Breathing new life into Nepal’s famous rum

If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, the saying goes. Khukri Rum is one of Nepal’s most recognised brands, the quality has been consistently superior, it has history and culture. So why fix it?

After nearly six decades of production, the maker of this world class rum from Nepal, The Nepal Distillery, felt the product was not living up to its full potential. Which is why the company has been taking Khukri on a road show to acquaint Nepali consumers with the versatility of the iconic drink.

The Nepal Distillery flew in two experienced bartenders to tailor-make designer cocktails using Khukri Rum that would be appealing to Nepali consumers. One of them, Din Hassan, Master Mixologist and Head Barman at the award winning CELAVI Restaurant and Sky Bar at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore went bar-hopping with Khukri 24-27 April in five venues across Kathmandu: Tamarind, Trisara, Opium, Booze Belly and Mezze.

Said Hassan: “We figured that the Nepali peoples’ palette is still young. Many prefer sweet cocktails over bitter or sour ones, indicating that a lot needs to be done to develop a taste for the drinks we have on offer. So we started from the basics, training the bartenders themselves.” Despite all that, the drinks were well-received at the Mezze by Roadhouse event on 27 April with invited guests quaffing away.

Ami Shroff, another award winning flair bartender and head mixologist at London Taxi in Mumbai  was also there to lend a hand, bringing Kathmandu’s bartenders up to speed on the vast range of concoctions that are possible with Khukri. She mixed the rum with fresh fruit juices and spices, generating excited feedback as customers came back for thirds.

That eager reception has convinced the distillery that there is potential for further growth of the Khukri brand. So far, the rum has had a marked seasonal consumption pattern in Nepal with 85% of sales in the winter months. That needed to change.

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Explains Shuvash Lamichhane of The Nepal Distilleries: “Elsewhere, rum-based drinks are popular at all times of the year. But in Nepal we label it a ‘winter drink’ because it is supposed to warm up the body, even though it is a great drink for the summer too. We are trying to change that with refreshing rum cocktails crafted especially for summers by bringing in master bartenders.”

As soon as it was launched in the early-1960s, Khukri caught on fast among Nepali tipplers and quickly became a household word. But what really launched the brand was during the coronation of King Birendra in 1975, when the distillery brought out the rum in a khukri-shaped bottle.

Nearly half-a-century later, the dagger and the premium Coronation Rum it contains is still a favourite souvenir item for Nepalis going abroad. It is also exported to 11 countries including Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Italy, the US.

Novel marketing, therefore, is not new to The Nepal Distillery. Hence the rum tour last month to inject new zing to the product. Khukri XXX Aces of Rum Masterclass ended up training more than 20 bartenders to experiment with summer ingredients like fruits and spices, and to perform flair moves to entertain the audience.

Khukri Rum plans to hire 10-15 of the barpersons to be its in-house bartenders as ‘Aces of Rum’. They will interact with fellow bartenders across the country, experimenting with new cocktail ingredients and making fancy moves behind the bar.

Adds Lamichhane: “As the country’s first rum brand, it is our responsibility to develop the profession of serving these drinks. This course is costly for us, but free of cost for those receiving it. In the end, it is a win-win for all.”

Kathmandu’s many bars are already offering new summer rum cocktails in their menus. The cocktails range from easy to hard depending on ingredients, and will be served at various high-end hotels and bars. The company is expecting a big boost to its summer sales this year – but that will depend on whether Nepa Libre catches on in the Valley’s watering holes.

The woman who plays with fire

When Ami Shroff entered the lounge of Mezze in Darbar Marg at a cocktail event organised by Khukri Rum on 27 April, heads turned as she slipped behind the bar and started mixing drinks. The real show began, however, when she picked up two bottles of rum, set them on fire and juggled them to music. The invitees were transfixed.

“It is a rare niche in India as well,” says Shroff, sipping water after the performance, “I have been flipping bottles since 1999 and there are still very few female flair bartenders around.”

Shroff, who has won a couple of awards for her deft handiwork, works as head mixologist at The London Taxi in Mumbai, and is one of the first two female flair bartenders in India. A friend in Goa taught her the basics of juggling bottles just for fun, but it ended up launching a new career.

Well known in India and countries in the region for her flair moves, Khukri Rum invited her to Nepal where she trained a group of bartenders for three days along with Din Hassan from Singapore.

“I received a lot of appreciation in Kathmandu,” she says. “It is still a male-dominated profession so we need to be even more assertive, confident, in control of our own space. Sometimes, we also have to know when to put the foot down.”

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