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IWSC 2023 gold winner 'Camikara’s is actually a story of forgotten casks of distilled sugar cane juice'

Two variants of Camikara sipping rum are expected to go on sale later this year: a 3-year-old priced between Rs 1,400 and Rs 2,400 and an 8YO in the range of Rs 2,800-4,500.

April 29, 2023 / 02:54 PM IST
Camikara 12YO won gold in the International Wines and Spirits Competition 2023 10-15-year-old category; and Piccadily Distilleries' Surrinder Kumar.

Camikara 12YO won gold in the International Wines and Spirits Competition 2023 10-15-year-old category; and Piccadily Distilleries' Surrinder Kumar.

Earlier this month, Camikara Rum became the first Indian rum to win a gold at the International Wines and Spirits Competition (IWSC). The small-batch sipping rum won the gold in the 2023 edition of the spirits competition in the 11- to 15-year-old category and scored 95 points. The jury described it as “alluringly sweet with soft banoffee pie and marshmallow aromas. Lingeringly moreish and well-balanced, delivering a gentle richness on the journey to an excellent, soft finish.” Launched late last year, Camikara, India’s first pure cane juice rum, is made by Karnal-based Piccadily Distilleries, which also produces the award-winning Indri whisky.

The rum has been matured for 12 years in American oak casks and is bottled at a strength of 50 percent ABV. In this interview with Moneycontrol, Surrinder Kumar, master distiller at Piccadily Distilleries, takes us through the story of the rum, changing the perception of the spirit in India, and new Camikara variants. Excerpts:

You joined Piccadily Distilleries around 2020. When did you start thinking about making pure cane juice rum?

Camikara’s is actually a story of forgotten casks of distilled sugar cane juice. Over a decade ago, our founding chairman (Venod Sharma) instructed the boys to distill fresh sugar cane juice and store it in barrels at our Patiala plant. It was not planned at all, maybe he had an intuition. The existence of these casks was forgotten when the company moved its operations to its new distilleries. They were rediscovered only around 2020 when the Patiala factory was being refurbished. Many of the barrels – there were several hundreds – had practically nothing in them, because of the angels, but rest had the potential of turning into liquid gold. That was what I felt when I first tasted it. And so, we waited for another two years before launching it as India’s first cane juice rum.

How do you plan to get the Indian consumer interested in fine rum? We largely drink entry-level rums here.

The Camikara 12YO is aimed at people who know what real rum is. To most Indians, rum is something that is loaded with sugar, syrup, and flavours. But great rum has entirely different characteristics and the onus is on companies like ours to communicate the difference. That won’t be easy, though. When the MNCs first came to India with their Scotch whiskies, we mostly drank blended whiskies with 25-30 percent malt. But these companies changed the very perception of whiskies. Their products were softer, lighter on the palate. Basically, they evolved their consumers in terms of taste, so education is going to be key for rums such as ours.

But while the Camikara 12YO is for connoisseurs, we are working on two variants that should be on sale later this year and will democratize the pleasures of our rum. There’s a 3YO that will have hints of more matured rum in it to balance it out and an 8YO with a small portion of 12YO blended into it. The former will be priced between Rs 1,400 and Rs 2,400 and the price for the latter will range between Rs 2,800 and Rs 4,500.

The last two to three years have seen the launch of a few craft rums. How do you see Camikara taking the story forward?

I’m pretty sure that Camikara’s launch will encourage big companies in India to take a closer look at sipping rums. I don’t see many craft disitilleries taking the lead here, because you need to have proper facilities to process sugar cane and develop such products. There are also some big sugarcane distilleries in India that ought to probably be thinking in this direction.

It’s easier for Indian single malts to make a mark abroad now. How long will it take Indian rum to make an impact?

Rum is a huge, crowded market. There are close to 90 countries that produce rum as against a handful of countries that make whisky. So, getting an entry into the market is tough. But, then again, we are in a very niche space and I’m glad that we’ve made a good beginning. The Camikara 12YO is completely sold out.

Murali K Menon works on content strategy at HaymarketSAC.
first published: Apr 29, 2023 02:26 pm