after that joking suggestion, arriving at toasting the wood chips at three different temperatures to move between “freshness and smokiness” and other tiny tweaks, they launched the gin: Broken Bat. 

Some of the cricket bats were crowdsourced through their social media channels  “but we didn’t want to put out the reason because we knew we wouldn’t be believed,” he says and laughs. Instead, they told everyone they were building an upcycled fence of broken cricket bats at the distillery. Despite receiving a number of bats, they had also reached out to a bat maker in Kashmir and worked with their off-cuts, usually considered waste wood, that was then upscaled into this award-winning, limited edition gin. And how do you enjoy this gin? “You can do what you want with it,” Virmani assures us. He suggests it “as a gin for your whiskey friends” and finds that it works with most whiskey cocktails too; he’s partial in particular to swapping the whiskey for Broken Bat in his Old Fashioneds. 

While Virmani was happy to talk about the origin and possibilities of Broken Bat, he was mum on the many experiments brewing for next limited edition gin from Nao Spirits, although he hopes they’ll “have something by the end of this year”. Fingers crossed. When we unclasp them from around our cocktail glasses, that is.