Everything you wanted to know about DesmondJi (DJ) but didn't know whom to ask

authored By Desmond Nazareth

If you study the brand names of international spirits and liqueurs, you will find many that are named after the founder of the small original distillery… Examples are Johnnie Walker®*, Chivas®*, Jack Daniel’s*®, José Cuervo®*, Smirnoff®*… the list is long. However, most of these pre-date the 1900s! So it has been a while since there has been any personal name branding in the alcobev space, especially in India — with names like McDowell’s®* and Haywards®* being the closest. Innovation in spirits and liqueurs since the 1900s has become largely corporatized, with products mainly being created by anonymous groups of people in laboratories. So DesmondJi® is a bold departure for a startup company like ours, in which ‘Desmond‘ the first name of Agave India’s founder, Desmond Nazareth, speaks to a ‘truth’ behind the brand – he came up with the original ideas in the year 2000; personally did the R&D for spirits and liqueurs over the nearly eighteen years; personally raised the funds from an international group of investors; handled India’s notorious bureaucratic process first-hand; front-ended the search for the craft-distillery site in rural AP, the selection and handling of contractors and the construction of buildings; worked very closely with the custom designers of equipment, buildings and bottle; personally hired and trained all the technical staff and now serves as the behind-the-scenes Master Distiller and Master Blender, among other things. The ‘Ji‘ part reflects both the purely Indian source of raw materials and Indian technical ingenuity, while simultaneously making the concatenation ‘light and easy’ and fun to play with as a name.

Besides, with the Indian propensity to make acronyms of brand names, DesmondJi shortens to ‘DJ‘, which is nice and easy on the tongue – think ‘DJ Margaritas‘, ‘DJ shots‘… Besides, Disc Jockeys (DJs) might feel the urge to occasionally announce, in dancing/drinking clubs ‘Hey folks, it’s DJ time! Get your DJ shots and DJ Margaritas now!’  🙂

DJ‘ has also become the brand prefix for our Indian heritage DJ Mahua spirit and liqueur.

Credit for coming up with ‘DesmondJi’ goes to experienced Goa-based brand consultant, Cajetan Vaz, who officially guided our branding effort.

‘DesmondJi’ and ‘DJ’ stand for the fun of exploration, which sometimes leads to unexpected pleasant outcomes. The brand attributes include the new-found spirit of innovation in India, bold initiatives, uncovering potential in India’s native resources and Heritage alcohols, an anti-corruption stance, pleasant mischief and fun. These also happen to be personal interests and characteristics of the founder of the company 🙂

We are currently producing India’s first premium affordable, easy-to-make alcoholic Margarita and Blue Margarita blends, ‘100% Agave, 51% Agave Gold (Oak Finish) and 51% Agave’ spirits and essential oil-based ‘Orange Liqueur’ and ‘Blue Curaçao’ liqueurs, and sugarcane spirit product ‘Pure Cane’. We have just introduced a game-changing high-end version of Central India forest belt flower spirit, DJ Mahua, and a unique honey and spice informed ‘DJ Mahua liqueur’.The key feature of our two alcoholic Margarita blends is that they make it very easy to make classy Margaritas at home and in bars. You do not have to worry about the proportions of Agave spirit and Orange liqueurs to make tasty Margaritas. The products are a potent (40% alcohol by volume) concoction of our own Agave Spirit and Orange liqueurs, which allow you to make up to 15 Margaritas from one 750ml bottle! To make a basic Margarita, you just add fresh lime juice and lots of ice to our blends; for more exotic Margaritas, use a household blender to add a variety of fruits juices (e.g. strawberry, pineapple, kiwi fruit, mango, sugar cane juice, etc), ideally fresh, to our blends; and even try some unusual ingredients like tender coconut, sugar cane and cucumber juice (!), to make excellent Margaritas.

The key feature of our ‘100% Agave’, ‘51% Agave Gold (Oak Finish) and ‘51% Agave’ double-distilled spirit products is that they are made from the Agave americana growing on India’s Deccan Plateau. ‘100% Agave’ is very smooth and pleasantly aromatic and hence capable of being sipped; ‘51% Agave Gold (Oak Finish)’ is our path-breaking sippable brown agave spirit – the big difference is that in DesmondJi 51% Agave Gold, unlike in Tequila®*Gold (which uses caramel for coloring), we finish our 51% Agave spirit with charred oak chips, which provide the golden color and the oaky smoky taste, and which should make our first brown spirit product of interest to scotch whisky drinkers in India, as it is smooth and sippable, especially ‘on the rocks’) – of course, it can also be used for cocktails and shots as well. ‘51% Agave’ is great for doing shots and making Agave spirit based cocktails. All our Agave spirits are strong, at 40% alcohol by volume.

The key feature of our ‘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 40% alcohol by volume, which is also the strength of the imported French orange liqueur, Cointreau®*

The key feature of our ‘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 artisanal style, thereby inheriting the familial association to the famed Brazilian Cachaça* and to the Rhum Agricole* of the West Indies. It makes terrific Mojitos, Caipirinhas, Daiquiris, Pina Coladas and other cocktails that call for a floral light white ‘rum’ (Note: Authentic ‘Rums’ are normally pot-distilled from a molasses fermentative base). Our product is strong, at 40% alcohol by volume.

The key feature of our ‘DJ Mahua’ is that it is made from hygienic Mahua juice, extracted from Mahua flowers growing in the Central Indian jungles. This ‘drink of the gods’ captures the joyous intoxication, heady aroma and piquant tang of a marvelous drink. The best way to enjoy your DJ Mahua is tonic water/flavored soda/fruit juice of your choice with a drop of lime and ice cubes. Our product is strong, at 40% alcohol by volume.

The key feature of our ‘DJ Mahua Liqueur’ is that it is made from hygienic Mahua juice, extracted from Mahua flowers growing in the Central Indian jungles, to which we added honey and spices to bring out a smooth twist worthy of a good liqueur. This original creation from our craft distilleries imagines the glory of a drink rumored to be a favorite of the Gods. The best way to enjoy your DJ Mahua liqueur is tonic water/flavored soda/fruit juice of your choice with a drop of lime and ice cubes. Our product is strong, at 40% alcohol by volume.

Agave spirits (generically known in Mexico as mezcals) are typically double-distilled spirits made from a few (~30 or so) of the various Agave species native to Central America, most notably Mexico. Among these are Tequila®* and Mezcal* . The process of making them is quite elaborate and involves harvesting the mature stems of the Agave plant, cooking and juicing them, fermenting the sweet juice, followed by double-distillation, with the entire process taking several days, or even weeks!Agave species were propagated around the world during the so-called Columbian Exchange, when many plants and other species were exchanged between the Old (Eurasia) and New (the Americas) worlds, starting in the 16th century AD. Most of the 250 or so Agave varieties are used for decorative purposes and only a few are used for producing Agave spirit.

There are several Agave species documented in the records as having been in India well over a hundred years ago, one of which is the Agave americana that Desmond discovered was perfect for producing our Indian Agave spirits.

Tequila®* and Mezcal* are Geographical Indications (GIs) in Mexico owned by the Mexican Government. This means that only Agave spirits produced from specific species of Agave grown in specified regions of Mexico and governed by specific rules can be called Tequila®*s and Mezcal*s. In fact, most Agave spirits in Mexico used to be described as mezcals until some decades ago. e.g., what is now known as Tequila® use to be described as ‘mezcal de Tequila’ not so long ago, which translates to ‘Mezcal from Tequila’, Tequila being name of a small Mexican town! Over the past several decades this particular mezcal acquired the status of Mexico’s national spirit and now the Mexican Government is very protective about any misuse of that name.

Our Indian Agave spirits are made from the Agave americana that grows on the Deccan Plateau and has been growing and adapting in India for well over a hundred years. This species is very closely related to Mexican blue Agave species but has inevitably acquired some local characteristics over the centuries that it has become adapted to geo-climatic conditions in India. Respecting the international WTO rules governing GIs, we do not call our Agave spirits Tequila®* or Mezcal*, but all Agave and Agave-based spirits belong to the global family of Agave spirits, no matter where they are made, as long as similar raw material, production processes and quality standards are used.

Most of the Tequila®* and Tequila®* Gold that is exported by Mexico around the world is technically ‘51% Agave’. It is never described as such, though. What that means is that 51% of the raw material that goes into the fermentation comes from the Agave plant and the remaining 49% comes from some other sugars, typically raw cane sugar or corn sugar. Unless a bottle from Mexico specifically says ‘100% Agave’ and variations of that description, you can almost be sure that it is ‘51% Agave’, though that is never mentioned explicitly on bottles! ‘100% Agave’ is always made from pure Agave juice. (Note: 100% Agave is to single malt whisky as 51% Agave is to blended whisky, roughly speaking).

‘51% Agave Gold (Oak Finish)’ is our path-breaking sippable brown agave spirit – the big difference is that in DesmondJi 51% Agave Gold, unlike in Tequila®* Gold (which uses caramel for colouring), we finish our 51% Agave spirit with charred oak chips, which provides the golden colour and the oaky smoky taste, and which should make our first brown spirit product of interest to scotch whisky drinkers in India, as it is smooth and sippable, especially ‘on the rocks’) – of course, it can also be used for cocktails and shots as well.

As far as we know, we are the only significant craft producers of 100% Agave and other Agave-based spirits and products outside of Mexico!

Sugarcane, or pure cane, spirits are typically double-distilled spirits made from the pressed juices of some of the various sugarcane species growing in South America and the French West Indies, most notably Brazil and Martinique, respectively. Among these are Cachaça* and Rhum Agricole*. The process of making them is elaborate and involves harvesting the mature stems of the sugarcane plant, cleaning and juicing them, fermenting the sweet juice, followed by double-distillation, with the entire process taking several days.Sugarcane species, native to South Asia and especially India, were propagated around the world during the so-called Columbian Exchange, when many plants and other species were exchanged between the Old (Eurasia) and New (the Americas) worlds, starting in the 16th century AD. Most of the 40 or so sugarcane varieties are used for producing sugar and only a few are used to produce sugarcane spirit. Famous sugarcane spirits have taken root in Brazil (Cachaça*) and other countries.

Interestingly India, one of the world’s oldest and largest growers of sugarcane, is not known for producing high-end sugarcane spirits, except perhaps in some unregulated ‘country liquor’ form.

Cachaça* is a quasi-Geographical Indication (GI) in Brazil, ‘owned’ by the Brazilian Government, and recognized by a few countries, including recently the US. If the GI is granted (it is still under dispute) it would mean that only sugarcane spirits produced from specific species of sugarcane grown in specified regions of Brazil and governed by specific rules, can be called Cachaça*. The situation with Rhum Agricole* is somewhat similar, but there isn’t as high an international recognition value of that name. Over the past several decades Cachaça* acquired the status of Brazils’ national spirit and the Brazilian Government is somewhat protective about any misuse of that name. DesmondJi Pure Cane spirit is made from a specially selected sugarcane species that grows on the Deccan Plateau. All sugarcane spirits belong to the global family of sugarcane spirits, no matter where they are made, as long as similar raw material, production processes and quality standards are used.

Most of the Cachaça* that is made by Brazil, around 1500 million liters per industry figures, is consumed locally in Brazil and is most often used for making caipirinhas, the famous cocktail. Around 1% is exported, mainly to Germany (Europe) and the USA.

Sugarcane spirit, like DesmondJi Pure Cane, can be considered a ‘light white rum’, even though the word ‘rum’ is mostly used only for spirit that used molasses as a fermentative base. None the less, our product can be used to make any number of popular cocktails, like Mojitos, Caipirinhas, Daiquiris, Pina Coladas, Cuba Libres etc.

As far as we know, we are likely the only significant producers and branders of pure sugarcane spirit in India.

Most fully Indian made spirits are produced by the addition of flavors to ‘taste-less’ and ‘odour-less’ ENA (Extra Neutral Alcohol), derived from the column distillation of fermented molasses (which is a by-product of the sugar industry). Some spirits made in India have started to use ENA derived from grain as a base. This flavored spirit is then diluted down to roughly 40% alcohol by volume.Thus, by adding different flavors (and sometimes caramel for colour) to the same ENA, you can produce Indian ‘whisky’, or ‘rum, or ‘gin’, or ‘brandy’!!! This accounts for the relatively low cost of the so-called ‘IMFL’ (Indian Made Foreign Liquor).

More or less the same is true of most of the few liqueurs that are made in India (with perhaps the exception of those made in Royal Houses – an old tradition). Of course, liqueurs are sweet, so sugar is also an ingredient.

Our Agave spirits are made using the elaborate week(s) long process that is followed in Mexico: including harvesting, cleaning, slicing, cooking, shredding, juicing, fermentation and double-distillation.

Our Orange and Blue Curaçao liqueurs are made using the essential oils that have been extracted from Nagpur oranges, and blended with high quality triple-distilled grain spirit and sugar.

Our Pure Cane spirit is made from the juice of a specially selected sugarcane species growing on the Deccan plateau, fermented and double-distilled to capture a smooth, flavorful and fresh sugarcane bouquet.

Our Mahua spirit is made using the elaborate week(s) long process, including hygienelly harvesting,drying, storing, shipping,with further cleaning and washing before fermentation and double-distillation.

Our Mahua liqueur is made using our own multiple distilled Mahua spirit, Coorg based honey and some essential oils extracted from select Indian spices, blended with high quality triple-distilled grain spirit and sugar.

Our flagship products are our field-to-bottle 100% Agave spirit, a sippable ‘single malt’ equivalent that is really smooth and close to what Mexicans drink in Mexico. 100% Agave can of course also be used to do shots and make high-end cocktails for the ones who can afford it. Please note that our 100% agave is a small fraction of the cost of imported Mexican 100% Agave – for quality comparisons, you’ll have to look at user reviews (e.g. see the review in the GQ magazine feature article on our website, under ‘Media’). We are the only significant producers of Agave spirits outside of Mexico.

We are particularly proud of our latest breakthrough official mahua based products, DJ Mahua spirit and DJ Mahua Liqueur. These are made by us, forest-to-bottle, using flowers that are collected by our tribal partners from the forests of Central India, which is primarily where the bulk of Mahua trees grow. Mahua spirit made by Central India’s indigenous tribals has a long cultural history spanning centuries and is deeply rooted in their traditions. It has the distinction of being one-of-a-kind, in a global category of its own: the only pot distilled spirit made from a naturally sweet flower. We are working with Central and State Indian authorities to establish it as a Regional Heritage spirit in 13 out of 29 Indian states and hope that it will eventually be annointed as India’s National Heritage spirit… this development is a unique ‘black swan event’ in the field of global alcobev and is a gift from India to the world. We fully acknowledge and deeply respect the heritage of tribal people involved and are working on livelihood and tourism opportunities that will help them.

We are also producing innovative, affordable and easy-to-make alcoholic Margarita blends, the Classic and the Blue. These are long-shelf life alcoholic blends of our Agave spirits and Nagpur Orange based liqueurs. They can be used by almost anyone to make superb tasting Margaritas. To make Margaritas with DesmondJi Margarita, or Blue Margarita, you just add fresh lime juice, enough ice to dilute, shake or stir, and serve in a glass rimmed with salt. Or you can be endlessly creative using our Margarita blends as a base and making all kinds of Margaritas with fresh fruit juice or packaged fruit juices and ice, using a blender. (Note: Our alcoholic margarita blends are very different from the non-alcoholic margarita ‘mixes’ generally available in the market – these mixes require you to add Tequila®* to make a cocktail)

We also manufacture another path-breaking, game changing field-to-bottle ‘proudly Made in India’ product – DesmondJi Pure Cane. It is made from 100% pure sugarcane juice, pressed from a specially selected species of sugarcane, then fermented and double-distilled to produce a smooth clear spirit, and belongs to the internationally family of sugarcane spirits, like Brazil’s famous Cachaça and Rhum Agricole from the West Indies.

“I have multiple interests and a variety of formal training, with degrees in pure sciences & engineering (IIT Madras, India); multimedia & computer sciences (USA). I have lived and worked in India (43+ years) and the USA (~18 years). I have traveled to many parts of the world on work and pleasure. I have a global outlook that is “inclusive”- my view takes into account the underprivileged and the environment.I am an entrepreneur with significant international business experience. Thus far, the pattern is that I come up with “big”, out-of-the-box ideas, let them simmer in my mind for a while, research them thoroughly, take on equally committed and passionate partner(s), “seed” fund the R&D with my own money, then involve family and close friends for further initial funding and project development, and eventually reach out to like-minded people and institutions for final funding only when my projects reach a fairly mature stage.

I only undertake projects that I am very passionate about and can take full responsibility for. Thus far, all my projects have either successfully terminated, or have ‘legs’ of their own and are in safe hands of equally passionate and committed co-owners.

My work in the US involved coming up with innovative software toolkit and process solutions for the Y2K problem, starting very early in 1986! Since I moved base in to India in the year 2000, I have spent a lot of time with specialty alcohol R&D. My other India-based projects include international historical documentaries involving the Portuguese presence in India and a 3D computer animated fantasy feature film that connects with China/Japan/Korea via the Buddhist route! I have also initiated two international projects, one public health (mosquito menace related) and the other concerning child empowerment, that are both primarily directed to ‘bottom of the pyramid’ global populations.

With the launching of the DesmondJi brand in India, I could say that my relationship with innovation and business in India has moved from ‘high tech’ to ‘high spirits’, following the ‘high road’ 😉 “

“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 2000, several friends there asked me to revive my interest in cocktails. I found myself searching liquor stores for the ingredients of popular cocktails, including the Margarita. At that time, even ordinary Tequila®* and Cointreau®* were extremely hard to find and when available, were exorbitantly priced. A random question was triggered off in my mind, for no apparent reason: 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 Agave plants growing in India during my cross-country travels in India in my childhood. Having some general knowledge about these matters, 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! Looking at the other key parameters for the possible migration and hosting of plant species, I found startlingly close matches in terms of soil, rainfall, temperature, altitude i.e. key geo-climatic factors. I concluded that I must have seen these plants while traveling 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 Agave, if only I could find it in India! Shortly after moving to Goa, and after meeting the right people (Miguel Braganza and Johnny da Silva) who could help me find the plants and experiment, we set off on a road trip into the Deccan, armed with all my data files, in search of the Agave americana – lo and behold, we found some within a day!

Further details of the Agave India story may have to await my auto-biography 😉 “

“Having successfully made very high quality Agave spirits by 2007 in R&D mode, I realized that the main use they were put to was in the making of Margaritas. For the classic Margarita, one needs a good Orange liqueur like Cointreau®*, Grand Marnier®*, Triple Secs, or Blue Curaçaos. I wanted a world-class Orange liqueur to go with my world-class Agave spirit to make world-class Margaritas in India! So I contacted a couple of the French producers of renowned Orange liqueurs and requested them to consider making their products in India, so that the cost to the Indian consumer would be affordable. They ignored me! Having researched the making of these liqueurs, that lack of response was all the impetus I need to say ‘What the heck? I’ll make these on my own, with oranges from India.’ After a couple of years of R&D, I chose the Nagpur Orange as my basis and over the next few years developed what I believe is a world class Orange liqueur and Blue Curaçao liqueur. I now had two of the key ingredients of my classy Margarita, made entirely in India with Indian raw materials! The third, fresh lime juice, is readily and affordably available in India.

As indicated elsewhere, further juicy details will come out in my auto-biography 😉 “

Mahua is a tree which grows in the Central Indian jungles. The sacred Mahua tree is an integral element of the tribal culture of Northern Maharashtra, Eastern Rajasthan and Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Southern Bihar, Northern Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Odisha. The Mahua rasa, a fermented and distilled drink made from the flower, has a long and vibrant history and is famed to be the weakness of the tribal deities, and coveted equally by humans, deer and birds deep in the jungles. It isn’t just a drink, but is a potent retelling of India’s colourful tribal history, brilliant folk storytelling and art.

For DesmondJi, the art and craft of drink isn’t just a business. It’s a celebration of community and culture, the mixing of people, races and traditions. Every label out of the DesmondJi (DJ) stable is a testament to this belief – be it DesmondJi Agave, Pure Cane or our Orange Liqueur. Our small batch craft distillery is designed to deliver pure, world-class alcohols that are true to taste only because of our ambition to recreate indigenous brews relatively untouched by time. Which is why, when we’ve spend years perfecting the craft of creating alco-bevs from across the globe, we could not sit by watching the sun set on India’s very own indigenous creations. In collaboration with tribes and locals in the forest belts of Central India, we’re bringing Mahua to the forefront of exotic offerings in the alcobev category. Our endeavour hopes to empower local women with a sense of identity and employment, help communities share knowledge and encourage locals to push for the conservation of Mahua trees and bring a fresh lease of life to the cause of preserving our indigenous tribal heritage.

With our DJ Mahua alco-bev products, we look forward to introducing the world to the mythology and exquisite taste of a famed Indian spirit. We believe our indigenous liquors have the same enormous potential as did Yoga when it was first introduced to the world.

Both DJ Mahua and DJ Mahua liqueur are innovative in their own ways. They are made to be world- class alcobev products that adhere to international quality standards.DJ Mahua is made after conducting around 5 levels of hygiene on the flowers, from collection till fermentation. It is multiple distilled at a very high strength and bottled at 40% alcohol by volume, unlike Mahua country liquor, which is typically single distilled and bottled at 10-20% alcohol by volume.

DJ Mahua liqueur is our own unique creation, using the DJ Mahua as a base, and adding notes of natural honey and spices to create a liqueur that can be a terrific base for cocktails.

“All our product lines were completely researched and developed by me, with no foreign experts involved – the Agave spirits over a ten year period and the Orange liqueurs over a 4 year period. Needless to say this took much study, process development and refining, experimentation, chemical testing and countless rounds of taste-testing, with most of the taste-testing being ‘blind’, as I kept the project as low-key and ‘under-the-radar’ as possible.I am always concerned about quality issues and hence have the products analyzed in laboratories w.r.t. potentially dangerous ingredients (e.g. methanol), with commercially available products being used as benchmarks.

This self-taught approach is in contrast to the few other major innovators in the Indian alcobev space (e.g. whisky, wine and beer) who often bring in foreign experts (master distillers, master winemakers and beer makers), or go abroad to get trained, presumably to hasten the learning process. I enjoy exploring and learning new things and that was the more satisfying way for me to learn the art and craft of distilling and liqueur making… on my own.

Having said that, we are very grateful to the many people who have willingly contributed their expertise and contacts in a variety of other domains which we were relatively unfamiliar with. One such gem is Mr Thatte, a specialist in fermentation agents. Agave India will forever be indebted to these generous souls – the rest they know who they are 🙂 “

“I have evolved into a ‘master distiller’ and ‘master blender’ by virtue of my years of hands on R&D and experimentation.I have trained an apprentice master distiller for Agave and cane spirits in the craft-distillery and will continue to train him and others as the company gets into other spirit production.

As for a master blender, I again serve as the consulting master blender for our products and have trained a multi-talented master-blender in Goa, Conrad Braganza.”

“The project is entirely privately funded, up to this point (Jan 2019). The first few years of R&D were self-funded; then I was joined by my encouraging and able co-promoters, the financially astute Sunil Alva and my co-conspirator in experimentation, the ebullient Johnny da Silva, with initial major funding coming from close family and long time IIT friends. We have subsequently been joined by a stellar list of well-connected and highly experienced angel investors from various parts of India, Asia, Europe and the US, several of whom also function as advisors to Agave India.”

We own a 44 acre plot in Chittoor District, Andhra Pradesh, where our agro facility and craft-distillery are located. This is located less than 150 km by road from Bangalore. The plot is located in a very scenic area surrounded by rocky hills, and is within 30km of Andhra Pradesh’s only hill station, Horsely Hills (and incidentally, the original Rishi Valley School.)We also have our own storage and bottling equipment, dedicated to our work, in a leased bottling facility in Goa, when all our blending, bottling and packaging is executed/supervised by our Goa team.

We have around 40 employees and about 25 daily casual labor working full-time at this stage.

Our products fall into the price category for premium Indian made spirits and liqueurs. This is because our process is very costly in terms of labor and raw material, as well as other inputs, unlike most IMFLs. Even so, we are pricing in a very competitive way, to make our drinks affordable. In Goa, cost for a 750 ml bottle of DesmondJi: Margarita, Blue Margarita, Orange liqueur and Blue Curaçao liqueur is Rs 625; 51% Agave and 51% Agave Gold is Rs 875; 100% Agave is Rs 1100; Pure Cane is Rs 625. DJ Mahua costs Rs 975 and DJ Mahua Liqueur costs 1275. All products are a strength of 40% alc/vol.

These prices work out to roughly one-third to one-fourth the price of any comparable imported products. (Note: The prices mentioned are good as of Jan 2019 – please look up ‘Products’ section on our website for the latest prices)

Given that you can make up to 15 quality Margaritas from one 750ml bottle of our 40% v/v blends (DesmondJi Margarita and Blue Margarita), you have an unbeatable value proposition! A veritable game-changer!!!

Note that prices in other regions of India will vary with the local (state-based) tax regime and will typically be much higher.

About 80% of our consumers are likely to be middle to upper class urban women and men in the age group early 20s to early 50s, with the remaining 20% coming from middle to upper class urban women and men in the 55+ age range.

While our Margarita blends are meant for all Margarita lovers (we’ve seen men enjoying them in significant percentages), they are likely going to be a greater percentage of women who’ll go for them.

Our Agave spirits by themselves are being used mostly for shots and other Agave spirit based cocktails. We recommend that discerning drinkers try sipping our 100% Agave product to get the taste of pure Agave spirit, like most people in Mexico do, though that would require some education and behavior change which will take time.

Our premium Orange and Blue Curaçao liqueurs can be used with our own Agave spirits to make margarita cocktails, and can also be used to make all manner of Orange liqueur based cocktails (including Margaritas with imported Mexican Tequila®* or Mezcal®*), being used as a substitute for Cointreau®* or other imported Triple Secs. We recommend that our strong liqueurs be sipped neat, or with ice, or as a fizzy drink with club soda, ice and a squeeze of fresh lime, or even added to deserts like gulab jamuns and ice-cream, liqueur chocolates and liqueur infused pastries!

Our DesmondJi Pure Cane product can be used to make a variety of well-known and highly popular international cocktails – Mojitos, Caipirinhas, Daiquiris, Pina Coladas, Cuba Libres, etc – up to 15 cocktails per 750ml bottle!

Our DJ Mahua spirit and liqueur products can be used to make a variety of cocktails, using creative combinations of sodas and fruit juices, and especially Indian tonic water – up to 15 cocktails per 750ml bottle! 

Around 50% our sales are direct to consumer via the retail stores – consumers are finding our products very easy to use for home parties and celebratory occasions, like weddings, re-unions etc. In fact, with a ‘DesmondJi Bar’ stocked with our 10 products, you can literally concoct dozens of cocktails and shots, very easily! Those interested in getting soft copy of a variety of easy-to-make and tasty DJ cocktails and shots, as well as a DJ Party Planner can write in to us at info@agaveindia.com for copies.

We have also noticed that our products make great gifts – within India and for takeaways from India, and we strongly encourage their use as ‘a special gift from Goa / India’ 🙂

In the premium Agave spirits arena, our main competitors in India are all the imported bottled Tequila®* or Mezcal* offerings from international alcobev majors and some imported-in-bulk-and-bottled-in-India Tequila®* from some Indian players. In the premium Orange liqueur arena, our main competitors in India are all the imported bottled offerings like Cointreau®* or other imported Triple Secs from international alcobev majors and a few made-in-India offerings from Indian players.

In the premium Margarita blend arena, we have no competition at this time in India. Most Margarita ‘mixes’ are non-alcoholic and need Tequila®* to be added to what is essentially sweetened orange flavored and lime flavored juice, with preservatives added. Some alcobev players abroad have started offering pre-flavored ready-to-drink Margaritas as well, in the past couple of years. Our alcoholic Margarita-in-bottle blends, including the Blue Margarita, have high alcohol strength (40% alc/vol) and need you to only add fresh lime juice, or blend with a variety of fruit juices – this is because we firmly believe in having a fresh tasting Margarita, which makes all the difference. The high strength allows you to get upto 15 premium Margaritas from one 750ml bottle, which is a great value proposition, given the affordable cost.

In the premium cane spirit arena, our main current competitors are all the imported Cachaças* and Rhum Agricoles from international alcobev majors.

With the bottled-abroad imports, we provide robust competition on quality and price point, and with the bottled-in-India imports, we compete mainly on quality and to a smaller extent on price.

As of Jan 2019, we have no competitors for our official DJ mahua products.

In short, DesmondJi products are significant game-changers in India’s premium alcobev market.

Exports: Already two importer/bottlers from outside India have started sourcing our products – we feel proud that our attention to international quality and packaging, not to speak of innovative products, is being gradually recognized. Sales of our co-branded (with Porfidio) 100% Agave spirit have been happening all over the US since Dec 2017, via online order and home delivery, with increasing presence in US stores 🙂

We started with a low-key launch in Goa in April 2011, then Daman in Apr 2012, followed by Pondicherry in Oct 2012, Mumbai in Nov 2012, Bangalore in Dec 2012; Pune in Feb 2013; New Delhi in Dec 2018. Slowly entering other Tier 2 cities in the sates we are registered in.We are working with various distribution/promotion partners who handle the ‘push’ side of the marketing in these territories. We hope to be in most first-tier, and some second-tier Indian metros within the next few years.

We also plan to add some innovative premium and super-premium products to the existing Agave spirits, Cane spirit, Orange Liqueurs, Margarita blends, and Mahua lines, and will be expanding our range of premium international and Indian spirits and liqueurs to make further headway into the space that serves the Indian and international cocktail market.

DesmondJi ‘Pure Cane’, which competes head on with imported Brazilian Cachaça* and Rhum Agricoles, as well as with all ‘light white rums’ is an example of this.

Via co-branding partners, we have already entered the internatonal market in the US and Europe with our Indian agave and cane spirits.

We are actively working on making Mahua a Regional Heritage spirit in several states in India, and finally hope to have it deemed India’s National Heritage spirit, with a GI. In the meanwhile, we are actively looking for internation alcobev players to partner with us on taking our ‘black swan, blue ocean’ DJ mahua products to the rest of India, and in parallel, the world!

“I approached this whole project with a learn-as-you-go attitude and hence had a lot of fun because I was experiencing almost everything for the first time. There were several low points, however, especially during the economic downturn of 2008/2009, when investor funding for the project almost dried up; and others when the government and bureaucracy seemed particularly opaque and difficult to deal with, when I really had to hang on my original vision and be driven by passion in order to go forward. Dealing with the largely corrupt and inefficient Indian bureaucracy and government, with a few notable exceptions, continues to be a drag on my spirit.”

There are several firsts to our credit that we are proud of: we are India’s first official craft-distillery; our eye-catching proprietary bottles were designed by a talented product designer, Goa-based Ms. Reboni Saha, who was designing a bottle for the first time; our visually attractive open-design facilities in Andhra Pradesh, which include an agro processing unit and the craft-distillery, were designed by a talented architect, Goa-based Ms. Hyacinth Pinto, who was designing such a facility for the first time; we are the first alcobev company in India to make high quality Margarita blends, Agave spirits and Orange Liqueurs using authentic production methods and materials (rather than simply flavoring ENA with lab developed flavors) with all our raw materials being sourced from India. Our offical Mahua products being made in AP and sold in Goa represent the first time that a unique Heritage alcohol product, previously only made and sold by tribal peoples as a lowly ‘Country spirit’, is being sold as an official ‘IML’ premium craft spirit.Then again, all our specialized equipment was custom-designed for the first time by a talented and gung-ho fabricator/assembler, Mr. KR Ananda, who is based in Bangalore.

We have built a dedicated and superb team in Andhra Pradesh and Goa, to handle the various tasks involved in this geographically dispersed and challenging project. It is interesting to note that virtually all our current employees were hired on the basis of word-of-mouth and not advertisements!

We are particularly proud of setting up our facilities in a remote rural area in AP, and working with villagers in this semi-arid terrain to enhance their livelihood opportunities. Some of these are cooperatives but others are private contractors, who are now seeing value from waste-land use for agave cultivation. We are now also working with tribal entrepreneurs in Central Indian forest areas to source mahua flowers. We are proud to be working with some economically depressed communites in a win-win manner.

A basic obstacle was actually finding an environmentally-friendly and viable project site in a semi-arid rural area that was optimal from the standpoint of almost ten parameters – that took us almost six months of intense searching!The other more obvious obstacles were getting all the various official permissions, starting from the village level, through the district and state levels, all the way to the Central government!

Trying to communicate a new concept to the bureaucracy and government, that of a ‘craft-distillery’ making previously unheard of products, was extremely challenging – but there were several advisors and officials who made the effort to understand and helped us get the various clearances through. One advisor and guide that we owe a lot of gratitude to is the esteemed ex-principal of the Administrative Staff College of India, (the late) Mr. TL Sankar. He has always been solidly behind Agave India – it helped greatly that bureaucrats around the country know and respect him tremendously for his integrity and competence.

Of course, raising funds for the project was very difficult because we were doing so in the middle of the global economic downturn of 2008/2009… It goes to the credit of our enthusiastic investors that they saw value in our project and came through for us.

We host a website, www.desmondji.com, which we intend to make more engaging (informative, entertaining and useful) over time.

We also have a FaceBook Page, ‘https://www.facebook.com/desmondji’, which we invite you and your friends to ‘like’ and engage with.

We are currently running a fun photo campaign – “DesmondJi in X’, where X is some part of the world that one of our bottles has reached 🙂 e.g. you will find a photo from the Arctic Circle in Finland, or from the equator as it was being crossed by Abhilash Tomy, sailing non-stop, unassisted around the world – a proud Indian first!

On the website you are on: Under ‘Where to buy’, you will find detailed store and availability information for the markets in which we are available currently; Under ‘Media’, you will find the unprecedented 100+ media articles that have featured us in India and abroad, aside from two books that have sections on us: NYC based alcobev guru Arthur Shapiros ‘Inside the Bottle’ (2016) and Magandeep Singh’s ‘The Untold Story of alcohol in India’ (2017).

You can also find us on Twitter (DesmondJi) and youtube.

“I have very simple advice, that is much easier to state than to follow: figure out areas that you are passionate about, look around the world for sources of information about these areas, look for opportunities that have been missed or under-served, come up with ideas that bring a new value proposition (utility, quality, cost, etc) to the consumer table, research the state of the art concerning these ideas, develop prototypes of the ideas and then seek funding for the same. Most of all, put as much skin in the game as you can before you start looking for funding.

It also helps greatly if you can get yourself an enthusiastic group of project advisors from the start – they can be invaluable especially in arenas that you are not familiar with.

I also strongly encourage avoiding corruption in getting your company up and running – by playing it ‘by the book’, accepting some delays as a result of this stance and being persistent in following through till your project takes off. All failures and blocked paths along the way should be opportunities to learn and then do things differently, using your passion as the motive force.”

Disclaimer Applicable to above

*All the registered marks and GIs mentioned in this FAQ are the sole property of their respective owners, whether companies or  Governments; Mezcal® and Tequila® are Agave-based Spirits made in Mexico; Mezcal® and Tequila® are registered GIs in Mexico owned by the Mexican Government.