Here’s a lesson or two on how to hold your beer as you power through by beverage expert and journalist Karina Aggarwal.
Nothing in life fills me with more pride than seeing a woman shattering yet another glass ceiling to smithereens with aplomb and chutzpah. I’m talking goosebumps. And here is another confession. To date, I have only met very few Indian women championing the alcobev industry in India, which is hugely male-dominated, so unapologetically as Karina Aggarwal.
Journalist, educator, and author of the Gigglewater411 website Karina Aggarwal is a conversationalist minus the pretence. Her modesty will empower you, and her knowledge about your next drink will inspire you. She wanted to become an Egyptologist, but her next career choice was as potent as the Glenmorangie 18, which made her one of the biggest names in the Indian alcobev industry. She wrote for publications like South China Morning Post, Vogue, CondeNast Traveller, The Hindu and worked with gin brand Monkey 47. Apart from being the Director of Gigglewater Beverage Concepts Pvt Ltd, Aggarwal is currently the VP of Terai Gin, the first Indian craft gin brand to launch during the lockdown. She also juried international beer competitions.
We caught up with Karina Aggarwal on her love for beverages, favourite hangout spots in Delhi and Mumbai, her ”unconventional” career choice, and more.
What inspired you to pursue the alcobev industry?
It happened organically. I grew up in Hyderabad and moved to Mumbai at the age of 17 to study Psychology, English and Anthropology (bachelors) at St. Xavier’s College and later pursued post-graduation in Journalism. Due to my research-based knowledge and exposure to multiple fields, I began working with various magazines, including a beverage magazine called Ambrosia. It was then that my taste for beverages brewed into something I liked. When I was 21-22 years old, I learnt more about drinks, different tastes and interviewed distillers, brewers, and winemakers.
How did Gigglewater411 materialise?
My work at Ambrosia was research-based and linear; it was targeted towards the F&B industry and hospitality clientele. However, through Gigglewater411, I would be talking with consumers such as yourself. The target audience included my friends and people who wanted to know facts about spirits, wine, breweries in a fun way, and that clicked! And the word giggle water was what they called alcohol during the Prohibition in the United States in the 20s. So, it came to be Gigglewater plus 411, which is American slang for information. Such fun snippets really attracted a lot of people when I started my blog in 2011.
What kind of challenges did you face in this male-dominated industry?
I wish I could say otherwise, but the space is still quite prohibitive to work in if you are a woman. There are issues on various fronts — the taboo around alcohol and particularly women working with alcohol, general societal stereotyping, and the lack of safe spaces. There have been certain situations where men have automatically assumed it’s their right to be at an event more than me and that my success is connected to my appearance as opposed to the knowledge I hold. Although, things are changing. I have met encouraging and welcoming people, too. And that has really shaped my perspective. It became important that I share my insights and add value to these events. Today there are so many women taking on varied roles in Indian alcobev – from distillers to entrepreneurs to mixologists, which is amazing. It will only grow from here.
You are the VP of Terai Gin. How did that happen?
As Gigglewater grew, I started doing various things. I started consulting with brands and companies. Part of it includes branding and how best to conceptualise a product. My job is never to tell you this is the best drink to have; it’s always been, ”this is great if you want a, b, c, d and if you’re looking for occasion-based beverages”.
Over the years, I’ve consulted with various brands in different roles. And I’ve always consciously supported homegrown brands. At the beginning of 2020, I particularly wanted to be part of creating the narrative around and building a local product. So when the opportunity to work with TERAI came about, it had me really excited. It is an honest, solid product with heart, and it’s fun to be able to do cool stuff with it, even if extremely challenging in these times.
Tell us an easy way to judge good wine?
A good drink makes you want to take the next sip. Simple as that!
Your go-to place for a drink?
Your advice to the younger audience?
I believe that you have to have a knack for the thing you’re passionate about. Just being passionate about it is not enough; you have to work towards it in order to ace it.
What’s next for Karina Aggarwal?
I have been working on something for women in the beverage industry. Along with Minakshi Singh, co-owner of Gurugram’s Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy and Delhi’s Sidecar, we brewed together AQUA, an Association for eQuality for the Under-represented in the Alcobev industry. Our aim is to mitigate general stereotypes and biases against women and minorities in the industry and make it a rather diverse workforce that allows women from all walks of life (entrepreneurs, mixologists, brand ambassadors, brewers, distillers, bar owners, sommeliers) to feel represented and hold a significant position.
All images: Courtesy Karina Aggarwal/Instagram