From the top of the world
From its Kathmandu distillery, Khukri is reclaiming rum as a spirit that is native to the Indian subcontinent, using the purest Himalayan spring water
While rum is a drink that is now widely associated with the West Indies, one of the first historic references to the beverage from anywhere in the world was made by a 7th-century Indian Ayurvedic physician. That could make the Indian subcontinent the home of rum, and explains why The Nepal Distilleries in Kathmandu has been so successful making the region’s iconic Khukri rum since 1959. Khukri rum is soaked in the spirit of its location. The drink uses a blend of Himalayan ingredients and water from the mountains, while some of its packaging invokes the spirit of Nepal’s legendary Gurkha soldiers.
Sharad Kr Tibarewala took over the distillery in 2017 and immediately began investing in the facilities. He has ambitious plans to take this legendary rum from Nepal into the global market, where it has already been acclaimed by experts. The company has three blends – Khukri XXX, Khukri Spiced Rum and Coronation Khukri. The drink was originally created in traditional pot stills, which date from the 1870s and are still on display at the factory premises. It now uses three fractioning columns for the distillation of alcohol, with the rum fermented from rich sugar cane and water that comes from the snow-capped Himalayas.
The rum is made with a traditional blend of natural ingredients and aged in huge wooden vats and casks. The pure and fresh water is essential to the quality of rum, and the ideal climate of the cool temperature facilitates a slower ageing, giving a nuanced flavour. This process imparts the rum with a dark, mahogany tone and sweet but complex taste. Connoisseurs, including Scottes’ Rum, have described it as “outstanding … extremely complex, showing many bold flavours and many more subtle ones. This is a rum to enjoy slowly.”
For Sharad, it is essential that The Nepal Distilleries continues to respect its strong history, while tailoring the process to reflect scientific changes. “It’s a difficult balance to maintain,” he says, “but we value our place in a culture of rum connoisseurs as a sophisticated and versatile drink.” One element that helps Khukri gain attention in a crowded market is the remarkable bottle it uses for its Coronation blend. This takes the form of a curved blade that is modelled on the knife used by the Gurkhas. These proud soldiers have served in countless wars with great distinction and courage and the knife has been a crucial symbol of Nepalese identity for more than 400 years. Its design is a mark of exemplary efficiency, elegant beauty and the unique heritage of local craftsmanship, making it a great companion to the carefully distilled rum.
The Coronation blend was introduced in 1974 to mark the coronation of the late king of Nepal, Shree Panch Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev, and has used this bottle ever since. It joined the two other existing blends – the original, award-winning Khukri XXX rum and the flavour-packed spiced rum, which spices the rum with handpicked Himalayan herbs. “Our story is one of a vision come true,” says Sharad. “We wanted to create a culture of sophisticated pleasures through a product we know is the best there is. Our drinks have found a place in the hearts of people all over Nepal and beyond. It has become an identity of classic times but with the boldness and character of the modern world.”