Kasturi Banerjee And Her Dreamful Of Rum

Kasturi Banerjee, founder and director of Stilldistilling Spirits, on why she chose rum over numbers

Published On Mar 13, 2024 | Updated On Apr 19, 2024


How does a banker become the founder of an alco-bev company? I mean the job could lead one to the bar more frequently than some others, but to actually shift from crunching numbers to measuring liquid courage — the shift is curious. What it is not however is a surprise. Rockstars who almost became bankers before music touched them (Alan Parson for one), Ray Romano who was a trained accountant and had worked as a bank teller, Martha Stewart had in face begun her career as a stockbroker before food found her. Clearly money isn’t everything. 


Meet Kasturi Banerjee, founder and director of Stilldistilling Spirits, a company that makes Maka Zai Rum. Growing up in an environment surrounded by family — “not just my parents, but grandparents, and loads of uncles, aunts and cousins” — Kasturi was happy with her toys and chocolates and didn’t really have a career vision back then.” 

At 21, she began working in the banking sector. “I was 21 when I first started working in the banking sector. It happened organically and I made the most of the opportunity I had,” she adds. 

Kasturi switched professions when she decided to take up a course in bartending in 2019. “What started out as an internship born out of passion, led to a new career path for me. With a keen interest in wine and spirits, I pursued a bartending course in 2019 to better understand the art of mixology. Through this experience, I began to understand the future of India’s alco-bev industry. I then began experimenting with blends and conducted research to understand emerging trends and evolving consumer preferences in the sector,” she says. 

This led her to identify a market opportunity in the premium rum category. “While travelling, studying, and learning extensively, I also participated in several certifications and trainings to have a wide understanding of the liquid. Over two years, with a niche segment carved out for myself, I embarked on my entrepreneurial journey. With a vision to elevate drinking experiences, I set up Stilldistilling Spirits in 2020 to produce premium homegrown rums out of Goa,” Kasturi says, adding that artisanal rum really needed space. 

Kasturi (right) with Abhirup Bhattacharyya, the brand ambassador for Maka Zai Rum

“While exploring the spirits market, I noticed that gin was gaining popularity with the influx of homegrown brands. Contemplating the future trend, I decided to look into the artisanal rum market, given the undercurrents taking place globally and India’s abundance of local produce, which acts as the foundation for any great rum. Moreover, our country’s terroir provides optimal conditions for producing the best-quality molasses spirit used to produce rum. Thus, I set out to launch a homegrown brand that celebrates Indian produce. Jump across to today, we’re actively seeing multiple styles, categories, and new entrant in the rum market,” she explains. 

Talking about her first introduction to rum, which she says was a ready-to-drink, Kasturi admits that even back then, the spirit’s ingenuity fascinated her. “While white rum is a bartender’s best friend as it lends its versatility to be experimented with, alternate variants which are more aged and matured, make for great liquids that can be sipped and savoured neat,” she says. 

So, there you have it. A woman who tells you how to drink your rum, something that you wouldn’t really have heard of in India even a decade ago. “Today, most industries are no longer solely male-dominated, and we are witnessing an emergence of strong female role models. Many women are finding predecessors in their own fields, who are setting benchmarks and inspiring the next generation,” Kasturi says, while on the topic of being a boss of a liquor company. 

“In the last four to five years, there’s been a significant transformation in the spirits industry. Back when I launched Stilldistilling Spirits, I was one of the first few women in this industry. Today, it’s great to see a steady increase in the number of female entrepreneurs entering the beverage sector, across several roles. From restaurant ownership and beverage programme leadership to bartending and spirit founders, there's a noticeable trend toward greater equality unfolding. Over the past 12 months, both globally and here in India, we've witnessed remarkable progress. Opportunities are becoming more accessible to all, and recognition is being rightfully extended regardless of gender,” she further adds. 

Albeit various challenges that she faced from the time she was in the banking sector to setting up her alcobev company, Kasturi explains that every single hurdle taught her something new, and she had enough support and inspiration from the people around her. 

“Everyone that I have come across in life, has helped me grow into who I am as a person today – both personally and professionally. From my parents, I’ve learnt to be humble, my supervisors have taught me ethics and discipline - and my team continues to teach me every day. I love surrounding myself with a cohort of colleagues who contribute to my passions. As much as I have taken inspiration from my senior mentors, the younger generation whom we work very closely with today, have added invaluable learnings to my career. I firmly believe that there is something to learn from everyone, every conversation and interaction is an opportunity to pick up on a new trait,” she says. 

What would she like to tell the women bosses of the future? “To put it simply: walk the talk, be patient and kind, value time, and be consistent. I believe these mantras hold good not just professionally, but as guides to life,” she says. 

Photo: Kasturi Banerjee