Conversations with IWBS – Charnelle Martins

Charnelle Martins, Head of Distillery Operations, Stranger & Sons Gin

I’m an Alcobev Scientist and Distiller working as Head of Distillery Operations for Stranger & Sons Gin at Third Eye Distillery, Goa. I’ve done my masters in Food and Alcohol Biotechnology and IBD Dip. Distillers exams in UK and an overall alcohol geek. I’ve worked with the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, Edinburgh and Diageo India on all things whisky before my foray into Indian Craft Gin with Stranger & Sons. I am excited about giving India the experience of a homegrown premium Gin that we all can be proud of!

What defines your philosophy of distillation? 

Third Eye Distillery, Goa

What drew me to distilling, primarily, was its ability to manipulate simple ingredients to create something unique, to express one’s creativity and ideas through spirits. I like to take a scientific approach while working – understanding why you use a certain method or ingredient over the other. Keep things simple, focus on quality ingredients and trust your palate. 

What is your personal connect with spirits: first sipped – notable milestones on your malted journey? 

I have always loved science and been curious about flavours and food since I was young, tasting my way through everything in the kitchen. We often brewed wine and made liqueurs at home. My dad would always let me sample his liquor cabinet because “it’s important to know what good alcohol tastes like!” He, albeit unknowingly at that time, made me appreciate the finer nuances of good alcohol and set me on the path of becoming a distiller. The blended whiskies were popular back then, and Johnnie Walker was probably the first whisky I sipped – but it was the single malts that got me hooked! I decided to travel to the UK, where I did my masters; worked and visited every distillery, brewery and gin bar I could find. This exposed me to a whole new world of spirits and then there was no turning back! 

What would be a typical day in your work life? 

The best part of working at a distillery is that no two days are alike, and that’s why I enjoy what I do! Walking into our distillery in picturesque Goa, I am welcomed with the smell of gin being made. I oversee the entire production process – from sourcing the botanicals from local farms across India to distilling every batch of gin and finally bottling. Every batch of gin made is approved by me before it heads to bottling, which is my most important task as it puts my palate to the test! There is also constant R&D for experimental gin batches, future spirits and other products like cordials, tinctures and bitters that we use for our Stranger cocktails. 

What would you distill if there were no restrictions or rules? 

Opening up my own little distillery has been the dream. And with no restrictions I would probably go crazy distilling everything! 

What challenges do you face being one of the few women working in this field in India? 

You need to put in the hard work and dedication to hone your craft and not let stereotypical industry “norms” hold you back. Skill goes beyond gender and personally that’s what I want to be recognized for. Today there are so many women shaking up the world of liquor, all while proving gender is irrelevant when it comes to crafting the perfect libation. 

What’s your favourite tipple at the end of a busy day?

A Stranger G&T with a light tonic water and garnished with a slice of ginger. It’s delicious, refreshing and easy to make! 

What is your advice to young professionals seeking a career in this field? 

It takes passion and love for spirits along with the right mix of experience, knowledge, creativity and patience to make it in this industry. 

My advice is to do your research – knowing what you’re going to be jumping into will be critical. Do a few courses or get an internship to gain on-ground experience, go on as many tours as you can and network with others in the industry. Most importantly taste, taste and keep tasting some more to train and build your palate. 

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