Category Archives: profiles

Radico Khaitan goes from Local to Global

It has been a long successful journey for Radico Khaitan which first produced supplied extra neutral alcohol ENA to production of their 15 brands, to creating five millionaire brands, operating 28 bottling units, going the premiumisation route, and creating world class brands in the luxury brands category. Dr. Lalit Khaitan looks back in retrospect at the journey and is confident that his son Abhishek Khaitan, who has worked alongside him will take the company to greater heights.

What effort does it take to make a company like Radico Khaitan? Can you share some insights into that?

Establishing a business from scratch requires perseverance and a clear vision. Nothing can be achieved within a few years. When my father, Mr GN Khaitan, bought the loss-making Rampur Distillery in 1972, we produced extra neutral alcohol (ENA) and supplied bulk alcohol for several liquor companies. We started production of our brands in 1999, and now have over 15 brands including five millionaire brands, and operate 28 bottling units across the country. The mantra for success is quite simple: understanding of market or segment, the audience’s taste, and taking decisions to narrow down market gaps.

What are the three key turning points that you attribute to the success of making Radico the biggest IMFL company today?

First turning point was when turned from a bottler to creating our own brands with – The launch and success of 8 PM whisky is the turning point as we started the branded IMFL business with it. We sold a record one million cases of 8 PM in the first year of its inception, a record that is yet to be broken by any other brand in India; in fact, it made it to the ‘Limca Book of Records 2001’ for the achievement. We utilised the best marketing brains and tools to popularise the product; even the commercials for the product won many accolades at that time.

Second was when we started premiumisation – with the launch of Magic Moments Vodka in 2006, followed by six versions under the brand Magic Moments Remix within two years of its release also helped us gain a strong footing in the industry. The brand established itself as the industry’s undisputed leader and category driver by capturing more than half of the category’s market share. Our decision to enter the vodka business paid off as Magic Moments rose to become the world’s seventh-largest vodka brand. I would also like to talk about the decision to go premium in 2009 with the launch of Morpheus XO Brandy as the game-changer for us and a successful PAN India brand.

Third was when we entered into Luxury segment -Then the launch of Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin and Rampur Indian Single malt in 2018, not only mesmerised the Indian consumers, but brought a delightful experience to the connoisseurs’ world by endorsing Indian brands in the international markets. We have successfully built our brand equity in international markets and currently export products to over 85 countries.

Looking back do you feel that there are some things that you would’ve liked to do differently than today?

The way things have turned out for us, I would not change a single thing. The Branded story of Radico, which we started with in year 2006 is a perfect example of growth and scaling up.

A success of the company is directly attributed to its leaders. But how important is it to have the right team and processes in place to achieve that success?

If the team doesn’t resonate well with the vision and the mission set by the management, the whole idea of an efficient leader can fall apart. No success is assured without having employees who are focussed on accomplishing the unified business objective. In my view, anybody can copy machines, but it is manpower who makes all the difference in success and not so success.

What do you think Radico took such a long time to diversify into premium brands?

As I have always maintained, the decision to enhance the brand portfolio has to be taken after taking stock of the overall market dynamics. We entered the premium category in 2006 and that was the time when the liquor market was witnessing a shift from just social acceptance to the development of a society that enjoys drinks. The success of our premium brands attests to the right timing. Besides market leaders including Magic Moments Vodka with over 60% of the market share and Morpheus XO Brandy which has a market share of over 60% in the premium brandy segment- 1965 Rum has achieved a 10% market share in defence, Magic Moments Verve has achieved a 20% market share amongst all premium vodka brands and Rampur Indian Single Malt and Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin are a rage not only in India but world over. This testament is proof of our timings being right and the strategy being robust.

In the last two years, the company has been churning out some great products in the gin and whisky category like Jaisalmer and Rampur? Moving forward do we expect to see more products like those?

Product innovation is of the utmost importance for us. Our latest offerings including Royal Ranthambore Heritage Collection Whisky and Magic Moments Dazzle have been yielding encouraging responses. We are also working on scaling up the existing brands like Rampur Indian Single Malt, Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin, 1965 Spirit Of Victory Rum, Morpheus Brandy, and 8 PM Premium Black Whisky. Going forward, you will see a host of products in the premium range from the House of Radico Khaitan.

With its premium products, Radico is focussing a lot on exports as well. But slowly these products are now available in India as well. What was the reason why this strategy was adopted? Was it to replicate the success that some of the other manufacturers have achieved using this route?

We had this strategy for two of our luxury products Rampur Indian Single Malt and Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin and it worked wonders for us. Both the products are a rage world over. The primary reason was that the single malt and the craft gin categories were already established abroad. In India, these categories are now emerging. Hence, we launched the product first in the international market before bringing them to the domestic market.

What was your vision for the company a decade back and how has it changed considering where Radico is today?

My vision is to work constantly to improve quality standards and enhance customer satisfaction. And it has always been that. Be it last decade or two decades ago. I do not feel that we have to change it as it ultimately gets converted into revenue growth and increased market share. The Customer is the King for us.

The dynamics of the industry and also the way it operates is constantly changing. What are your thoughts on those? Is there anything that you would like to see differently about the industry or any suggestions you would like to make that can improve things?

Right from advertising to marketing, liquor industry operates in a very challenging business environment. For instance, alcohol companies are not allowed to advertise directly so we have to strategise differently to make our brands more visible, rope in more brand ambassadors, and create creative campaigns with infotainment. Since the market is also growing, we have to be on our toes to offer the best products to our consumers and devise marketing strategies that will ensure that our products reach them.

One of the major challenges that has emerged in the recent past is around our surrogate brands. According to the existing rules, companies need to have a separate revenue model for the surrogate brands with a certain amount of turnover and this creates an additional challenge for us.

However, we find solutions to all of these obstacles within the purview of law because we are a responsible company. We have a legacy to maintain. Non-compliance with state regulations is not an option for us. Since we have over 75 years of experience in liquor manufacturing and 25 years in the IMFL business, the company knows about the law across states and knows how to adhere to it.

In Abhishek, you have a son that has led from the front along with a great team. How does that make you feel as a father?

As I worked hard to help improvise and enhance my father’s vision, I am seeing the same zeal in him. He was instrumental in taking the call towards launching our own brands and premiumisation drive which turned the fortunes around for the company. He is a new-age leader who people look up to and that makes me an extremely proud father.

How difficult is it to compete against multinationals as an Indian brand? Your thoughts?

Once a company has a sound understanding of the market, and back that knowledge with its quality products then competition doesn’t pinch much – be it from domestic or multinational brands. Within two decades of launching our brands, we have expanded our reach to over 85 countries, which is an indication of the capability of Indian brands. I would like to give an example of our latest products Rampur Indian Single Malt and Jaisalmer Indian Craft Gin here; when we took the product to the international market, people were surprised by the fine quality leading to immediate acceptance. The idea behind giving this example was that once you have quality products according to the tastes of the people, competition becomes secondary.

Australian wines focus on India paying rich dividends

Australia’s industry is different. It is much more mature, and our climate allows for a more diverse variety of wines to be produced. So it isn’t a “like for like” comparison. In fact, we see no real competition between the domestically produced and imported wines. Both are targetted to different parts of the society. Domestic wines are often perceived as “value for money”.

Imported wines often carry a perception of quality among Indian customers who are willing to pay a premium. According to some statistic, imported wines account for about 35% of the country’s total wine consumption in terms of value but only about 12% in terms of volume.

Australia is looking at the upper end of the spectrum in wines, we see an opportunity for Australian labels to offer an experience to consumers.

The diversity and quality we can offer, gives us the ability to provide consumers with something that few new world countries can.

What experiences of Asian markets would you like to bring to the marketplace?

The Indian wine market is in a nascent stage, especially for imported wine. We are delighted to see wine culture slowly evolving and consumer adoption growing.

As the industry continues to grow, we are hoping to see more advanced matching of wines and foods. Cobranding of wine experiences with other activities, like premium tourism. Curated experiences that take the consumer on a journey. Tasting rooms, which we see coming up in Maharashtra soon, are something we are working on.

Our main aim is to see wine transformed from consumption to experience in the mind of the consumers.

Exports of Australian wines in glass bottles have grown 2% in value and unpackaged wines by 13%, what are your comments? Do you see an opportunity for bulk wine exports to India?

There is an opportunity for bulk wine. But current duty structures don’t really make it viable. There is no significant cost saving to import bulk as custom duty remains same for bottled and bulk wine. It’s not something we are looking into right now.

We do see opportunities for private labels in India and have had success with Australian brands developing private labels for Indian organisations.

What kind of pricing strategy should Australian wines adopt as the global trends are for low-end wines and high-end wines?

Brands should consider a multi-pronged strategy. Offering an entry level wine to generate awareness of their label in the market. Support this with a more premium offering, that elevates the perception of quality.

What are your comments on the growth of wines in value (less than $2.50 per litre) by 8% and that of high-end wines ($50 and more) increase by 34% in value?

This is a very encouraging trend. It shows a maturing of consumers’ pallet and an appetite for a premium experience.

As has been the case all around the world, as the industry matures, consumers’ pallets become more sophisticated and the premium segment emerges. We also see this trend in the fact that importers are not only seeking entry level wines, but also mid and premium level wines

Australia has unique position in Indian market. Australia has significant market share not only in wines value less than $2.50 per litre, but also high-end wines, too.

Australian wines have an approximately 23% market share, and a little over US$ 6 million in value. What target would you like to set for yourself in terms of market share and value?

We are very proud of our position in the market. It’s something we want to hold on to and grow. We haven’t set targets in terms of overall dollar value. We want to focus on creating a brand for Australian wine, as we feel this will give the best outcome.

Importantly, younger generations, particularly the age group of 20-35 years, is the emerging consumer segment for wine. This is due primarily to an exposure to Western culture.

Austrade India have a significant presence on the ground. Austrade has offices in six Indian cities (Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata & Hyderabad). We are working closely with Indian importers and providing personalised one-on-one service to understand importers’ requirements to expand their portfolios and connect with Australian wineries. Austrade is playing an important role to maintain and grow Australian market share in imported wines in India.

With a very low per capita consumption of wine (a tablespoon) and total consumption of 30 million litres how would you rate prospects of Australian wine in India?

With the market being in a developing state, there is huge potential for Australia.

Historically, India has been a market for spirits and beer and wine consumption has been limited by availability of domestic wine as well as the high cost of imported wines.

In a country with a billion-plus population, it is estimated that wine in India has penetrated only a small segment of the population so far, resulting in low capita consumption of wine. Wines are increasingly becoming popular among younger generations and are now being served at functions, events, Indian marriages, and gifting.

Australia’s proximity to India, in comparison to other wine producers, gives Australian exporters a slight advantage. Not only are freight cost moderately cheaper, but diplomatic relations are strong due to our shared democratic values and large Indian diaspora in Australia.

The position of Australian wine and its wineries is critical. We want consumers to think of Australia in terms of a premium brand for wine – A leader in the new world.

With India being such a young country (by demographics and at heart) we’ve taken a long-term vision for the market.

With India importing about 500,000 cases of wines per annum what is the scope for Australian wines in India?

With the market being in such a developmental state, there is huge potential for Australia. The amount of wine imported will grow over the coming years and if Australia can establish its brand in the market it will be a big part of that growth.

Many well-known Australian wines are not present in India – Jacob’s Creek, Hardy’s, Yellowtail are three accessible brands. For consumers looking to explore Aussie labels and varieties further there is Yalumba, Torbreck, Two Hands, Penfolds, Lindeman’s, Wolf Blass and Debortoli available across a range of state, just to name a few.

Imported rosé is witnessing increased interest due to its versatility and food pairing. Rosé is often discussed as an excellent wine to pair with vegetarian food. It suits the Indian palate as it is light and fresh like white wine, but with the body and fruitiness of a red wine. Blush-coloured medium sweet Moscato wines that are low in alcohol content are emerging as a trend amongst health-conscious consumers. This is something Australia can bring more of to the market.

“Wine-in-can” is a new segment that is targetted primarily at millennials for on-the-go consumption. We’ve already seen success for Australia in this area with Barokes.

All these trends support the notion that Australia will continue to be a leading choice for consumers in India.

With 19 million young people entering the drinking market each year and with young people a prime target audience for wines, how do you plan to address this target and the general wine drinking audience?

The perception of wine needs to be looked at. For a long time, wine has held a distinct position in the Indian consumers’ mind. It has been seen as a sophisticated and stylish drink as compared to other alcoholic beverages, like whiskey, scotch and rum that are considered men’s drink or gin, which might be considered a preference for females.

But the thing with wine is there are so many different varietals and tastes, that there is a type of wine for everyone.

If we can bring exciting options, like rosé or different sparkling varieties I think it can really excite new consumers and appeal to broader tastes.

Right now, wine consumption in India is largely limited to urban areas and metropolitans. Austrade advises its Aussie labels to focus not only on metros, but also to look at tier-2 and tourist locations.

Younger wine drinkers in India are an experimental group who are searching for new experiences; an appetite we hope to satisfy with Australian wine.

The Struggle with Counterfeiting in Spirits Industry: Coming out of Covid Crisis

Spokesperson: Mr. Ankit Gupta, Gov Body Member, ASPA (Authentication Solution Providers’ Association)

What has been the counterfeiting scenario in the spirits industry during the Covid crisis?

During the Covid crisis, alcohol in India has emerged as the sector with the largest number of counterfeiting incidents. This includes adulteration, trademark infringement, fake liquor, fraud, and other ways to copy products. According to ASPA counterfeit news repository study, alcohol continues to be in the top five sectors in 2018, 2019 and 2020 facing these risks. The same trend continued through 2021. Alone in Uttar Pradesh officials had seized approximately 12.57 lakh litre illicit liquor till November 2021 (Source: Aabkari Times, December 2021).

Despite being one of the most regulated sectors, in normal circumstances also alcohol industry is one of the biggest victims of counterfeiting and illicit trade. During the pandemic the industry was hit badly as sales through restaurants, hotels, etc. was adversely affected. Drinking at home became more acceptable and picked up but was still not enough to substitute the lost revenues. While the industry was struggling with low demand, criminals exploited the demand-supply gap to sell more quantities of counterfeit liquor, creating an even bigger threat to human well-being.

Why is the alcohol industry one of the top targets for counterfeiters and illicit trade?

Criminals are attracted to the alcohol industry because of various reasons e.g. high profitability, evasion of taxes, low consumer awareness, lack of universal pricing in India as well as high demand. In addition to this, the easy availability of raw material Methyl Alcohol, which is widely used for industrial purposes is another reason.

The margins for criminals are considerably huge and despite regulations, the task of counterfeiting and illicit trade is not being made challenging enough for them. During lockdowns, restricted access to and availability of good quality liquor gave a bigger push to the sale and purchase of counterfeit or illicit liquor. In some cases, it was observed that people saw the acquisition of liquor in difficult times at higher rates as social status or public image booster.

The danger has increased as criminals are using more reckless methods of producing and smuggling alcohol. For instance, many incidents of liquor being produced from sanitizers or ethyl alcohol or spirits from petrol and diesel mixed with colour being sold in copycat or discarded packaging surfaced across the country. These products are hazardous.

How can counterfeiting be controlled effectively post-pandemic?

Development of a solution always starts with recognising the problem and assessing its magnitude. Counterfeiting has been underestimated and this has prevented the development of a robust strategy and solution to curtail it. The fight against counterfeiting and illicit trade needs to be fought from three fronts – policy, brand, and consumer. A policy framework that guides support and nurtures an ecosystem which strong against counterfeiters. It should protect businesses and consumers against counterfeiting malice while enabling effective law enforcement and effective punishment to those who commit the crime.

Being an integral part of the system, brands should take solid steps to protect their products by building an adequate defence of anti-counterfeiting solutions and traceability infrastructure. For instance, multi-layered protection through packaging by implementing anti-counterfeiting solutions which make it almost impossible to copy – one-time break seals and sleeves. Supported by smart solutions such as tax stamps, digitally readable labels, QR Codes, etc. Made more effective by awareness which educates consumers about how they can safeguard themselves from counterfeit products.

Consumers can play an important role in the fight against fakes, they are their first line of defence. A little bit of carefulness and attentiveness on their part while buying liquor can save them from getting cheated.

Can the online sale of alcohol be a welcomed trend? Can it help in curbing the sale of counterfeit liquor in the country?

The pandemic crisis has encouraged discussions about the online sale of liquor in many states. According to a survey by YouGov National survey findings, almost 60% of consumers are eager to purchase alcohol online. Safety and convenience have been cited as key reasons to prefer the e-commerce channel to buy alcoholic beverages. While the online channel offers consumers more choice leading to innovation within the category and incremental revenue opportunities for state governments, we need comprehensive regulations and safeguards for selling liquor online and need to tread with a lot of caution. The process and compliance regulations for alcohol delivery will vary from the delivery of groceries or essentials. Moreover, the possibility of alcohol being seized during transit and the adulteration of alcohol by criminals cannot be ruled out either. The authentication industry can offer technology-enabled packaging and anti-counterfeiting solutions that can plug these risks and challenges. The digital footprint cn help in traceability and if done with proper provisions it can ease the process of identifying and catching frauds.

John Distilleries bullish despite hiccups

Covid has been challenging but John Distilleries is ready to bounce back thanks to the success of its Single Malt Brands. Being based in the South the company has also got its South strategy right. Paul John, Chairman and Managing Director, John Distilleries Pvt. Ltd., outlines the strategy to pave the way for the company’s bright future.

How has 2021 been for John Distilleries?

2021 was a challenging year, however we maintained resilience, built a growth in share points of our core brands in our stronger markets and expanded into new markets with our luxury portfolio.

What is the strategy for this year given Covid 3 and post Covid?

To stay positive and drive our internal strategy of prioritising channel mix and segment mix to deliver growth, this strategy has been working well for us over the past few years.

What has been the overall response to your premiumisation strategy?

The response has been very promising especially with our single malt portfolio garnering popularity across the country and the globe. In the domestic arena we’ve recently launched Roulette Premium Whisky – a peated whisky that stands apart from other whiskies in its segment/category, and expanded Fireball Cinnamon Flavoured Whisky into new markets, along with our BIO portfolio – Sazerac Rye and Buffalo Trace.

Are you looking at moving to the brandy segment given that the South is a strong market?

With Paul John XO we’ve already established a presence in the luxury brandy segment in the South as well, along with Roulette brandy which is popular across South markets.

What has been the impact of Covid on the company’s fortunes?

The impact has been tough as with most companies, and these past couple of years have been transformative in several ways for every industry with demands to adapt and evolve, but it has not deterred our zeal to deliver high quality products and maintain an innovativeness with consumer interest as priority.

Do you see a strong comeback for the company post Covid?

We believe in constantly and consistently delivering premium quality products for our consumers, and our efforts over the years have been recognised and appreciated. We will continue to dedicate our efforts to deliver the best and this gives us the impetus to keep moving forward.

How is the IMFL Division faring?

IMFL is a competitive segment, our core brands in this segment in the South are doing significantly well. We are now slowly expanding to newer markets with new brands and the initial feedback is very encouraging!

Has the success of the premium brands had an effect on the growth of regular brands?

Definitely. The success and popularity of our premium brands has had a positive rub-off on our new brands with the halo effect encouraging consumers to try our new offerings in the market.

What are your plans for sourcing raw materials for your single malts?

We’ve been producing single malt for the past 12 years, the major ingredient in the production of single malt is malted barley. We have annual contracts with different suppliers across India and we shall continue to source our raw material from these suppliers in future as well.

What are your expansion plans for 2022?

Our focus will be to build the footprint of our existing and recently launched brands especially our luxury portfolio, across markets.

Parksons Packaging Ltd. acquires Manohar Packaging, new entity to have presence across India

Manohar Packaging, a leading player in the alcobev industry with a pan India presence has now been sold to Parksons. This gives Parksons a major presence in the alcobev industry. Aditya Patwardhan, Board Member, unveils details of the new entity and the way forward.

What is the nature of the sale of Manohar Packaging to Parksons? Can you share some details?

As widely published in leading newspapers and media, Manohar Packaging (“MPPL”) has been acquired in entirely, by Parksons Packaging Ltd., a Warburg Pincus owned company, and the industry leader in paper based packaging. Post the deal, the Board of Directors of MPPL has been reconstituted strengthening the company’s management team.

The newly constituted board includes Rameshji, Siddharth, and Chaitanya Kejriwal, from Parksons, and Hemant Mundra, from Warburg Pincus. I continue as a board member. All of us will work as a professional management team and continue to encourage an entrepreneurial mindset.

Till the time the integration is complete, MPPL will continue as a subsidiary, however all back end operations, reporting and data management will be merged and streamlined with immediate effect, to offer our clients a seamless experience with a newer and larger network of plants, with clubbed and standardised materials management. We hope to broadly convert around 300,000 tons of sustainable and renewable paperboard in the near future in toto.

What are the strategic benefits to both companies arising out of the transactions?

What this effectively means is, that our clients now have a network of eight mega plants spanning the length and breadth of India, with state-of-the-art technology, standardised inputs, systems, quality parameters, and methods of operations.

The care and detail with which we have been working with our partners and clients – be it in terms of packaging design, development, validation, to market supplies, will only improve. The combined strengths of Parksons scale, and MPPL’s domain expertise in alcobev, will be evident in the work we do going forward.

Our Design Park is unparalleled, and equipped with the best software and digital technology. The combined team of creative pre-press, technical packaging developers, coupled with production experience, will soon be deployed on new projects and will bear testimony to this.

MPPL’s plants located in Goa (West) and Punjab (North), will be part of the total network including Pantnagar (North – 2 units), Sri City (South), Daman & Chakan (West).

What I am most excited about is our increased ground presence with a state-of-the-art plant in Guwahati (North East), with which we can serve our clients in the east of India with speed and efficiency.

Will there be any changes to the way Manohar Packaging continues to work?

As in the case of most mergers & acquisitions, the aim is to grow the new entity and improve our overall ability to serve our clients. Given we’re a ‘B2B’ industry, it is extremely important to ensure we are moving in the same direction and journey as our valued partners.

The Kejriwal family and us share a common vision, the same mind set, goals, and growth plans. There was a meeting of minds, which ticked off all the boxes. The industry and our clients will be the biggest beneficiary of this deal.

Delineation and segregation between shareholding and professional management is important and we all are in it to grow as India’s most preferred supply partner for paper based packaging. Both our companies are held by Warburg Pincus and we’re glad to have them as we will continue to think like entrepreneurs, work in a professional environment, and deploy our knowledge and strength to drive more power to the company.

What is the status of the liquor packaging industry?

Currently, like the liquor industry, the supporting packaging industry is equally fragmented. There are a great number of players in the game, and we are happy to co-exist.

Clients decide whom they wish to partner with, and they have several criteria to choose from in terms of a holistic approach to supply chain, or purely price based on any given month.

We, at Parksons, run highly regulated and governed companies, with sustainability, social compliance, ESG taking high priority in the way we operate and run our facilities.

Hence we’re more focussed on long term client partners who value the need for transparency, professionalism, fair governance, and sustainable practices. We are extremely fortunate and honoured to partner with them, and I’m sure more beverage companies will value this long term approach eventually.

Alcobev is an exciting place to be, and is the gold standard for premium packaging. So likewise, most players in this field, need to be on top of their game with technology upgradation, technical knowledge, and downstream supply chain security given that commodity markets are in their most turbulent phase at the moment. This is where the long term approach wins for most.

How has the pandemic affected the company?

Here again, the fact that our organisations are well managed and governed helped a lot. Both MPPL and Parksons’ plants were up and running shortly into lockdown 1, with the highest safety protocols and were operating when our clients needed us most.

In unprecedented times, I am proud that the human ‘can do’ spirit and agility took precedence and we managed the show when many could not. I earnestly would like to thank our clients and mill partners for supporting us, so we in turn could deliver whatever was needed out of us in short notice with great agility and flexibility.

I would say, looking back, it has been the toughest learning curve for all of us, and we have come out of it stronger. I say this with certainty and hope, that the worst is truly behind us.

How can the premiumisation trend boost the industry?

Premium products are seeing higher salience and acceptance, maybe owing to increase in home consumption due to lockdowns, modernisation of retail outlets (Delhi), and clearing of red tape for home delivery / app enabled ordering of brands as an added convenience to the consumer.

The dark market woes of the alcohol industry still remain, and hence the pack is the first impression that the consumer takes home with them. Most marketeers understand this very well, and we’re beginning to see less ‘me-toos’ and more bespoke work in the recent few quarters.

With premiumisation and better margins, alcobev companies are able to experiment with new innovations, and can justify higher packaging budgets. This brings in a lot of excitement to the consumer as well as the retail shelves, leading to growth and diversification in the industry.

Improvements in the overall consumption experience that the leading premium brands offer, viz.; design cues, primary & secondary packaging upgrades, closure, to pour and palate should lead to better and wider social acceptance of responsible and repeat consumption in the near future. Premium outlets will need premium looking brands, and going by the Delhi market example, there should be tremendous headroom for growth here.

Cheers to that!

Oaksmith Whisky – A blend of Scotch Malts, Bourbon and Japanese craftsmanship

The global premium spirits company Beam Suntory has combined its knowledge and expertise of premium spirits from across the globe to bring to India, a truly International blended whisky, ‘Oaksmith Gold’. It is a first of its kind spirit with the best of Scotland and The United States of America by blending premium aged Scotch Malts, aged Kentucky straight Bourbon – some from distilleries over 200 years old – with world class Japanese craftsmanship. Oaksmith Gold and its blend are a celebration of craftsmanship and global collaboration, combining the best of East and West in a beautifully crafted 6-edged bottle. A celebratory ode to the impeccable Japanese craftsmanship, Oaksmith Gold is an iconic global brand starting off from India, bringing in an unmatched international experience with every sip.

What makes it truly gold?

The ingredients do the magic. From Grain to Bottle, Oaksmith Gold is a spirit with a smooth taste. It delicately blends high quality aged Scotch Whisky Malts from the lush highlands of Scotland with aged Kentucky Straight Bourbon whisky from The United States of America using impeccable craftsmanship of Japan. As a result of this world class unique blend created by one of the most celebrated master blenders globally – Shinji Fukuyo, the man with over 30 years of experience creating the most famous award-winning Japanese whiskies in the world such as Yamazaki and Hibiki – the taste of Oaksmith Gold is rich, smooth and refined. On the palate, the flavour profile is mild but full body with woodiness from the oaks casks, on the nose, it is rich fruity and has a sweet top note followed by a hint of smoke (peat), on the finish, it is clean and smooth making it very delightful. This makes it perfectly suited to tickle the taste buds of connoisseurs and beginners alike.

Aged Bourbon Whiskies from the Americas

Elegant. Smooth. Refined. That is what four years of aging in newly charred American white oak barrels does to the bourbon, which goes into the delicate Oaksmith Gold blend. A method tested over more than 200 years of time – a method as old as the distillery that produces it.

Aged Scotch Malt Whiskies from Scotland

Oaksmith contains carefully selected Premium and Aged Scotch Malt Whiskies that speak of the pride and confidence of some of the most charming distilleries in Scotland. Crafted as nature intended, these precisely selected whiskies are known for wholesome maltiness, honeyed sweetness, a delicious creamy texture, and as much character as the Highlands of Scotland!

The Impeccable Craftsmanship of Japan

Japanese dedication to quality and craftsmanship is world renowned. Oaksmith Gold is a perfect representation of Takumi which in Japanese means ‘artisan’ or ‘skillful’ as it is an ode to Japanese craftsmanship. The rare blend has a fine balance of smokiness, sweetness and smoothness that was crafted by world renowned Shinji Fukuyo – Chief Blender at Suntory, the founding house of Japanese Whisky – after spending hours meticulously selecting aged spirits in oak barrels. The name – Oaksmith is a tribute to this craftsmanship, and the fine oak casks that Beam Suntory’s whiskies are aged in. From seed to sip, Oaksmith Gold is gentle on the nose and strikes a balance between the oak’s woodiness with notes of rich fruity sweetness giving it a clean and smooth finish. Further, to truly match it to the local palate, he travelled across the length and breadth of India to understand the nuances of Indian food and flavours and what could match perfectly with them.

What constitutes The Perfect Serve?

This beautifully crafted whisky blends well into any cocktail and pairs well with almost all flavour profiles of food. However, the perfect serve of Oaksmith Gold, is a celebration of purity, authenticity and high quality that comes alive recommended as 45 ml poured in a pre-chilled, wide mouthed whisky rock glass. Add signature Oaksmith Gold spherical ice for this Takumi ritual, if not, four big ice cubes or six small, and finally add water to taste, but no more than the pour size (45ml in this case).

Pricing and Availability

Oaksmith Gold brings Japanese mastery – otherwise a super-premium and luxurious phenomenon – to Indian whisky price points to elevate the product experience many notches above the standard segment offering. Oaksmith Gold is currently available in the states of Maharashtra, Telangana, West Bengal, Karnataka, Chandigarh, Goa, Assam, UP and ranges from Rs. 630 to Rs. 2,000 for a 750 ml bottle.

Greater Than Gin, yes, what can be?

In the last couple of years, there has been a count of nearly 15 new gins entering the market, reviving the gin spirit, so to say. Of that 11 are from Goa. “It started off as a fluke as we decided that Goa had the best bottling partners for us. Since then, it seems quite a few others have taken that to be the precedent set and got to work,” that is Anand Virmani, the founder of Nao Spirits, manufacturers of Greater Than and Hapusa – premium crafted gins that are making waves in the markets available.

Virmani has his own take on how the crafted gin segment is evolving. He believes that Goa is not any more liberal than many other states in the country when it comes to excise policies. He dismisses it as a factor for launching Greater Than in Goa. Similarly, for the availability of botanicals, he states that the main ingredient for gin has to be either imported our sourced from the Himalayas in the north and that Goa is no different than any other part of the country when it comes to sourcing botanicals. As regards to water quality which Goa touts about, he is of the view that since all water in the production process has to be demineralised, the oriGinal water quality should not really matter.

But when it comes to Goa as the watering hole, he believes so that it is a great marketing tool. “The spirit of trying out new things is certainly important, especially since so many tourists come to Goa and take back gin bottles with them.”

Ambrosia: What is the reason for resurgence of gin which had taken a beating when vodka entered the Indian market?

Virmani: Vodka did this to gin in the 1950s globally. Gin has come back primarily because of the resurgence of cocktail bars which propagate classic cocktails, many of which just happen to use gin as their base. Ambrosia: There is a talk about uniqueness of the botanicals that goes into gin making. From a consumer perspective, what does botanicals signify?Virmani: Botanicals are what separate one gin from another. They are the main flavour components in any gin. Also, only high quality gins like ours use actual botanicals as opposed to artificial flavouring used by the cheaper, cold-compounded gins.

Ambrosia: What kind of growth are you seeing in the overall Gin market in India?

Virmani: The premium+ gin market in India (which excludes the low-end mass produced gins) are growing phenomenally well; easily around 30%+ CAGR. Ambrosia: We see a lot of premium brands being launched, is it because they are not meant for the masses?Virmani: Craft gin can only ever be premium. A low-priced gin, will not ever be a craft product. Even so, we aim to make our gins as accessible as possible.

Ambrosia: Could you tell us about the spark that led to the creation of Greater Than?

Virmani: The spark was quite simply the growing disbelief that India was not able to produce a single brand of gin that we could proudly call our own. It did not make sense to us, especially since India was the birthplace of the Gin & Tonic as well as the heart of the world spice trade.

Ambrosia: Which are the markets it is presently available now and what are your expansion plans?

Virmani: Our gins are present in seven different states across India currently as well as in over 15 countries outside India. We continue to grow as far and wide as we can without over-stretching ourselves. Assam has been our newest addition within India while New Zealand has become our most recent export market to come online.

Ambrosia: How is Hapusa different from Greater Than?

Virmani: Hapusa is a very small batch produced gin. It is primarily made with Himalayan juniper along with other botanicals found and sourced from across the country.

Ambrosia: Which are the markets it is present in – how do the two compete with each other – what is the USP of both?

Virmani: Greater Than is a classic London Dry Gin and is ideal for making cocktails or Gin & Tonics. Hapusa however, is far more characteristic and best enjoyed as a sipping gin or included in stirred cocktails like the Negroni or Martini.

Ambrosia: What next from ‘Nao Spirits’?

Virmani: Lots more

Stranger & Sons eyeing top bars of the world

Craft brands in India are currently redefining the perception of premiumness. It is now much more about authenticity, craftsmanship and embracing innovation to produce something uniquely groundbreaking. Today, we see a lot of Indian consumers are excited to try a good homegrown product without it being a compromise and brands like ours are able to communicate and ensure our high quality standards. Moreover, with India’s growing cocktail culture, we see that a lot of Indian consumers are open to trying new, atypical cocktails as well as local, homegrown products which have indeed contributed to the rise of craft producers in the country. That is Sakshi Saigal, the co-founder and director of Stranger & Sons. In an email interview, she maps the journey of crafted gin which has just embarked upon an exciting phase of spirits in India.

Ambrosia: Could you tell us about the spark that led to the creation of Stranger & Sons?

Saigal: It goes without saying that we individually are not just cocktail enthusiasts, but also had access to observe the beGinnings of the Gin Revolution first hand. I was working towards my MBA in Barcelona, while Vidur was studying in the UK and Rahul had just set up his craft brewery in Mumbai. While we were tasting and drinking a variety of gins every day – whether in London’s cocktail bars or the Gin Tonics of Barcelona, we were getting well acquainted with the gin landscape. That’s when it piqued our interest as to why India wasn’t up to speed with gin although gin manufacturers all over the world looked to India when it came to sourcing botanicals and we kept encountering brands based on a vision of India that we knew very well had never been a reality. This made us question why products with these botanicals are made everywhere but here. To add to this, there wasn’t any other quality homegrown product then that was conveying the story from our perspective; so we decided to change that and embarked into a lot of research before setting up Third Eye Distillery.

Ambrosia: Could you give us insights into the growth journey of Stranger & Sons?

Saigal: It’s honestly been a phenomenal experience so far! Right from the start, we wanted to build a truly Indian gin that would stand out on the shelves of top bars in the world but fit in just as well in the colourful and vibrant bars in Panjim. Made from inherently Indian botanicals, Stranger & Sons Gin captures the essence of contemporary India in every bottle for a curious and discerning consumer. What makes Stranger & Sons interesting is how we celebrate our diverse, unique and complicated history while recognising India in its current context instead of the stereotypical version with just palaces, elephants, and so on. Embracing this wonderful strangeness inherent in the contemporary India we live in today through our gin allows consumers to connect with the story and the brand in a very organic manner. Creating this emotional connection with our audience has always been at the core of our thought process and that’s where we believe that it’s not just what our gin is made of that matters, but what it represents.

Starting out as a home-grown gin brand from Goa to being declared one of the 8 best gins in the world by the International Wine & Spirit Competition in 2020, to winning the highest honours at The Asian Spirit Masters 2021, we’ve managed to put Indian gin on the world map and continue to work towards showcasing India’s diversity to the rest of the world! We’ve had an action-packed and eventful journey so far and the terrific response we get from our consumers at our international and domestic events is backed by an exciting, entrepreneurial team, all of whom feel very strongly about the brand. With regard to sales, we sold 25,000 nine litre cases in our first full year of operations, which was extremely exciting for us and was mainly attributed to being available in just two Indian cities and one international market. This year, despite the pandemic, we will be focussing on domestic and international expansion.

Ambrosia: How much has the pandemic hit production?

Saigal: Being absolutely aware that it has been an extremely tough phase for the hospitality industry and brands including ours, thanks to our team’s sheer creativity and persistence, we never lost sight of our consumers, favourite bars and bartenders. During the pandemic, we launched ‘Strange Times’ bottled cocktails in Singapore as an initiative to support the trade, made in collaboration with some of the best bars there to help keep the spirits up amidst the pandemic. We also got selected as the first Indian brand for the Craft Gin Club and shipped bottles to over 70,000 homes across the UK. During the lockdown, we launched India’s first distilled cocktail with local, seasonal pink guavas – Perry Road Peru, in collaboration with The Bombay Canteen, a high-end Indian restaurant which was a massive success in the market! Regardless of the digital shift, we continue to prioritise innovation, crafting immersive experiences and strengthening our relationships with consumers and trade alike.

Ambrosia: Which markets are you present in and what are your expansion plans?

Saigal: We launched Stranger & Sons from the shores of Goa and expanded to Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka and Rajasthan within India and UK, Singapore, Thailand and the UAE, internationally. We will indeed be exploring various domestic markets including Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and more. In terms of international expansion, we look forward to increasing our global footprint through our upcoming launches in Australia, Mauritius and more, very soon. Each new market brings a unique, diverse consumer base which makes the experience, well, let’s just say thrilling!

Ambrosia: What are the challenges – regulatory and distribution network – faced in India?

Saigal: In the spirits world, India has always been known for the sheer volume of alcohol we produce over anything else. The distilleries here are mostly large-scale, daunting structures and it’s difficult to contract distill small quantities here which is often a great way for craft distillers to beGin their journey. Adding to the challenge, India follows a federal system of laws and when it comes to alcohol and so, the guidelines and regulations vary across states in India. Access to good quality equipment and adequate space also pose a challenge, particularly once companies start expanding.

Ambrosia: Tell us about the botanicals that make your gin unique?

Saigal: Indian botanicals and spices that are indispensable to every Indian household and form the backbone of India’s culinary heritage. Among India’s most fertile states, Goa was a natural choice for us for its lush expanse of spice farms. The mace, cassia bark, licorice, black pepper and nutmeg that perfume our gin are sourced from spice farms surrounding our distillery making Goa the beating heart of our narrative. Our unique citrus peel mix of Indian Bergamot, Nimbu (Indian Limes), Nagpur Oranges & Gondhoraj have also been put together to represent different parts of our country and each of these citrus’ are extremely integral to the region they represent and make their way into local cuisine, juices, pickles, jams, preserves and more. By making use of all the wonderful spices available to us, we built a three-dimensional Gin that is proudly Indian and true to its oriGin. Our signature serves include fresh, flavourful Gimlets & aromatic, layered Gibsons which are also homage to India’s pickling and cordialling culture.

Ambrosia: What next?

Saigal: Third Eye Distillery was never built as a one-product-company right from the get go. There doesn’t go a day when someone from the team isn’t trying to answer this same question and one up the other. There are so many things that we’re working on at the moment when it comes to innovation and new product releases, no thought goes untested and no idea wins without a fight! We are also constantly trying to do our bit to make our distillery more responsible and sustainable while exploring new extensions and experimenting with various ideas. The one thing we know for sure, whichever product we release next, it won’t just be another bottle on the shelf, but will truly be adding to the conversation and be integral to taking our cocktail culture to the next step.

‘Black Jewel’, Goa’s first Craft Gin

One common thread among all the craft gin makers is that they are kind of globe trotters and well-heeled. And these journeys make them richer (I am not talking financially here). Take for instance, Cedric Vaz, Director of Global Spirits and Foods and the creator of the arguably the first craft gin from Goa – the Black Jewel.

It was on one of his trips to Europe between 2010 and 2012 that he noticed that gin was becoming popular and blooming in some of the European markets. “I could see it coming to India very soon which motivated me to work on creating a brand of premium yet value for money, which will appease those customers who really have a craving for a good Gin and are ready to pay a reasonable price for it. After a lot of work, research and sleepless nights, we zeroed down on the concept and creation of our gin brand which we named ‘Black Jewel’. Our first batch was manufactured on December 18, 2018. Our gin was first amongst the gins produced in Goa as well as first amongst crafted Gins.”

Hand-picked Junipers

Black Jewel Gin is meticulously hand crafted from hand-picked juniper berries that are grown in the highlands of Italy. These berries along with other botanicals such as Cilantro, Wild Celery, Carum Carvi etc. are infused into the premium grain spirit through a double copper pot distillation. The result is a gin with distinct and remarkable zesty citrus flavour.

For gin to be called gin it needs the juniper as one of its ingredients that is what makes gin unique from vodka. From the perspective of a consumer, herbs other than juniper are a personal preference and palate-friendly. A manufacturer is compelled to compulsorily add Juniper to call it gin, but is free to add the herbs and flavours of their wish, making gin a diverse drink; and this allows the customers to be choosy about their taste and style of gin.

Superior quality of water in Goa

Mac Vaz of Global Spirits and Foods which manufactures Black Jewel Gin states that, besides friendly excise policy, Goa has the perfect water quality for spirit manufacture. “Coming under the Dharwad super group, largely dominated by the laterite rock as its soil which is highly porous and permeable, the quality of ground water is clean and sweet. This, with the heavy rains of nearly 330cm, makes Goa a region with good amount of potable water. We believe water of Goa has its own brand equity.”

On Black Jewel’s reasonable pricing, Sanath Bharne of Sales says, “While there is a general perception that premium pricing has a pull factor with certain Indian consumers, we resisted that suggestion from the trade and came up with an MRP of `675 for 750 ml as we were clear that we wanted Black Jewel to be within the reach of the consumers who are accustomed to regular molasses-based flavoured Gins.”

The New Indian Single Malt: Kamet

Kamet was envisioned by Ansh Khanna and Master Sommelier Ken Fredrickson, who believed India to be one of the greatest places in the world to produce whisky given the unique six row barley and ageing conditions. It is a JV between Peak Spirits and Piccadily Distillery.

Is India Good for single Malt?

‘We consider India to be one of the greatest places in the world to produce single malt whisky, given our unique six-row barley and ageing conditions.’ Ansh Khanna, co-founder of Peak Spirits that owns the two labels, says, “We had been working on the single malt much before Jin JiJi. Given the ageing requirements, the journey to launch is much longer.”

At the beginning of this year, Peak Spirits, run by Mumbai-based Ansh Khanna and Chicago-based sommelier Ken Frederickson, soft-launched their first product Jin Jiji in select cities in the US, Europe, and Canada. The ‘India Dry Gin’, which is distilled in Goa, and will soon be available in India as well — along with their first-ever whisky, Kamet. Named after a 20-thousander in the Garhwal Himalayas, among India’s highest mountains, work on the NAS whisky, says Khanna, began around 2016. “Ken and I believe that India’s unique conditions and six-row barley — we source ours from the foothills of the Himalayas — make it an exciting place to produce a single malt of great complexity,” adds Khanna.

Khanna and Frederickson have teamed up with Piccadily Distillery, in Karnal, Haryana, and set themselves a tough benchmark — The Macallan. Kamet is a duet, a unique collaboration between two Master Blenders – Surrinder Kumar and Nancy Fraley. Surrinder has previously served as the Master Blender for Amrut distilleries, founding and spearheading their single malt programme, and showing the world the potential for India to produce whisky of great complexity. Nancy has worked with numerous distilleries around the US. She has a deep connection with India, from her time studying Buddhism at Harvard. She serves as the Director of Education for the American Distilling Institute (ADI).

Using the local six-row barley, the whisky is distilled in copper pot stills and matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon American Oak, ex-wine French Oak and ex-Sherry casks. This gives the single malt a vinous touch, as most single malts use only ex-Bourbon casks for their standard expressions.

“Most whisky produced in India can’t be classified as whisky as per international standards since they are made from molasses (technically, rum) and not matured for an adequate period,” Khanna explains. “Our wide usage of ex-wine casks from France is a first-in-industry. We are proud to be one of the few making high-quality single malt whisky in the country.” “The wood used has always been crucial to The Macallan’s character, and I’ve been inspired a lot by them,” says Khanna. “Kamet is matured in a combination of ex-Bourbon American oak, ex-French oak and ex-sherry casks. The usage of wine and sherry casks gives Kamet a vinous complexity on the nose and a beautiful natural colour.”

The much-acclaimed Amrut Fusion is among the whiskies Kumar worked on while at the Bangalore-based distillery. The success of Amrut and Paul John has triggered a lot of interest among whisky entrepreneurs in India. “But making whisky is very different from producing, for instance, gin. Whisky makers abroad are finding it tough to sell regular single malt and are focusing on special releases.

Thanks to the wine, bourbon and sherry casks, Kamet has a fruity aroma profile with oaky spice forward notes, complemented with vanilla, caramel and subtle raisins with nutty and sweet dark chocolate on top notes. On the palate, it exhibits a melted concoction of fresh and dried fruit notes with subtle hints of oaky vanilla, spice and dark chocolate. Kamet has a long, warm complex nutty finish with a balanced dry and sherried sweetness. Khanna recommends the whisky be enjoyed neat, on the rocks or with a splash of water.

Kamet will be available in Goa, Europe and the US in early 2021 for a price of Rs. 2,699 for a special introductory price. This will be increased to Rs. 2,999 post May 2021. In Gurgaon the launch price will be Rs. 2999 with the company targeting a volume of 1000 cases a month.