Liquor major United Spirits Ltd., (USL), owned by British Diageo Plc, has launched United’s Epitome Reserve – a premium craft whisky that sets the stage for the company’s entry into the craft spirits market that has gained popularity among India’s young, urban tipplers.
Epitome Reserve is priced at par with USL’s high-end imported scotch whiskies, the company said. These bottles are available on request or in very select premium outlets. Only 2,000 such bottles are available in the first batch.
Epitome Reserve is a small batch, craft, artisanal whisky made of 100% rice. It is also the most premium Indian whisky sold by USL in the country.
The launch is set to capitalise on growing demand for premium spirits and locally crafted spirits in India, said Deepika Warrier, chief marketing officer, Diageo India.
“Over the last year and a half, we’ve seen that consumers—in the absence of being able to travel or socialise or go out and have the best food and beverage experiences—have been experimenting with premium spirits at home with do-it-yourself or DIY experiences. That has become part of small, intimate celebrations and they are just savouring and experiencing new kinds of liquids,” Warrier said.
This is particularly true for consumers at the top end of the consumption pyramid, she said. Meanwhile, there is also a growing appetite for more domestically produced spirits, she added .
“This consumer is of course looking for world-class experiences, which is why you see global brands and our premium offerings from around the world, seeing very rapid growth, particularly over the last year or so in India. There’s also this growing desire for more local produce, local flavors and ingredients, and a sense of pride in the Indian craftsmanship,” Warrier said.
India’s top cities have seen an explosion of craft alcoholic beverages, typically small batch spirits infused with a range of ingredients as opposed to those that are mass produced. The launches have been especially high in categories such as beer and gin.
For instance, some of the newer gin launches include Greater Than, Hapusa and Terai. Meanwhile, craft beers include Kati Patang, White Owl among others.
Younger millennials, especially, favour such alcoholic beverages.
Warrier said the maker of Johnnie Walker scotch whisky and Black &White scotch whisky could look at creating a larger range of craft sprits for the Indian market.
The entry into the craft spirits market is a “tipping point” as the company moves to launch more premium spirits, said Warrier.
“While of course we will continue to do what we do in the IMFL (Indian made foreign liquor) space and our global brands. But this really signals for us an entry into the craft space, which is far more entrepreneurial, far more artisanal and includes small batches, experimentation with ingredients across different sub-categories of spirits. You’re going to see more of this coming from us,” she said.
The move also comes months after the company announced a “strategic review” of some of its liquor brands in India, more importantly its popular or mass market brands as it intends to chase more profitable growth by way of premiumising its India portfolio.
While Warrier said the launch is not linked to strategic review, the move to more premium spirits, however, has been in the works for years.
“This is part of our self-professed premiumization journey and the need for innovation that we’ve been focusing on over the last couple of years by renovating our core brands, launching packaging innovations…this (craft launch) is actually the acceleration of our innovation journey,” she said.
The entry into the craft space started with whisky since India is a large whisky market. The company could explore categories such as gin as it expands its craft offerings.
“Clearly consumers are looking at different categories for different occasions. We will definitely be looking at all these pieces. But clearly, we started with whisky because India is a whisky market,” she said.