Gujarat on a ‘high’ with the sale of legal liquor

Liquor is prohibited in Gujarat. Yet, in Vadodara, there exists a full-fledged business of making indigenous liquor essence of prominent alcoholic labels that are sold in the city. Interestingly, the entire business is legal, as it is not considered illegal to sell the ingredients separately.

All one has to do is to visit Mangal Bazaar where essence of Cognac, Malt Whisky, Rum, Vodka and even Mahuda is available for just Rs 50. These are spirits that can be availed through "contacts" in the chemical industry. Collecting bottles from scrap dealers; affixing spurious labels of leading brands; and the expertise to fill the bottles and seal them in a way that they look genuine are the skills that are required in this business.

"This business, of course, is not in a huge quantum, but the margin per bottle is quite high, as the income against investment is considerable. The most interesting part is that it does not involve too much danger," said a bootlegger who is aware of the business.

Interestingly, the companies that are manufacturing these essences admit that there is a steep rise in the sale of liquor essence. "They are synthetic flavours and have a shelf life of 18 months. Initially, there were limited flavours, but now, one can get beer, vodka, scotch whisky, gin and even cognac essence. The entire liquor essence market in Gujarat is approximately worth Rs 50 crore. The state consumes about 15 to 20 tonnes of liquor essence every year. The market has picked up in the last couple of years in Gujarat," said N P Goasr, Western Region Sales in-charge of the Chennai-based Lux Essence, which has introduced several flavours in the market. The liquor essence trend is now shifting to fountain soda in various cities.

The retailers, however, admitted that these essences are even used for making spurious liquor. "We have no power to stop anyone from buying these essences, but we get to know about it from the quantity and types of inquiry by the buyers. It is easy to get alcohol in raw form from those who hold a licence to purchase. One can get it for Rs 35 to Rs 40 per litre. However, to use it to prepare liquor is a tedious job and that is why the market of such illicit liquor would remain small," said a liquor essence retailer in the walled city area.

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