When Rahul Nair orders a daiquiri or a dark 'n' stormy at an Indian craft cocktail bar, he closely observes his beverage.
The 32-year-old graphic designer claims that he enjoys asking the bartender about the rum that was added to his cocktail or, even better, attempting to identify the rum brand on his own.
And the reason for this is that several homegrown brands, including Short Story, Maka Zai, and Camikara, have been remarkably sprucing up the Indian rum scene over the past few years.
They are experimenting with the rum's production process, flavor profile, and methods of consumption in an effort to pique consumer interest and dispel any preconceived notions they may have about the spirit.
For a very long time, whiskeys, cognacs, and gins have occupied the top shelves of bar cabinets around the world, pushing rum to the bottom. Rum has long been a preferred beverage in India due to its low cost and accessibility. But this spirit hasn't undergone a lot of testing.
However, this is altering as rum experiences something of a revolution, largely due to rising incomes in big cities and people's willingness to experiment with their booze.
Even in nations like Japan, Thailand, and Malaysia that aren't typically associated with making rum, distillers are experimenting with spirits like never before, according to mixologist and Countertop India founder Arijit Bose.
According to the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, India is one of the markets for alcoholic beverages that is expanding the fastest in the world, with a market size predicted to reach $52 point 5 billion by 2020.
11 percent of the total volume is rum.
The rum's origins are in the Caribbean, where slaves on sugar plantations discovered how to make alcohol from molasses. However, colonization and trade spread the rum throughout the world.
For many years, Old Monk has dominated the rum market in India. Generations of Indians have come to associate rum with this low-cost, sweet dark spirit. However, this is now altering.
By producing rum in the rhum agricole or French style, Siddharth Sharma's Piccadilly Distilleries is putting a unique spin on the market. Their limited-edition 12-year-aged Camikara, launched in December, is made from sugarcane juice (grown in their own fields) rather than molasses.
At the moment, this is rather uncommon in India, and to understand why, one must first comprehend how much of the rum that is available in the nation is made, at least historically.
The neutral spirit used to make the more affordable rums is typically made from fermented molasses, a dark, viscous residue left over after sugarcane juice is converted to sugar. To make the spirit taste more palatable, additives like sugar and caramel are added.
Due to the abundant availability of the raw material due to India's thriving sugar production industry, these rums can be produced in large quantities at low costs. However, experts contend that these rums lack the finesse and flavor that more expensive, international varieties of rum offer.
By incorporating fresh ingredients like coffee and spices and some aged rums sourced from abroad, Indian craft rum brands are giving molasses-spirit rums a flavorful boost. There are also companies like Camikara that are changing the actual base spirit while also experimenting with the distillation and aging processes.
The Short Story rum from Third Eye Distillery, which was introduced last year, offers consumers a taste of the rums enjoyed in the Caribbean, an area renowned for producing some of the best rums in the world. Their white rum combines Jamaican, Trinidadian, and aged Dominican rums with an Indian molasses rum.
One of the first domestic brands to experiment with the spirit was launched two years ago by Stilldistilling Spirits under the name Maka Zai. Maka Zai offers a blended gold rum with a creamy texture and a medium-bodied white rum with tropical notes.
Rum is subject to many misconceptions, such as the notion that it should only be consumed during the winter or that it must be mixed with soda, according to Stilldistilling Spirits' founder Kasturi Banerjee. "We wanted to dispel these myths and present rum as a classy but enjoyable beverage that can be enjoyed neat or in cocktails, similar to cognac. " .
Segredo Aldeia, which debuted on the market two years ago, offers a white and café rum. Their café rum is infused with roasted coffee beans that are sourced from southern India, and both are made from a mixture of sugarcane and jaggery.
All of these rums, which are marketed as premium or "craft" offerings, start at over 1,000 rupees ($12; £10) and can go as high as 6,000 rupees for a 750ml bottle. Even though it isn't as expensive as a fine whiskey, Indian rum producers claim that the price represents a significant increase over what rum consumers are accustomed to paying.
But when it comes to growing their customer base, cost isn't their biggest problem; rather, it's the lack of awareness of rum among the general public.
The three main rum styles are French, Spanish, and English, and each of these styles is interpreted differently around the world, according to Siddharth Sharma, the owner of Piccadily Distilleries.
The gin boom that hit India a few years ago, however, and left retail stores and bars flush with a wide range of homegrown craft gins, according to brands, has made consumers much more at ease trying new alcoholic beverages.
By including them in tasting events or creating brand-new cocktails, restaurants and bars are also promoting new alcoholic beverages. This encouraging sentiment motivates foreign rum manufacturers to export their goods to India as well.
Plantation, an artisanal rum brand from France, debuted in India last year. Pernod Ricard introduced Havana Club 7 - an elegant aged Cuban dark rum - in India last year. This range of double-aged rums (aged once in the country it represents and again in France) gives the consumer a taste of the rum styles of various Caribbean countries like Jamaica, Barbados, and Trinidad.
However, despite all the domestic trials, some claim that India still has a long way to go before it can provide rums to the rest of the world that truly qualify as "craft" or "premium.". And the reason for that is that it takes a lot of money and time to make these rums.
Many of the domestic distilleries currently experimenting with rums are small in scale and do not have the resources to set up primary distillation units (where molasses-based spirit is produced from fermented molasses).
They rely on regional producers for their base spirit, which serves as the base for their rum.
When making rum or whiskey, the primary distillation process is essential, according to Mr. Bose. However, obtaining a primary distillation license in India is challenging. Furthermore, you can't ensure the quality of your base spirit if you depend on an outside source, the author claims.
Second, to develop a deep, rich flavor, rum must be aged for at least two years, just like whiskey. However, warehousing is pricey; depending on the type of wood used, the cost of the barrels can run into the thousands of rupees.
But Mr. Bose asserts that these companies are undoubtedly promoting rum-related conversations. And this is a significant step in the right direction, he claims.
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