Craft rum revolution: India's booming spirits scene welcomes a wave of artisanal offerings - Hindustan Times
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Craft rum revolution: India's booming spirits scene welcomes a wave of artisanal offerings

By, New Delhi
Mar 23, 2024 06:27 PM IST

Craft rum movement in India sees significant growth as major players like Amrut Distilleries and Nao Spirits launch premium offerings.

Back in early 2021, Kasturi Banerjee’s Maka Zai was the only craft rum on retail shelves. Three years down the line, spirits enthusiasts in India can choose from over ten different rums. Five of these have been launched in the last six months, and that begs the question: is craft rum finally taking off in India? Banerjee thinks it is certainly gaining altitude. “Changing perceptions about rum being a ‘man’s drink’ or a winter drink is a work in progress, but, on the whole, there is a far greater acceptance of it. I find a lot more rum cocktails on bar menus now,” she says.

With five new launches in the last six months, India’s rum scene appears to have finally got going.(Unsplash)
With five new launches in the last six months, India’s rum scene appears to have finally got going.(Unsplash)

The Goa-based former banker, who runs Stilldistilling Spirits out of Goa, sees new and imminent launches by significant players such as Amrut Distilleries, Piccadilly Distilleries, and Nao Spirits as the biggest validation of the category’s potential. Amrut Distilleries, which already has the Two Indies rum in its portfolio, is expected to launch two premium rums this year, while Nao Spirits, which ignited the gin craze in India with Greater Than, is just out with their jaggery rum called Pipa.

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Craft rum is the antithesis of industrial rum that is made from molasses and contains additives such as sugar and caramel. It is made in small batches, often in traditional copper stills, with many craft distilleries, usually independent and innovative, stressing on the use of locally sourced ingredients. Globally the growth of craft rum, valued at US$ 1.5 billion in 2021, has been driven by millennials’ taste for authenticity in the spirits they consume. Some of the world’s best rums, such as Foursquare, distilled in Barbados, are craft rums.

Anand Virmani, co-founder and CEO of Nao Spirits, says that rum has reinvented itself as a premium and trendy spirit in the UK. “That’s one of our lighthouse markets, which, kind of, decides what will be popular here. But beyond that, and, as importantly, India has been a brown spirits market all along. Brown spirits account for 97% of the segment, and rum contributes around 12.5%. While a lot of it is in the value segment, there is great potential in the Standard and Premium segments,” says Virmani. Craft rums are significantly more expensive than regular rum, with some of the recently launched brands costing as much as an entry-level single malt in Goa.

To Virmani, the Pipa customer is an “explorer”. “This is someone in their late 20s to early 30s who is experimenting to build their own palette. They’ve taken to single malts, but they are not restricting themselves to any single region. They are also curious about bourbon; they represent the explorer customer in brown spirits, open to new flavours and expressions.”

Ashok Chokalingam, head of distilling at Amrut Distilleries, feels that well- made premium rums are evoking interest in consumers. “Worldwide, across spirits, we are seeing premium brands growing. For example, Amrut’s own Two Indies has grown organically in Karnataka without any kind of marketing push,” says Chokalingam.

Virmani argues that getting rum rid of its shabby image is not as formidable as it appears. “Before we showed up on the gin scene in 2015, gin basically was Blue Riband and, at best, Gordon’s or Bombay Sapphire. We’ve come a long way since then.” What will help rum’s cause is the Indian consumer’s keenness to experiment. “They are keen to discover what we have as a country. If it’s a genuine product, they will get behind it,” he says. Here, we take a look at some of the most recent craft rum launches.

Pipa

Nao Spirits’ Pipa – Rum de Goa makes for an excellent sipping rum. The spiced rum is crisp and exhibits a restrained sweetness as well as a layer of complexity not usually found in molasses-based Indian rums. “It is complex because it is made from a jaggery distillate, so the rum has all of that freshness, all of that character from the sugarcane,” says Virmani. The jaggery spirit is matured for a year in Ruby Port Wine casks imported from Portugal. The rum is infused with a blend of black pepper, cinnamon and clove. 3,000 (Goa, 500ml)

Bella

Amrut Distilleries’ Bella is a single jaggery rum that is distilled from handmade jaggery sourced from Mandya, Karnataka’s Sugar City, which is located about an hour from the company’s distillery on Mysore Road, in Bengaluru. Chokalingam says that distilleries need a specific licence to produce rum from jaggery. “The sugarcane juice is simmered without any additives and we personally supervise the making of the jaggery, ” he adds.

The rum is distilled in pot stills and matured in ex-bourbon barrels for about five years. The distillery’s previous jaggery rums, which were produced for the Italian bottler Velier, were well received by rum enthusiasts across the world. Both Bella and the as yet unnamed agricultural rum will be launched later this year.

Daku

Late last year, the Gwalior-based Bapuna Alcobrew, a leading producer of rectified spirit, served notice of its ambitions with the eminently drinkable Chambal Gin. Now, third generation distiller Pervez Bapuna is all set to launch a rum, which, like the company’s gin, references the dacoits who once roamed the forbidding ravines near Gwalior. “Several spirit categories are poised for attractive growth in the coming years, especially in the premium segment, and we see rum as one of them,” says Bapuna. Daku Rum is available in gold and silver variants. According to the company, the Daku Gold rum exhibits a sherry and caramel character with hints of cinnamon, while the Silver variant is delicately flavoured with hints of vanilla, nutmeg and mace. 2,900 (Maharashtra)

Ron de Ugar

Ugar Sugar Works, Asia’s largest ‘single location’ manufacturer of ethanol, is located near Belgavi, in Karnataka, and distills a range of products, from mass market brands to single malts. Their rum, the smooth and pleasant Ron de Ugar, is blended from matured rums aged between three to five years. Variants include the Blanco and the Spice Reserve. “All of these are single estate rums. Everything from the seeds for the sugarcane to final processing is all done at a single location at our distillery,” says Shrikant Hajare, who looks after Ugar Sugar Works’ premium portfolio. 1,300 (Goa)

Camikara 3YO

Piccadily Distilleries’ flagship rum, the Camikara, had a lot going for it when it was launched in late 2022. India’s first cane juice rum, matured for 12 years in American oak casks and bottled at 50% ABV, picked up a bunch of awards, including a gold at the International Wine and Spirits Competition in 2023. Its only flaw was that it was produced in limited quantities and pricey. With the recently launched 3YO, which contains hints of more matured rum, the company is hoping to get more people interested in cane juice rums. 1,500 (Haryana)

Eekh

Eekh is Abhijeet Roy and Simran Singh’s ode to cachaca, the Brazilian spirit, which, like rum and rhum agricole, is distilled from sugarcane, and was classified as ‘Brazilian rum’ not too long ago. The duo, who run a bartending academy in Mumbai, wanted to create a rum that was all natural and free of additives. Their Eekh rum, distilled from fresh cane juice, is aged for over ten years in virgin American oak vats, says Singh. 3,650 (Goa)

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