Interview: Varchasvi Shankar, founder of Varchas Whiskey

Varchasvi Shankar and Sir Vivian Richards with Varchas

An interview with Varchasvi Shankar, founder of Varchas Whiskey

Step into the world of fine spirits with Mr. Varchasvi Shankar, the visionary founder behind Varchas Whiskey. With a blend of tradition and innovation, Varchas Whiskey has carved a niche in the spirits industry, offering connoisseurs a taste of unparalleled craftsmanship.

Mr. Shankar’s journey from passion to creation is a testament to his dedication to excellence and his relentless pursuit of perfection. Today, we have the privilege of delving into his fascinating story, uncovering the secrets behind the creation of Varchas Whiskey and the philosophy that drives its success.

What inspired you to delve into the world of whiskey, particularly focusing on American heritage?

Varchasvi Shankar: Whiskey has always been a passion of mine.  When I came to America, I would see the great whiskey brands that had such tradition and heritage built in their stories.  Also, I wanted to establish something that I could bring back to India and share with my fellow countrymen. 

In the early 2000’s, I started working on my passion and purchased a few barrels of whiskey to establish the beginning of my dream.  By 2020, I was ready to start the business and brand that would be the backbone of my whiskey dream, Shankar Distillers and Varchas Premium Spirits.  

This was a way for me to take part in the American heritage of the whiskey world, and put my own twist on it.  We are building a fusion of Eastern culture and Western Heritage within our distillery and our whiskey brands. 

From the packaging we use, including colors of reds, golds and blacks, to our collectible American Eagle toppers.

How do you believe your background in entrepreneurship and business leadership has influenced your approach to crafting and marketing whiskey?

Varchasvi Shankar: I have built my technology company V2Soft from the ground up.  Starting in 1998, I had only one customer, Chrysler, and a small office in Michigan.  Since then, we have become a global leader in the technology world with 16 offices in 6 countries.

I have leveraged my experience in conducting business in America along with India and other countries to help us with licensing and distribution in the US and other countries. 

So building a craft distillery business while is different from running tech companies, the fundamentals of building and growing is the same.  As a matter of fact, I am able to lay out plans for local and global growth much easily, able to leverage teams of my tech company to expand into markets much easily than I would have otherwise. 

Also, able to attract industry experts to help me and with a backing of our large tech company, it has become much easier.  I am also able to strategize and plan for multiple products, R&D and others that I could not have, if I did not have the 26+ years of exp running tech companies globally.

What sets Varchas apart from other brands in the market, both in terms of taste and brand philosophy?

Varchasvi Shankar: There are many things that set us apart from our competition.

We are a craft distillery.  We don’t process our whiskey in large batches.  Our whiskey is either bottled in small batches (1-3 barrels) or single barrel projects.  This provides for variation in flavors and finishes.

Our whiskey is made with water from the Great Lakes, the largest fresh water source in the world.  This gives our whiskey a smooth, clean taste.

Our brand is about story telling.  From the bottle packaging, the history of my success of coming to America and being a successful entrepreneur, to being the first craft distillery to bring a bourbon to India and being one of the first Indian-Americans to establish and own a distillery.

We are the first American Craft whiskey in India and one of the first Indian American Bourbon company and the only American India who is not only producing whiskey but also amazing Gin, Vodka and Tequila that is going to be released this year.

Last, but not least, we are the first American craft whiskey that has a global brand ambassador that is a Cricket Legend. 

This year we signed Sir Vivian Richards, historic Cricket record holder, philanthropist and all-around great human being to be our brand ambassador and share what he calls his Varchas Moments (his record breaking accomplishments during his play from 1974 – 1991).

Could you walk us through the process of creating your whiskey, from sourcing ingredients to bottling and distribution?

Varchasvi Shankar: Shankar Distillers is an American Craft Distillery and one of the most technologically advanced distillery based in Michigan and one of the largest in Southeast Michigan while it is still a craft distillery. 

Our distillery has both a 50 foot column still and a pot still for finishing.  We are equipped to make Vodka and Gin as well at our distillery which are expected to be released in second quarter of 2024.

We are one of the most technologically advanced distillery in Michigan and possibly a handlfull of them that is leveraging craft and tech together.

Making whiskey is a meticulous process that involves several steps, including mashing, fermentation, distillation, aging, and bottling. Here’s a simplified overview of the process:

Mashing: The process begins with mashing, where grains such as barley, corn, rye, or wheat are ground into a coarse powder.

The milled grains are then mixed with hot water to create a mash. The hot water activates enzymes that convert the starches in the grains into fermentable sugars, creating a sweet liquid called “wort.”

Fermentation: The wort is transferred to fermentation vessels, we have  three large, 1500 gallon stainless steel fermentors in our distillery. Yeast is added to the wort, which ferments the sugars, converting them into alcohol and producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct.

This fermentation process typically lasts several days to a week, depending on the specific recipe and desired flavor profile.

Distillation: After fermentation, the liquid, now known as “wash,” undergoes distillation. Distillation involves heating the wash in a still, which separates the alcohol from the water and other impurities through evaporation and condensation.

Most whiskeys go through at least two distillation runs, with the final product typically being around 60-70% alcohol by volume (ABV), known as “new make” or “white dog” whiskey.

Aging: The distilled spirit is then transferred to oak barrels for aging. For bourbon, regulations state you must use new white oak barrels in the process. The aging process is crucial for developing the whiskey’s flavor, aroma, and character.

As the weather changes from cold to warm, the whiskey interacts with the wood of the barrel, extracting compounds such as vanillin, tannins, and lignins, which contribute to its complexity and richness.

Whiskey must be aged for a minimum period to be legally called whiskey, with the aging process often lasting several years or even decades, depending on the desired style and quality.

Bottling: Once the whiskey has reached its desired age and flavor profile, it is ready for bottling. Before bottling, the whiskey may undergo additional processes such as filtration or blending to ensure consistency and quality.

It is then diluted to the desired alcohol strength with water, typically to around 40-50% ABV, before being bottled and labeled for distribution and sale.

Throughout each step of the process, the Master Distiller carefully monitor and control various factors such as temperature, fermentation time, barrel selection, and aging conditions to produce a high-quality and distinctive spirits.

How do you plan to leverage your experience in running a successful global software company to establish and grow Varchas in the competitive spirits industry?

Varchasvi Shankar: Building V2Soft, our global tech company for over 26 years has not only taught me to build, grow and manage challenges and success in the business, it has helped me to identify, recruit and leverage strengths of my people in the right areas.

I also created something very unique, wherein some of my proven leaders can also be part of the distillery business in implementing technology into the distilling process and learn the craftmanship of making whiskies. 

Have offices in 6 countries, has helped us to start to launch our products in other countries.  For example, we launched in 2023 in India, and now we are looking at launching in Canada, followed by other coutries. 

I was also able to layout a clear plan for our future products like Gin, Vodka and Tequila using some of the best practices from running our tech company.

Leveraging my company and the professional members of my leadership team have helped me get my technology company where it is today.

We are taking that same approach, with slight modifications, to the whiskey business.  We are leveraging what we have learned in the technology and applying what we can to the marketing and sales of the whiskey. 

This has enabled us to expand to multiple states in the US, as well as continue to expand in India.  We are also in the process of exporting to Canada and Japan for this year.

What challenges have you faced thus far in your journey with Varchas, and how have you overcome them?

Varchasvi Shankar: As with any new business, there are always challenges.  We take each challenge as it comes and apply what we have learned to overcome them.  If we are not able to resolve it, we work with partners to help us get there.

Some of the challenges and how we are overcoming:

Finding distributors  – Finding reputable distributors has been a challenge for a craft distillery and most of the distributors want to bring you on only if you have certain sales.  It is a chicken and egg situation, you cant sell with out a distributor and cant into a distributor without sales. 

So, we were able to work with a few smaller distributors in some states and in Michigan one of the largest distributor picked us up as we are a local distillery.

Building a new brand and shelf space – it is always a challenge to get shelfspace for a new brand and also to build a new brand it takes a lot of money.  One way we were able to get shelf space is, with our amazing award winning packaging with a metallic topper and cool design while our spirits tastes phenomenally well, we wanted those first timers to buy our products.

Being a new brand, we are spending significant dollars in tastings, and people love it and anybody who tastes are becoming our customers.

With your global perspective, how do you envision Varchas expanding its reach and presence in different markets around the world?

Varchasvi Shankar: We are on a growth pattern now that will expand our product offerings, expand our distribution in the US, and expand our exportation to additional countries.  We have now expanded from US to India.  In India will be going from 3 states to 6 states in next 3 months.  We are also targeting Canada, UK and possibly Japan.  

Again going back to our roots of being a tech and digital company, we are leveraging our digital marketing heavily to penetrate customers in diff markets.  It seems to be working very well for us.  We also have a global brand ambassador Sir Viv Richards that is also helping us to move faster. 

We are probably the only or one o the first American Craft Whiskey to be going global, so that is also getting us more opportunity and exposure.

With the help of our internal teams and external partners, we are able to leverage our knowledge and their expertise to get us where we want to go.

Expanding the reach and presence of the Varchas brand globally requires strategic planning and adaptation to diverse market dynamics, cultural preferences, and regulatory frameworks. Here are some of the steps we are taking.

Market Research and Localization: Conduct comprehensive market research in target regions to understand consumer preferences, cultural nuances, and regulatory requirements. Customize products, packaging, and marketing strategies to resonate with local tastes and preferences.

Distribution Networks: Establish strong distribution networks in each target market to ensure efficient delivery and availability of Varchas products. Partner with local distributors, wholesalers, and retailers who have a deep understanding of the local market and consumer behavior.

Brand Building and Marketing: Invest in brand building and marketing initiatives tailored to each market. Utilize a mix of traditional advertising, digital marketing, social media, and experiential marketing campaigns to build brand awareness and engage with consumers.

Product Portfolio Optimization: Develop a diverse product portfolio that caters to the unique preferences of each market segment. Introduce variations or limited editions tailored to specific regions to create excitement and drive demand.

Partnerships and Collaborations: Forge strategic partnerships and collaborations with local businesses, influencers, and cultural icons to enhance brand visibility and credibility. Collaborate on exclusive events, sponsorships, and co-branded initiatives to connect with consumers on a deeper level.

Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): Embrace sustainability and CSR initiatives that align with the values of local communities. Demonstrate a commitment to environmental stewardship, community development, and responsible sourcing practices to earn the trust and loyalty of consumers.

Continuous Innovation and Adaptation: Stay agile and responsive to evolving market trends, consumer preferences, and regulatory changes. Continuously innovate and adapt product offerings, marketing strategies, and distribution channels to stay ahead of the competition and meet the evolving needs of consumers.

By adopting a thoughtful and strategic approach to expansion, we can leverage our global perspective to establish a strong presence in different markets around the world while maintaining the integrity and authenticity of our brand.

In conclusion, Mr. Varchasvi Shankar’s entrepreneurial journey with Varchas Whiskey is a testament to the artistry and dedication required to craft exceptional spirits. His commitment to quality, innovation, and tradition has set Varchas Whiskey apart in a competitive industry, earning it acclaim among discerning enthusiasts worldwide.

As Varchas Whiskey continues to expand its presence and influence, Mr. Shankar’s vision and passion remain at the heart of its success, inspiring both aficionados and aspiring entrepreneurs alike.

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