As one of the top producers of sugarcane in the world, it was only a matter of time before India jumped into the resurgence of rum. A spirit with a complicated and controversial history, rum has been linked to colonialism, slavery and piracy. From the Caribbean context of slave sugar plantations, the acceptance of the spirit as currency by African slave traders, to the British setting up the famous Kasauli distillery in India, rum has had a shadowed past.
In 1855, Edward Abraham Dyer opened a brewery in Kasauli, Himachal Pradesh to supply cheap beer to the British soldiers. Cut to two years post-independence and the company was acquired by Narendra Nath Mohan and was renamed ‘Mohan Meakin Breweries.’ This distillery soon gained notoriety for producing a liquor every Indian has fond memories associated with, a special dark rum called Old Monk.
Introduced in December 1954, this rum was created after the founder’s visit to Europe where he was impressed by Benedictine monks and the liquors they produced. It was matured in oak vats for seven years, infused with spices, and named Old Monk as a tribute to them. A leader in the minds and hearts of consumers, this spirit has long been a synonym for rum in India. Move over gin, it’s time for rum to make itself heard in the homegrown spirits business
A new renaissance
The genre of premium Indian rums has been undergoing a renaissance of sorts, making way for craft brands. As the Director of Business Development of Fullarton Distilleries, Aman Thadani said, “It is so difficult for one style of spirit and one product to describe an entire genre.” Kasturi Banerjee, Founder & Director, Stilldistilling Spirits, said of the crowd favourite spirit, “I don’t think you can erase anybody’s memories of Old Monk, it is just about catering to a certain palate.” Emboldened by the response of the market to premium craft gin, rum makers too have been busy at work, perfecting their blends. Homegrown brands like Segredo Aldeia, Maka Zai, Amrut Distilleries, Wild Tiger Rum and Gladius Rum have been striking a chord with the younger, more adventurous consumer. The attention towards well-stocked bars at home have ensured a variety of white, gold, spiced, flavoured and dark rums make their way to display cabinets everywhere.
A good reception
Amrut’s Two Indies rum was one of the first brands to ride on the wave of premium rum in India. Launched in 2013, the spirit is an amalgamation of two historic rum producing cultures. Nikhil Verma, Sr. Manager-Distiller and Brands at Amrut explains the journey of the Two Indies Rum. Amrut takes West Indies molasses rum, combining it with their in-house jaggery rum from India to create this special blend. Two Indies also won a Gold Medal – Exceptional in 2021 Chicago Indie Spirit Award – Rum Category, chalking up a total of 92/100 points. The gold rum has a smooth and dry finish, with sugarcane, tropical fruits, honey and dark chocolate dominating the palate.
Gladius rum is produced by Boutique Spirit Brands, and has three varieties to pick from. Gladius Blended 10YO is a blended rum which has notes of citrus, vanilla, oak and nutmeg with a lingering buttery caramel mouthfeel. Gladius Gold Reserva 13 Rum is produced from the finest virgin and 13-year matured spirits. The third rum in their collection is the Gladius Limoni, a premium citrus white rum with a tangy lemon aftertaste.
Maka Zai is named after the phrase “I want” in Konkani, Maka Zai is proudly produced on the shores of Goa. Distilled by Stilldistilling, the white-and-gold craft rum was launched 11 months ago in Goa and entered Maharashtra in September 2021. Kasturi Banerjee, Founder & Director, Stilldistilling Spirits, decided to leave the banking world and pursue her passion for spirits by creating Maka Zai. Her love for mature liquor led her to launch two varieties of premium homegrown craft rum. Said Banerjee of this decision, “Rum has been a pretty old spirit in India, but somehow it was never represented in the premium category.” Hence, the entrepreneur sought to match the demands of the experimental consumer who is interested in homegrown brands, by creating a locally made rum.
An increasing number of home bartenders during the pandemic helped the launch of the rum. Banerjee also credits the efforts made by the brand in digital initiatives to initial growth. Maka Zai conducted cocktail-making workshops, food and beverage pairing masterclasses; the brand focused on the online consumer during the lockdown, while there was a dearth of physical events. Stilldistilling even mentored bartenders on their photography skills, teaching them how to take good pictures of a cocktail, an all-important component when growing social media followers.
Based in Kerala, Wild Tiger Rum was ideated by entrepreneur Gautom Menon. This rum had been in the works for nearly a decade and is bottled on the banks of the Bharathappuzha river. Wild Tiger Special Reserve rum is made with Indian molasses spirit, which is aged in American oakwood casks that once stored Bourbon, thereby imparting extra flavour in the blend. The addition of pure cane juice spirit results in a unique dark amber liquid.
Segredo Aldeia comes with a story akin to the whole history of rum in India. Its name is Portuguese for secret village, and has a backstory revolving around buried treasure, the history of Goa and barrels of rum. Aman Thadani, the brains behind several loved homegrown spirits including Woodburns Whisky and Pumori Gin, launched these rums in March 2021. Made by Fullarton Distilleries and released to public in Goa, they made their way to Mumbai in July 2021. The concept, design, as well as the actual liquid itself took Thadani two years to finalise. Segredo Aldeia launched two rums, a Cafe Rum and a White Rum, available in Goa and Maharashtra. When asked about the two, Thadani admits, “I knew even before we launched that we would have one crowd favourite, and that favourite is the Cafe Rum.” Cafe rum has been created using single origin dark roasted coffee beans. The spirit is laced with coffee and hints of toffee and vanilla. With undertones of tobacco and leather, this rum has a smooth dark chocolate finish. It is ideally had on the rocks, and can be paired with dark chocolate or a charcuterie board with cold cuts, cheese, dried figs, apricots, and nuts.
For the purists
Thadani created this rum mainly for the purists, and beginners keen to start their rum journey with a type of white rum. It is produced with a combination of cane and jaggery. Cane is traditionally used in an Agricole style of rum, while jaggery is traditionally used in muscovado-style rum, making this an experiment in the blend of both. The rum tastes of herbs, peaches and cream with lingering notes of vanilla and caramel. The ideal way to drink this is with a dash of soda with a citrus garnish of your choice or in a highball cocktail. It can be paired with a variety of breads and cheese, as well as grilled meats, especially red meats.
At Fullarton Distilleries, Thadani forayed into the liquor market with one of India’s favourite spirits, whisky. Then diving into the gin craze, he launched Pumori; the entrepreneur also sensed the rum revolution and created Segredo Aldeia. Said Thadani of this decision, “The world is going through a mezcal, tequila craze, but since blue agave is not grown in India, rum is what is next on the cards, I believe, and it really felt like a natural progression for us.”
Banerjee expects a further increase in the number of rums coming out of Goa. “I hope to see (these brands) coming soon, because there is no other way to expand the category it’s not the job of one person,” says the founder of Maka Zai.
A rum revolution
While Thadani is positive about the changing view of Indian consumers, he hopes to bring about a revolution in the spirits space with high-quality, small-batch production. From a manufacturing standpoint, he explained Fullarton’s desire to create a conscious quality and taste centric approach with their brands, unlike the widespread mass production popular in the country. Thadani also feels the need for education amongst Indian consumers to understand the diverse types of rums. One product ruling a particular segment for an extended period of time can shape the perception of the category, something that a variety of products can combat, by giving consumers many choices. Segredo Aldeia comes from this want to experiment, with its coffee-based rum.
For both Segredo Aldeia and Maka Zai, expansion is on the cards. While Thadani faced a roadblock due to Covid-19, he intends to launch Segredo Aldeia in Bengaluru very soon. Maka Zai too has plans to expand to new markets by March 2022, and though Banerjee is excited to spread countrywide, to Karnataka, Delhi Rajasthan Assam; Delhi, and Bengaluru are foremost on her mind right now.
Bartender’s Edition – White Rum
A mixable rum, this spirit is made using molasses sourced from around the Panchaganga river in Maharashtra. The first thing that comes to mind with a swirl and a sniff, is sweetness from the lush sugarcane. The rum then melds into herbaceous grassy notes.
Ideal way to drink: Sip on the white rum with ginger ale or fresh coconut water. For a sweeter cocktail, add sugarcane juice and a squeeze of lime to the rum.
Pair it with: Finger food like prawn cocktails and pizzas.
Tribute Edition – Gold Rum
The Maka Zai Gold Rum is blended on the Goan seashore, and contains hints of praline, dry dates, figs, caramel, cinnamon, and honey. It has a creamy mouthfeel and a whiff of vanilla.
Ideal way to drink:This sipping rum is great with a cube of ice or even Diet Coke.
Pair it with:Lasagna, flavourful mutton dishes, dark chocolate.
Pro tip: Try Maka Zai’s gold rum in an alcohol-forward dessert.