Founder and Director, Stilldistilling Spirits: Kasturi Banerjee

Published by The Rumlab ago

Founder and Director, Stilldistilling Spirits: Kasturi Banerjee article cover image

Founded in 2020, Stilldistilling Spirits represents undiluted ambition, perseverance, and thoughtfulness. All to continue elevating drinking experiences. This stems from their ‘Drink Well’ philosophy, where quality matters more than quantity. After all, quality spirit begins with the right spirit. Kasturi Banerjee is their Founder and Director. Let’s learn more about her in this interview.

TRL: Who is Kasturi Banerjee?

What started out as an internship born out of passion led to an alternative career path for me. With a keen interest in wine and spirits, I pursued a bartending course in 2019 to better understand the art of mixology. Through this experience, I understood the history of India’s alco-bev industry. I then began experimenting with blends and conducted research to understand emerging trends and developing consumer preferences in the sector.

This led me to identify a market opportunity in the premium rum category. Post several certifications and training over two years, and a niche segment carved out for me, I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey. With a vision to elevate drinking experiences, I set up Stilldistilling Spirits in 2020 to produce premium homegrown rums out of Goa, the first of which was an artisanal rum called Maka Zai. It has two variants–White and Gold and is available across four markets in India. In my downtime, you can find me out and about meeting new people or experimenting with new blends and mixes.

TRL: What does the rum mean to you? What made you fall in love with rum and when did it happen?

While exploring the spirits market, I noticed that gin was gaining popularity with brands like Greater Than and Stranger & Sons. Despite this trend, I looked into the artisanal rum market, given the undercurrents taking place globally and India’s abundance of local produce, which acts as the foundation for any great rum. A rum revolution was on the cards.

India is a leading producer of sugarcane, which gives us the sugarcane juice and molasses spirit used to produce rum. Our country’s soil and climate provide optimal conditions for producing the best-quality rum. Thus, I set out to launch a homegrown brand that celebrates Indian produce.

Rum’s versatility fascinates me–White Rum is a bartender’s favorite to highlight and showcase any type of cocktail (spicy, or floral), while Gold Rum is an excellent dessert and sipping rum,best enjoyed neat.

TRL: Three essential characteristics that define the rum according to your perspective.

Rum is a spirit that needs no introduction. It is incredibly versatile, making it an excellent base for flavourful cocktails or a great sipping experience when consumed neat. The sheer range of rums produced today (white rum, aged rum, gold rum, flavored and spiced rum, etc.) make it a spirit that can be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of age or taste preferences. This versatility and variety make rum so appealing to a wide range of customer segments.

TRL: What is the most important contribution you have made to the rum industry?

We are an artisanal rum brand produced completely in India, We have created a cocktail-focussed White Rum packed with tropical flavours ranging  from sweet and floral to spicy and herbaceous. We have also carved out a completely new category through our aged Gold Rum, which is an elegant sipping rum–the first of its kind in India.

With Maka Zai, we are challenging and transforming the conventional stereotypes and assumptions surrounding rum. Historically, rum in India has been viewed as a non-premium dark spirit that always requires a mixer and is primarily consumed by novice drinkers.

We have changed this narrative through our innovative packaging and design. Our clear bottles enable the spirit itself to shine, and our pastel brand colors and intricate lines and details lend a fun, sassy, and contemporary aesthetic to our rum.

TRL: Benefits that the rum industry has given you.

It is an incredibly fulfilling experience to be a part of an industry that is truly farm-to-bottle. We have gained access to a strong network of pioneers, entrepreneurs, and suppliers who share our passion for artisanal rum.

TRL: What’s another thing you are passionate about, besides rum? Why?

I love traveling! It has opened up new avenues for me to discover new drinking trends, explore unique rum pairings (like dessert or cigar pairings), and try innovative cocktails from bartenders across the world.

TRL: What is your favorite place for drinking rum?

Sunday evening, on my balcony, with my dog.

TRL: Favorite drink + Recipe

My current favorite is a technique-forward cocktail called The Wat-a-melon, which is a clarified cocktail made with Maka Zai White Rum that is infused with feta cheese and combined with fresh watermelon and basil.

TRL: Why is it important to educate the rum consumer?

Although Indian consumers have traditionally preferred mojitos or the classic combination of rum and coke, with greater awareness and education, we can encourage them to explore different ways of enjoying rum. For example, our aged Gold Rum introduces consumers to an elegant rum-sipping experience that they may not have tried before.

With our White Rum, we are educating consumers about new flavors and unique approaches to cocktails. For instance, one of our most popular signature cocktails is the Cacti Daiquiri, which celebrates indigenous ingredients and is the perfect monsoon cocktail with floral, fresh, and herby flavors.

TRL: Any tips to train the palate and taste a good premium rum?

To have a truly memorable tasting experience, it’s essential to have a deep understanding of the product. This starts with the bottle itself; take the time to read the labels, observe the spirit’s color, and recognize and match the depth of flavor listed on the labels. This will help you indulge in the entire experience mindfully.

TRL: Is the commitment to sustainable development the key to success for the permanence of the rum industry in the world? Why?

Today, it’s essential for every business to be mindful of their impact on the environment and practice sustainability. At Maka Zai, we are committed to minimizing our carbon footprint by using glass bottles, sourcing only local ingredients, and ensuring our events are 100% plastic-free. This allows us to play our part in creating a more sustainable future.

TRL: Who would like to meet in the rum industry? What would you say to him/her?

I would love to meet Ian Burrell, who is a true pioneer and a global advocate of rum. It would be great to see how we can collaborate and bring a rum festival to India.

TRL: What are your next goals in the rum industry?

We want to be consistent and place great focus on maturation so we can constantly enhance the quality of our products. We are also excited to announce the release of our first limited-edition barrel-aged rare rum in Goa this year.

TRL: Plans you have when you leave the rum industry.

I’m here to stay!

TRL: Why is the role of the bartender important in the rum industry?

Bartenders play a crucial role in the rum industry, as they are often the first point of contact for consumers. When bartenders are advocates for a particular brand, it can make the journey a little smoother.

With the unique ability to understand the nuances of flavors that consumers enjoy and to bring these flavors forward in a sophisticated manner, bartenders can drive the rum industry forward and inspire more innovative approaches to rum cocktails.

 

TRL: What is your advice for new generations in the rum industry?

Focus on consistency, quality, and communication to showcase rum in a new light.

TRL: How can people learn more about you? Website? Social media page?

Home https://www.instagram.com/makazai.rum/?hl=en

 

You can also meet us at our bar takeovers across different cities!