Diageo’s Epitome Reserve is for the craft whisky conscious

Diageo’s limited edition Epitome Reserve is targetting the craft conscious, curious Indian consumer

December 23, 2021 11:37 pm | Updated 11:37 pm IST

The words craft and artisanal are bandied about quite frequently nowadays when it comes to alcoholic beverage brands in India. So, I’m curious to know how Diageo interprets them. They’ve just launched their second edition Epitome Reserve, this one a peated single malt, with just 3,600 numbered bottles (signed by master blender Mahesh Patil). It comes quick on the heels of their first edition, a single grain rice whisky launched six months ago.

I’m in conversation with Vikram Damodaran, the Chief Innovation Officer of Diageo, who, along with Patil, is responsible for both the products. To him, the emerging Indian consumer is looking for product authenticity (in craft), and a narrative with roots that run deep — quite like the banyan embossed on the Epitome bottle.

When whisky met wine

The single malt is distilled at their facility in Ponda, Goa, by the Mandovi river. Select Indian six-row barley, from the Himalayan foothills over 2,000 kilometers away, goes into its making and the whisky — matured in ex-bourbon casks — is finished in casks that previously held Cabernet Sauvignon wine. Keshav Prakash, the founder of The Vault, an importer of boutique spirits, had occasion to taste it recently, and told me that the maturation had been managed brilliantly, with the whisky balanced yet interesting, making it a great dram to pair with tandoor or BBQ. “Overall, an impressive world whisky,” he said.

Although Damodaran does not want to mention the length of maturation, it would be safe to say (given that the angel’s share, or the whisky that evaporates during maturation, in India is 2 to 2.5 times that in Scotland, due to our higher temperatures) that the limited edition would be the equivalent of an 18-year-old from the Scottish isles.

Vikram Damodaran, Chief Innovation Officer of Diageo

Vikram Damodaran, Chief Innovation Officer of Diageo

Epitome 2.0, like its predecessor, is also non-chill filtered, which to whisky purists helps retain some of the original integrity of the liquid. What they do, however — and this is where Damodaran goes into geek mode — is use a specific filtration process at the end that brings “a touch of effervescence that lends it a colour unlike the normal chill filtered liquid”. The geek then turns poet: “It’s a very evocative look, the golden yellow of the whisky infused with the wine red.” Peated whiskies are normally more challenging for a consumer’s palate, and he feels that the “winey” finish helps add a rounded touch, making it more accessible.

Given the strides that Indian single malt brands have made over the last 10 years, I ask how Diageo would compare the taste profile from India with their Scottish contemporaries. Damodaran feels ours is quite distinctive, “woody, malty and heavy bodied”, because of the ingredients used, especially the six-row barley.

Dram for the curious

Though Epitome is a luxury spirit, the overarching definition is experience. And that’s how it will be presented to the customer — starting with curated tasting sessions in markets where it is available (like Goa and Bengaluru) and, in the fullness of time, distillery tours and more.

I’ve seen, as Indian craft brands come to the fore, that heritage is no longer a primary driving factor for the emerging consumer. But they do love a good narrative (such as the finishing in the cabernet sauvignon wine casks here). Another highlight: their connoisseurship and curiosity to try new expressions. It is this curiosity that Diageo is bargaining on as they set out on their craft journey in India.

8,000 in Goa and ₹12,500 in Bengaluru. Will be available soon in Haryana, UAE and Australia.

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