Ivory Station

Want star anise and saffron vodka? Home-grown brand Smoke is adding desi flavours to the Russian drink

Smoke vodka

Want star anise and saffron vodka? Home-grown brand Smoke is adding desi flavours to the Russian drink

Homegrown Smoke vodka uses the finest locally-sourced basmati rice grains for distillation instead of potatoes, which makes for a completely gluten-free and vegan beverage, says Varun Jain, Founder and CEO of Smoke Lab Vodka.

Founded in 2020, Smoke Lab is a new venture by Varun Jain, one of the most dynamic young entrepreneurs in the country. Owned by the NV Group, one of India’s largest distillers, Smoke Lab has three products under its name – Smoke Vodka, a premium vodka label; Smoke Wear, produces a wide range of athleisure and loungewear and Smoke Water, a first-of-a-kind drinking water packaged in recyclable aluminum cans.

Smoke Vodka is a premium product, which is made from India’s finest basmati rice grains for distillation. The spirit has been well received not only in India but also in foreign lands.

While discussing about launching his vodka label in a whisky and gin-loving nation, Jain said, “We believe that our consumers are seeking authentic Indian brands and products, and we want them to move away from the notion that vodka can only come from Russia or Scandinavia or Eastern Europe.”

“Multiple gin brands were making a foray, and we already have one mid-segment gin in our portfolio that is a 21-year-old recipe. We did enough R&D before we came with this blend and entered the premium segment.”

Ivory Station speaks to the Founder and CEO Varun Jain on what makes Smoke vodka unique, its offerings, new vodka trends and understanding how basmati rice affects the flavour.

What has been the journey like?

Smoke’s inception was a decade long one. I was confident and knew that we have the capacity to deliver finest, luxury vodka. Though our parent company NV Group has been in the liquor industry and producing quality spirits for global conglomerates for many years now, we do have a portfolio of spirits catering to the local markets, I saw the gap and demand in the premium Indian liquor industry for a premium vodka.

But my focus has always been the flavour and distillation. Being a certified ENA taster, I put my knowledge and understanding of the product in creating a blend and recipe that would delight the changing consumption patterns in India.

I kept asking for feedbacks from my family and friends. This helped me not only understand consumer behaviour but also helped refine our distillation and blending techniques.

What makes Smoke Lab Vodka unique from other vodka selections?

Indigenous flavours like aniseed (more Indian flavours coming soon), made with basmati rice, 5x charcoal distilled and made with Himalayan spring water.

How does basmati rice affect the flavour?

Basmati rice was chosen as the spirit base for Smoke Lab Vodka because of its distinctive crisp, pure flavour and unique floral aromas and also because basmati is intrinsically linked to the brand’s homeland India, which accounts for 70 per cent of the world’s Basmati rice production.

Tell us what’s on offer? For instance, Aniseed Vodka. What made you develop this specific flavour?  

On offer are two variants, the Smoke Classic and the Smoke Aniseed. Classic is an ultra pure spirit while, Aniseed is an aromatic spirit with the distinct flavour of saunf as it is known in India as suitable for complex and flavourful cocktails.

Our distillery team works closely with the best flavour house in the country. The flavour house helps us in extracting the delicate flavour oils from the aniseed using various cold extraction processes. This helps in maintaining the delicate notes of the spice and the same shines into our liquid. The flavour oils are gently introduced into the basmati rice distilled ENA and later reduced to bottling strength using Himalayan spring water.

You have recently launched Smoke Vodka in Maharashtra, what has been the response? 

The response has been good, and our national and international expansion is testament to the brand’s growing popularity. We were very conscious of alcohol advertising being convoluted in India, so very early on in the branding process we created surrogates for Smoke – a clothing line, packaged drinking water being sold in recyclable cans, as well as sanitiser because that was the need of the hour soon after we launched.

What are recent vodka trends?

Flavours are gaining traction. Several alcohol brands are experimenting with flavours but no one has really experimented with Indian flavours and this is where our Aniseed comes in the picture. We will also be launching a saffron flavoured vodka.

The demand for premixed drinks is on the rise. The entire cocktail culture has evolved. A lot of brands are selling cocktail pre mixes or experimenting with cocktails in a bottle.

Smoke Vodka is available in select stores across Delhi, Gurugram, Goa, and Mumbai

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