A spirited exhibition
- The Vault is aiming to create a showcase of artisanal spirits for those who love fine beverages
- Keshav Prakash, one-time ad film maker and the man behind The Vault, is ready to take his concept to the next level
Morphing from a small whisky club to a community of people with a penchant for fine spirits, The Vault is a niche concept that imports artisanal spirits into India and tells their stories to an audience which wants to look beyond the big brands. And now, they are launching India’s first luxury beverage biennale, which will combine storytelling with tastings, masterclasses and sessions that will enable a better understanding of the essential characteristics of the different spirits. Keshav Prakash, one-time ad film maker and the man behind The Vault, is ready to take his concept to the next level. There are plans of a private members-only tasting studio and further editions of the biennale. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How was The Vault conceived?
The precursor to The Vault was a little whisky club where we were a group of like-minded people who would get together and try different whiskies. But then we ran out of whiskies. I saw the curiosity among people to try more and learn more about spirits and that gave birth to the idea of The Vault. It was a response to a simple question. Why were these award-winning spirits that I saw on my travels not available in India? While duty-free shopping was the only option to access certain kinds of spirits, that has changed over the years. People are travelling more and are open to newer kinds of experiences. In the last four-five years, there is a huge change in the consumer with regard to what they eat and drink. And I felt that it was time to bring to India at least some of what the world was experiencing in terms of craft spirits. We also wanted to give a platform to independent distillers who would have otherwise not made it into the country as it was the domain of the alcohol majors. The idea of The Vault was to curate a collection of spirits and to create a community.
What made these craft distillers and independent brands join you?
My wife and I spent two years travelling, visiting different places, meeting distillers and educating ourselves about the world of fine spirits. We met a lot of small independent makers of whisky, rum and gin at trade shows and talked to them about what we had planned. We then followed this up by visiting them in their home country. Scotland was obviously our first port of call for all the whiskies, but my travels did take me as far as the Caribbean for rum and Mexico for mezcal.
And when we met them and told them we wanted to share their stories with the Indian audience, they just jumped on to it as they were looking for a niche player who would be a custodian of their brand in the country. Our promise was to make sure that they had a presence in India. We don’t play the numbers game as that brings in the pressures of minimum orders and marketing. We put out a product, tell the story and wait for the industry and the consumer to come to us. And this works well for the kind of brands we represent as they are not looking at volume sales either. The reason we have managed to do what we do is because we are so small and we want to remain small because that is our niche.
We started off with a portfolio of about six brands, and then, through word of mouth and referrals, more distillers came on board. Today we have more than 40 brands on board.
Can you explain the business model and format?
It took us a while to set up operations in India as we had to learn to navigate and understand the excise rules as well as well as import and labelling in India. In this business, trust is very important as these brands are handing over distributorship to me. It took a while for the industry here to digest what we were doing. We had award-winning brands but they obviously came at a higher price point. We had to create a new mindset in the country and thankfully, the rapidly evolving consumer helped us do so.
We largely stayed out of retail, as India lacks high-end specialized stores, but went to five-star hotels and stand-alone fine-dining restaurants like Hakkasan, Masque and Yauatcha in Mumbai. We have recently tied up with one or two select stores in the city and when we get enquiries from our customers, we direct them there. In the last three months, we have also expanded our business to Delhi. We have entered travel retail and have little ‘Vault’ counters at airports in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru. We also tried to increase awareness by doing the “Deconstructed" series, where we break down the essential character of fine spirits rather than brands. It is for connoisseurs and anyone who is serious about upgrading their knowledge of what they are drinking.
What spurred the idea of a luxury spirits biennale as a showcase rather than a trade event?
Storytelling is the theme of the biennale and that is exactly what we want to do rather than sell products. We want to tell stories of the spirits and the brand maker to the consumer. So we have everyone from Diageo, Beam Suntory and Pernod bringing certain luxury expressions of their portfolio. Then there are local players like Amrut who are launching a special-edition whisky as well as independent distillers.
The idea of The Vault has always been to build a community that appreciates fine spirits and the biennale is an extension of this idea. It is open to those who are curious as well as connoisseurs. There are four broad experience buckets for ticket-holding guests—a “Listen" section where experts will tell stories as well as offer inputs on a range of topics, like how to elevate your home bar or cooking with spirits. In the “Taste" sessions, visitors can come and try a selection of over 50 handpicked luxury beverages. “Discover" curates expressions across spirits, including lesser-known categories like Armagnac and cachaça that will be launched for the first time in India. The fourth experience, “Indulge" will be about masterclasses and limited edition cocktails by some of the best bartenders in the world.
The Vault Biennale will take place at Tote on the Turf, Mumbai, on 16-17 February. Tickets are available on Bookmyshow.com.