Burning bright

Fresh out of business school, Menon wanted to build a brand, not bottle someone else’s. But the timing wasn’t right. “The government had slapped a ridiculous amount of taxes on the family business and we were on the verge of getting shut down,” he says. “We couldn’t focus on building a new brand – we had to save the mothership.”


But while helping to keep the family business afloat, Menon was allowed to pursue his plan, his father paying for trips to drinks shows and conferences in the likes of the UK, Germany and Singapore. “What really bothered me was that India is one of the biggest drinking demographics in the world but there wasn’t one Indian brand represented at these events. I saw a huge opportunity.”

Within that opportunity, Menon saw rum. “In India spirits are made from molasses so the only authentic story is rum. And with the category stuck at £2.00-£2.50 a bottle, it was the easiest to premiumise.”

The brand story was more obvious. “India is the land of the tiger and I am a huge enthusiast. Indian tigers are particularly found in Karnataka – which has the highest concentration of anywhere in the world – Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It’s become a man and animal conflict. Villagers don’t understand why the wildlife needs to be left alone – they think because they have been there for generations it belongs to them. The hunting of deer is a problem. A tiger needs 15 adult deer a year and for every six chases only one is successful.”

Poaching is harder to understand. “China has a crazy demand for all parts of the tiger for medicinal and aphrodisiac properties – even their intestines and sexual organs are in demand,” says Menon. So what will WTF do about it? Firstly it has adopted the Wayanad Tiger Reserve in Kerala and is working closely with leading tiger conservationists, local authorities and NGOs on the ground. It seems it’s not a lost cause – in April the WWF reported that tiger numbers have grown for the first time in 100 years, but clearly this is the just the beginning of the conservation effort.

That’s the story, but Menon wanted to be proud of the liquid too. He laid some rum down for maturation in 2008 and signed up “a very good Indian master blender”. Through his travels he had built up a collection of more than 300 rums and an even better idea of how his own rum would one day taste. “Indian rums are molasses based, but I decided to blend mine with molasses and sugar cane spirit – the taste and aroma is quite different.”

When it debuted at London’s Rumfest last year, 225 people tried Wild Tiger. Menon says the consensus was that “finally India has a rum of substance”, which has given him great motivation to roll the brand out globally. More editions will follow – a white rum and a spiced variant that draws on the larder of the biggest spice-producing region of the world. Again Kerala.

Currently the price is $23, which to some retailers is at the lower end of what it could achieve. Built around an authentic story and provenance of ingredients, you might say Wild Tiger rum is a textbook premium spirit. You might – if it wasn’t for the outrageous orange fake-fur packaging. “It’s not such a subtle bottle,” concedes Menon. “But you either go all-out tiger or don’t do it at all.”

Indeed, although this is the one area where Menon might want to pull back on going 100% authentic.