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8 years after Amrut's Two Indies, more made-in-India rums are set to join the party

Industry watchers say that if the new rum players can give consistent quality at a price point of Rs 1,000-1,700, then that could be a game-changer.

May 14, 2021 / 05:36 PM IST

There is good news for lovers of rum. After a year of relentless craft gin launches—there were at least eight in 2020—it would appear that distilleries in India are, in keeping with global trends, taking a good look at rum. Like with the gins, you can expect most of these new launches to come out of Goa. The first one off the block this year was Stilldistilling Spirits’ Maka Zai (Konkani for ‘I want’).

Former banker Kasturi Banerjee is aiming for Caribbean-rum levels of smoothness, and to plug the gap between Old Monk and imported sipping rums with Maka Zai. That is, more or less, the space Aman Thadani, a director at Fullarton Distilleries, is targeting as well with Segredo Aldeia.

Fullarton, a seven-year-old family-run distillery, mostly makes spirits for export, but over the last couple of years, the Goa-based company has dipped its toes in the domestic market with Woodburns whisky and Pumori gin. Segredo Aldeia, which was launched in late March, in Goa, is available in white (Rs 1,500) and cafe (Rs 1,650) variants. According to the company, the white has a “dry finish with lingering notes of caramel and vanilla”, while the cafe rum is “coffee-forward with notes of sweet wood”.

White Rum-Limbo-1“Segredo Aldeia has been in the works for some time,” says Thadani. “It was the next step after the launch of our whisky and gin. The rum revival started in the West a couple of years ago, and we figured this was the right time to start creating and riding the wave here.”

Segredo Aldeia has a great story behind it, and excellent packaging that evokes an age of buccaneers, treasure, and exploration. Thadani’s product is named after a mythical village in Portuguese Goa that was famed for its rum. Several barrels of it were aboard the Nossa Senhora do Cabo, a treasure-laden Portuguese galleon that was seized by Olivier Levasseur, the famous French pirate and his men, near Reunion Island, in 1721. Levasseur, who disappeared with the booty and was later hunted down and hanged, is believed to have hidden the booty in Seychelles, but the pirate treasure has so far never been found. The implication here, of course, is that the barrels of rum from Segredo Aldeia (‘secret village’ in Portuguese) were as valuable as the gold and silver bars and diamonds the ship carried.

Two rum launches in four months is not bad for a country that has, apart from Amrut Distilleries’ Two Indies, seen very few drinkable, made-in-India rums in the last couple of decades, but industry experts say that there are more in the offing.

According to Shatbhi Basu, there is space for good and affordable made-in-India rums. “Most Indians are only familiar with the navy rums the British preferred for a long time. “Bacardi came and tried to change that, but by then we had gone back to drinking vodka and then gin came along. Now could be the right time for rum to play a bigger role. Don’t be surprised if you find several more coming your way,” says Basu, who is a bar and beverage consultant and founder of the STIR bartending academy.

If it were not for the pandemic, we could have seen several more launches over the past year, says Vikram Achanta. “The sweet spot is the band between Rs 1,000 and Rs 1,700 — if the new rum players can get that right and deliver consistent quality, we’re in for exciting times,” says Achanta, co-founder and CEO of drinks training and consulting firm Tulleeho.

The momentum and energy created by a new wave of entrepreneurs will help rum’s cause, says Basu. “We can’t expect multinationals to create categories. Most of the people behind these new rums are young and driven, and you need that to endure the rigmarole of getting into the liquor business in India. And they are passionate about what they do, and that can only be a good thing for people who appreciate good rums.”
Murali K Menon works on content strategy at HaymarketSAC.