Kasturi Banerjee, The Woman Behind Changing The Course Of The Indian Alcohol Industry
Leaving a stable banking job to make spirits may seem a bit unusual to many of us, but not for this banker turned bartender! Kasturi Banerjee, born and brought up in Kolkata, left her banking job in 2018 with a view of providing a fresh perspective in India’s alcohol industry.
After almost two decades in the financial industry, Kasturi started exploring new things. She says she always knew that it was either banking or the spirits industry. She began researching spirits, did a bar-tending course, and learnt how to taste and blend.
“Kasturi travelled across the globe for the perfect blend and techniques and tasted around 120-125 samples before she decided to create MAKA ZAI”
Talking about her family’s reaction to her career shift decision, Kasturi said her mom and husband were initially quite concerned. As a banker, her day began at 8 in the morning and ended by 11 at night, but in bar-tending, it was exactly the opposite as she used to work till the next morning. At first, her mother didn’t understand how to describe her daughter’s new profession to others. It took two and half years for her to explain that this isa full-fledged organized industry, and her daughter is now making premium craft rum.
Anything new comes with its set of challenges;for a woman-owned start-up, making alcohol and entering a traditionally male-dominated industry was one such challenge. But, this has seen a fast-paced shift in the past two years. While Banerjee acknowledges that there were some challenges, she says you meet a lot of people and make friends who really help you out on the way.
‘MAKA ZAI’ means ‘I Want’ in Konkani, as the spirits are blended in Goa. The concept behind the name ‘MakaZai’ was that Kasturi wanted people to enjoy a good quality, premium rum. In 2019, she travelled to 24 different places just for the perfect sample. She went to Amsterdam to understand how gin is madeand also to the Philippines, which is a rich rum-producing country.
Currently, the brand has two rums in circulation: the White Rum a.k.a “Bartenders Edition”, and the Gold Rum a.k.a “Tribute Edition”
While searching for the best sample, they found that the sugarcane near Panchganga Maharashtra had the perfect freshness, graciousness for the white rum. It’s called the Bartenders edition because she knows what a tough job it is. It looks easy, but working for long hours and always having a smile on your face is not easy.During the lockdown, we all know how the hospitality industry suffered. Therefore the White Rum is a recognition of the effort the bartenders put in for all of us to have a good time.
The gold rum, also known as the Tribute Edition, is an elegant vanilla accent sipping rum. Its natural gold color is free from flavors. Everything at MakaZai is Made in India, which is a way to help small businesses grow with them.
“ Being a homegrown Goan brand, MakaZai’s bottles also resemble its roots. The labels of MakaZai have a native Olive Ridley turtle on them.”
These species are now endangered because of shacks, tourists, fishing, etc. These turtles were very unique and only used to come to four beaches in Goa. These turtles come back to the shore they were bornafter traveling up to 9000 kilometers in the ocean every year. Our journey is similar to that, extremely focused and determined -says Kasturi. Apart from this, they collaborate with the Morjim Sea Turtle Trust to help conserve the Olive Ridley Turtles.
Kasturi says my business ages is the same as the pandemic, we started about a year and a half ago, and that’s when the pandemic hit. Even when one is locked down, it’s about how you take the opportunity and make the best out of it. During the first wave, we were in the planning stage about how to make it, design it, etc. But the second wave affected us. Back in March, we were only selling in Goa, which provided us quite an insight. From another perspective, like being in Goa, you always think of the tourist, but when everything was shut, your market was only the local consumers, the people who live there. Those three months worked out for us to build the local network. We also started an upliftment programme for bartenders locally. A 14-day workshop to teach them photography skills to help them build their Instagram presence, which is the new bartender’s resume, for when the market opens up.
Changing one’s career path after two decades can be difficult, but Kasturi proved nothing is impossible. Her step into the alcohol industry also inspired other women entrepreneurs to do so. Change can be slow and steady, but it always bears sweet fruits and, in this case, one of the finest Indian rums!
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