Whisky, gin, rum, beer, wine… Indians have enjoyed their alcohol for centuries, but have only just found place on the global map with their brands. But the times, they are a-changin’.
A smart crop of young individuals with specialised education, an international outlook, and a passion for this subject are driving this change. Mumbai-based Vaniitha Jaiin, Founder of wine, spirits, and lifestyle consulting firm, is one of them.
One of very few trained alcohol aficionados from India, Vaniitha has worked with renowned industry players like the Suntory Whiskey group from Japan, the Four Seasons Hotel, and the Taj Chambers.
“While I have always been an enthusiast, I decided to take my passion for wines and spirits and marry it with my entrepreneurial dream by launching The Perfect Pour in 2013. It is the first-of-its-kind consultancy platform to demystify the world of wines and spirits and help people truly understand and appreciate their drink,” explains Vaniitha in a chat with YS Weekender.
Before turning to the alco-bev industry, Vaniitha was a marketing and communications professional, having served in various leadership roles at Flipkart, Ogilvy India, Mahindra Satyam, and Adecco India to name a few.
She pursued an MBA from The Times School of Marketing in Delhi and studied Wines and Spirits at the prestigious Wines & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) in London. That was followed by a luxury brand management course at Essec Business School in Paris, France. After completing her formal training, she embarked on solo travels through the wine and spirit havens of Europe such as France, Italy, and Hungary to gain practical knowledge.
Vaniitha knew she had to make something of herself as she had a rough start in life, having lost her father at a young age. She pushed herself to excel in academics and created her own professional portfolio juggling many unconventional roles – from investment advice to curating flavours to building digital assets for global brands.
She shares, “I was born into a family of flourishing cloth merchants in a small town called Ambasamudram in Tamil Nadu. I took charge of my life from a very young age when a tragedy struck, and I lost my father. Even back then, I broke many stereotypes by conducting summer camps for children and selling clothes to families and friends at the age of 13, to becoming an insurance prodigy as the youngest star performer at the age of 19 in ICICI Prudential.”
The journey to her current profession hasn’t been an easy one. She highlights that the Indian alcohol industry is dominated by men. It was particularly difficult for her to break in as a girl who belonged to the Jain community where alcohol is considered taboo.
“I had to face a lot of societal criticism, but no one came in the way of my conviction that I’m here to help people demystify and appreciate the art and science behind alcoholic beverages,” she says.
India is one of the fastest growing alcoholic beverages markets globally, with an estimated market size of $52.5 billion.
Vaniitha is known for her offbeat approach and interesting ideas. She has collaborated with brands by mixing exciting flavours – whiskey with coconut water, and whiskey with green tea – to familiarise Indians with signature flavours from around the world.
Despite the pandemic, over the last two years, she has helped many top C Suite people curate their bar cabinets with the right kind of spirits and tonics to host successful business gatherings. She has also advised CEOs and CXOs on how to buy alcoholic beverages for the purpose of investment; as well as partnered with hotels to select the type and kind of alcohol to stock based on the profile of their guests.
“I have a unique approach at The Perfect Pour – I aim to evoke a sense of curiosity and appreciation among enthusiasts towards alcoholic beverages. Currently, I am a consultant to restaurants, hotels, importers, corporate brands, lifestyle brands, media networks, and ultra-HNIs for buying the choicest of wines and spirits.
“I also work on educational training, wine and spirit-based bespoke experiences, advice on building importer portfolio strategy, brand management, designing food and beverage programmes, and the curation of drink menus for a variety of events and experiences,” shares Vaniitha, explaining the range of her services.
Her collaboration with Beam Suntory from Japan is one she is particularly proud of, as they have made her their ambassador on several occasions. During the pandemic, she curated an experience using their Roku Gin. She used the six botanicals of this drink, which grow over four seasons, and curated a menu to bring this sensory experience to life for India’s top tastemakers such as Harsh Mariwala and Harsh Goenka, amongst others. Another noteworthy collaboration with them was to introduce Toki – a Japanese blended whiskey – to India.
She has worked with prestigious brands such as the Four Seasons Hotels as their brand ambassador and partner for the Four Seasons Wine programme in 2017, curated the epicurean evening for the ‘Rendezvous’ series by The Taj Chambers in 2021, worked with Jodhpur Gin from Spain, Buffalo Trace Whiskey by Sazerac, USA, Oaksmith Whisky, Bowmore Single Malt, Glenfiddich Single Malt by William Grant and Sons, and Jacobs Creek by Pernod Ricard to name a few.
What does the future hold?
Recognised as one of the leading professionals of wines and spirits in India and the global circuit, Vaniitha lists out her many rewarding moments.
She has been chosen as one of few Indians to represent the country as a judge and participant at select international wine events, including the likes of Wine & Culinary International Forum in Spain in 2016; twice at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, a ‘World Wine Championship’ where 330 international experts from 50 countries judge over 9,000 wines; and twice been an invitee to the International Wine Challenge held at the iconic Oval Cricket Ground.
The Indian alco-bev industry has undergone tremendous change in the last few years, evident from the number of hand-crafted alcoholic beverages made in India today.
According to the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, India is one of the fastest growing alcoholic beverages markets globally, with an estimated market size of $52.5 billion and is expected to grow at a CAGR of 6.8 per cent till 2023.
“We are not just winning hearts in India but also winning awards on global platforms. The alco-bev industry is growing every day. Millennials enjoy exploring new varietals and brands and appreciate what they drink. More people are entering this field too. One can train in India with the WSET courses available around the country,” she shares.
As the perception of ‘craft’ produce in India changes, more homegrown alco-bev brands are planting their flag. The gin revolution in India is an excellent example of this. Indian whiskies too have reached international standards of quality, and more Indian distilleries are in the works.
“Indian whisky has shattered the perception that the best whisky comes from Scotland, with the ones from India being inferior,” Vaniitha says.
She ends by sharing the examples of Amrut distilleries, which became the first company to launch an Indian single malt whisky in a country outside of India, in the UK in 2004; and of the three Indian whisky brands which are popular in the USA – Paul John, Amrut, and Rampur.
According to a Forbes report, these three brands dominate the imported whisky section in the American market, proving that Indian alcohol is finally making its mark. Slainte!