What does Cutty Sark, Remy Martin, Bowmore Single Malt and Bols have in common, apart from the amber fluid’s warmth running down your sip-happy throat? A Delhi girl who can croon a mean tune, and at just 28 years of age, has conversed with the smokiness of single malt, the woody notes of whisky and the fruity notes of brandy. Pushpanjali Banerji, brand director at Kyndal Group (a premium liquor manufacturer and distributor) handles marketing strategies for these august brands across the world, and she learnt the nuances of the tipple trade from her honcho father managing director Kyndal Group, Siddharth Banerji. With 30-odd years in the liquor business, her father has worked at Whyte & Mackay, later at Jim Beam and Shaw Wallace, till he led a management buyout of Kyndal in 2006. Pushpanjali, herself has gone on to create her own spirited space in this “man” made industry, with enough on her plate to show her prowess.
When the buyout occurred, the family, alongwith Prateek, her brother took to the drinks, like fish to water. The thirst to learn came about as a little girl for Pushpanjali, when she followed her father from distillery to distillery, in India, Scotland and Amsterdam, absorbing with the wide-eyed wonder of a convert — from creativity (she was in advertising earlier) to management, from copy to spirits!
The Gurgaon girl who schooled at Lakshman Public School, had no idea that this would become a family calling. “After the buyout, my father told us (my brother and I) to start young and learn, and suddenly it became an all-consuming passion, nothing was as risky, challenging or difficult as the liquor business, especially since it was ours, and the mistakes were also ours to make. As brand director, I am the custodian of the brands. I see them from start to finish and it has been my biggest positive,” says the girl likes a nice frothy whisky sour but admits her palate is not refined enough for single malts.
Across Scotland’s innumerable distilleries, to Glasgow from one historical watering hole to another, Pushpanjali speaks about the history of whisky and it evident that this young girl has taken to the subject well. With India racing along the binge drinker route, she cautions, “Drinking is more about savouring, instead of gulping. For our events, we go out of the way to promote safe drinking, even to the extent of measuring the liquor in our cocktails. What most brands are doing is saying, ‘Don’t Drink and Drive,’ which I don’t think works. We are concerned about the environment, and our efforts are into packaging, with biodegradable paper, so that our ‘footprint’ is much lesser,” she explains.
The girl who joined the business at 18 has a masters in journalism and mass communication and also helms Taali Media, the creative arm of the company, adds, “As a family, we travelled a little too much to Scotland, it’s a great place and yes, we knew a little too much about whisky too, so our house unlike other homes that displayed the finest crystals, had the finest bar,” Pushpanjali laughs, but she takes immense pride in her bar, especially one particular bottle that has her name on it, “I attended a conference of a whisky brand and I was 22 at that time, and they gave me a 22-year-old bottle with my name as the label, it’s by far my most prized possession. We also have the Loch Ness Monster!” she adds. She believes that liquor is no longer just a man’s bastion, speaking about the master blender Christine Campbell.
Contrary to lore, about whisky always drunk neat, we can’t resist the most clichéd question, ‘Is it true’ and she explains, “I have experienced all those uncles in kilts coming out and saying you have to have your whisky neat, but whisky is a mixable drink, and blended ones are good with apple juice or even sprite. Today, youth prefer good blended whiskies or even single malts though the market is difficult but growing exponentially. Blended scotch had 21 lakh cases sold, so we want to have customised and qualitative interactions.”
Pushpanjali has worked for the underprivileged and done two film projects on visually impaired and differently-abled children for the Khushboo Welfare Society and Amar Jyoti Rehabilitation Centre in Delhi early on. Her mother Payal, who is a special educator, she feels, has influenced her greatly.
When not busy planning strategies or tastings and promotions for Cutty Sark, which she informs us is being produced in India now, Pushpanjali is a singer, plays the guitar, and she and her husband, Anirudh, who she met thanks to the tipple, at a bar (where he was performing with his then-band Level Nine). They have a band of their own Thrio in Delhi, a Jazz and funk outfit. She laughs about how the tipple trail seems rules her life, saying the couple who got married last year hope to start performing. She writes her own music and poetry too. Still surprised, she says, “I never imagined I’d be here. I labelled myself as a creative type. My dad pushed me, he is my sounding board and is always challenging us, making us execute ideas, most of which are vetoed, though,” she laughs. The girl with a conscience is busy planning the baby steps her brands are taking, and given their inherent potential, she’s on the money� or the manna.