Leaving behind a career in banking sector, spanning over sixteen years Kasturi Banerjee has taken the spirits industry by storm. She has founded Stilldistilling Spirits and created a home grown rum named Makazai. She speaks to Lopamudra Ganguly about her creation.

A new Indian craft rum that has hit the shores of Goa is Makazai. Makazai Rum, is all about you savouring those moments and making them last while making sure you feel satisfied by what you are sipping (and spending). It is about celebration too. Stilldistilling Spirits, an independent distillery’s first rum. It has been released in two expressions, Bartender’s Edition (White) and Tribute Edition (Gold).

Maka Zai translates to ‘I want’ from Konkani. Kasturi says “The rum is home grown a made-in-India product and we wanted that aspect to stand out in our offering. We’ve all grown up on Old Monk, but beyond that, what else does India have to show for rum? Right from the packaging and design to the ingredients, everything is straight out of India.”

Why Rum? Rum is primarily been a drink of the tropics, with big brands from Central America (Zacapa – Guatemala, Diplomatico – Venezuela), and the Philippines (Don Papa) dominating the market. According to persistence and market research, South Asia has been identified as one of the largest consumers of rum across the globe with India and the Philippines having the highest no of consumers. Kasturi says that “India is the second largest producer of sugar in the world so we have a wealth of raw material here. I tested over 120 samples of sugarcane before finalising on my supplier.” Makazai gets its molasses from West India. She says that, the sugarcanes are lusher in west as the weather conditions are not that harsh like North India it never dries up.

“We make our small batch of craft rum with fine molasses and wood matured cane spirit.

Our white rum is the Bartender’s Edition and made with sugarcane grown in and around Panchaganga river in Maharashtra, where the heavy rainfall makes the sugarcane sweeter and the rum picks up influences of the red soil. Making it floral, spicy and herbaceous. The Gold Rum is called the Tribute Edition with two-and- a-half year-old aged spirit from Punjab it is blended on the Goan seashores with hints of praline dry dates, figs, caramel cinnamon and honey. Makazai Bartender’s Edition is light. It’s a smooth, medium-bodied spirit, that is extremely sippable, even just on the rocks.” Banerjee recommends enjoying it in a cocktail like a Daiquiri or pairing it with ginger ale, pomegranate juice or Kombucha.

Makazai Tribute Edition is the more premium of the two. The spirit is best enjoyed in a Mai Tai, according to Kasturi.

Kasturi brought in her experience as a mixologist to create Makazai. Each bottle is 475 grams and has an ease of pouring. The labels too are thoughtfully curated. They bear the native Olive Ridley turtle, with miniature sun and navigator motifs on the contours. “We chose the Olive Ridley because it lays its eggs on the Goan soil, travels up to 9000 kilometres but makes its way back home, to six nesting sites at Agonda, Galgibaga, Morjim and Ashvem. “Cheers to the chase” is our Tagline an ode to this journey. The turtle mascot on the packaging is a hat tip to the locals also as they’re one of the oldest inhabitants of the state and have such a focussed and unique birthing process. The Olive Ridley turtle embodies everything that Makazai stands for – focus, resilience, dedication and determination,” she said. The bottles are manufactured in Firozabad, while the caps come from Meerut and the volume we produce now is two hundred cases a week.

Her journey is also very interesting as a banker to a blender. She is the first Lady Blender from India. As a banker Kasturi had a hectic schedule. She was interested in hospitality, so when the time came to carve her niche she headed towards bartending and conducted whisky tasting and took the training from beverage education institutes.

“I quite enjoyed bartending but I was not sure if I wanted to do it all the time. My goal, was to create something out of the things I’d learnt about alcohol and distilling.”

“I first thought about creating a rum about two years ago, just as the craze for gin was ebbing in the West and rum was slowly taking over. I saw the potential for a well-made rum in the Indian market.”

Kasturi says she wanted to approximate the smoothness of Caribbean rums with Makazai. I see it as a smooth drink that you can sit back with it if you are not already using it in a cocktail. The white is a ‘Bartender’s Edition’ and medium bodied but vibrant and refreshing. The gold, which features rum blended for two and a half years, is creamier, slightly fruity, and makes for a great sipping rum,” she says

A quality home-grown rum was a great idea, but creating a good rum is different from creating and growing a brand. Desmondji’s cachaca-style Pure Cane, for example, is an excellent product, but it’s only available in Goa. Plus, “you’ve got to have consistent control over the distilling process. Makazai seems to have got off to a good start, and I’m hoping it paves the way for more good rums in India.

Makazai Rum is available in Goa, India only. The Bartender’s Edition costs 1,000 ($14 USD), while the Tribute Edition is priced at 1,300 ($18 USD).

Her team comprises of Anurag Bhatnagar the Business Head, Abhirup Bhattacharya, the Brand Ambassador. She thinks the sunny shores of Goa are perfect launch pad with many restaurants and bars. “Presently Stilldistilling Spirits is focussing only on Rum Makazai and Goa.” Stilldistilling is a year-old venture and Makazai is ten months old.