Hyderabad-born Karina Aggarwal is one of the most popular faces of the beverage industry. TNM caught up with her at the Toast and Tonic where she had come as a brand advocate for a company. She reminisced about the time when she used to be on the other side of the table; she had started out as a journalist herself.
Karina is now an acclaimed beverage expert who has juried international beer competitions and authors the popular website on alcoholic beverages, ‘Gigglewater411’. She has also founded a company Gigglewater Beverage Concepts Private Limited and freelanced for a variety of publications, including The Hindu and The Quint.
Karina sat down with TNM to chat about how she went from having an interest in archaeology to a passion for beverages, the challenges she has faced in this career and how India’s own spirit scene has evolved over the years.
What Karina does
On a given day, Karina may be consulting with brands, importers and also working in the space of beverage education. “So I might be training bar staff or talking to consumers through events, busting myths that they have or questions that people have about certain things,” she says.
If importers need consultation from someone — to discuss products that they are interested in bringing to the market, prices, acceptability, marketing or communication; or if brands that are new to the market or looking to launch new products — Karina is just the person for them. “No two days I live are the same,” she says.
Karina also now devotes some of her days to posting quality content and videos on her instagram page. With short videos on different kinds of beverages and brands, she offers tidbits about the spirit world to her followers.
Karina moved from Hyderabad to Mumbai with an interest in studying archaeology, “but that clearly didn’t happen,” she says. Little did she know then that she, with “zero fascination for alcohol or wine or anything like that” would end up as an authority on beverages in the country.
She did her PG from Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai and landed a career in journalism after she began by working for a publishing house. “One of their magazines was a beverage magazine. At that point, I didn't drink. So I was sort of thrown into this world where suddenly I had to interview distillers and winemakers.”
Always one with a fervour for knowledge, she started learning at length about beverages, at first to keep up with the industry players around her. “I just would read as much as I could and then when I met them and I tasted it with them, like after knowing how it had come together, it just fit really beautifully. That’s what I first fell in love with,” she said.
Over the next few months, she took online courses and met people who could guide her, which worked out well for her as she was already writing in the industry. The information that she came across while researching, “the bits and pieces here and there that were quirky,” she took to sharing on her website. It has been over eight years now since she first stepped into the beverage world and decided that her ‘spirit’ lay there.
An ‘unconventional’ career
There certainly were challenges, most of which accounted to her being young and presumed to be unfamiliar with the industry, she said. “Some days were really shitty and some days were easier. But at the same time, I did meet some people that were really, really helpful. They wanted you to learn, they taught me whatever they could, they shared without being jealous in any way. If I had not met these people, I wouldn’t necessarily be here.”
“When I started out, it was hard, especially because people didn’t expect to see a young woman,” she said. “They didn’t take me seriously which to an extent was fine because I was new in this space but I think it gets troublesome when you know it’s because you are a woman in this space, and that’s why you are made to prove that you know what you are talking about.”
It still is a male-dominated industry to a large extent, but it is a lot easier for women now since there are more opportunities than when she had started off, she said. “Over the last couple of years especially, there has been many conversations in this space - there are so many women working within beverage on different aspects - whether as bartenders, whether it is women who are starting brands of their own, starting import houses, working as educators, working in the marketing side, as winemakers or brewers.”
She thinks that it definitely is a more accepting time for women to be in a field where they are not many. “It certainly is, even from five years ago,” she affirmed.
India’s homegrown spirit scene
Indian homegrown beverages are having their moments in the sun, she declared. “Indian single malt has been much talked about for the last few years.”
“It’s also a really, really good time, for a lot of Indian homegrown products,” she said. “Indian Gin, Indian craft beer, Indian vodka, whiskey, single malt, even if they are doing it in a small scale, in a boutique way, with good quality.”
However, it’s still a hard road ahead for these newcomers. In Bengaluru for example, several restaurants and bars had been shut down due to the enforcement of the 'Licensing and Controlling of Places of Public Entertainment (Bangalore City) Order, 2005'.
She continued, “Most markets always have some sort of law that will come up every little while that will sort of put a cog in the wheel and disrupt things a little bit. Bengaluru, in terms of its bar scene is being hit because of the nightlife and the music and all of those issues it has to deal with. But it’s nice to see that despite everything the industry itself has created better experiences for consumers.”