Ryan Shrestha, part of the second generation of the ICTC group, is Director at Highland Distillery, United Liquors, Avanish Distillery and Prime International. Ryan wears many hats and primarily heads operations, marketing and 25UP (premium) brands at the group’s liquor companies.
Established in 1993, ICTC Group’s liquor business is one of the largest and highly successful beverage manufacturing and distribution operations in Nepal’s history. With three manufacturing plants, located in strategic parts of country, the group produces some of the largest selling alcohol brands like Virgin whiskey and Highlander vodka, while the distribution arm handles and ensures swift coverage of all the brands in the modern Nepali marketplace.
Under Ryan’s leadership, the group has successfully launched well-known brands such as Bandipur, Nepal’s first blended malt scotch whisky and Gurkhas & Guns, finest blended whiskey in the super-premium and premium categories to rave reviews. Bandipur and Gurkhas & Guns are on track to capture nearly 25% of the premium whisky market share within the first year of launching.
What do you think sets you and your company apart from the rest in the liquor business?
We like to focus on bottom line results fueled by creating, nurturing and developing the best possible brands without any compromise. We operate less like a manufacturing business and more like a marketing company. Running a distillery or a blending unit isn’t rocket science and liquor products are a dime a dozen. The real challenge lies in not only creating a product but to grow it into a brand that the market accepts and the consumer consciously chooses to spend their hard-earned money on. That’s exactly why we are in constant pursuit to develop our expertise in by rigorously investing in our team and taking risks and strategic bets on new products.
How is the liquor industry evolving in the country?
The way the industry operates has remained more or less the same for the past decade in terms of trade and manufacturing. What has changed and evolved are our customers. We have powerful devices in our pockets and have access to an unprecedented amount of information. This fact makes the average consumer more significant and leveraged than ever before. Underestimating the consumer by selling sub-par products and using smoke and mirror marketing tactics are practices of the past and are a sure-fire way to failure today. They are more exposed, know what they like and demand it. Ultimately, the consumers dictate trends, which brands do well and where the industry is heading.
What goes into making a good whisky and creating a brand?
First and foremost the blend, bar none. It’s really what’s on the inside that counts. If the right blend has been achieved, half the battle is won. The other half is sort of a puzzle that needs to be carefully constructed bit by bit with the packaging, marketing, trade strategy pieces amongst many more, fitting in together perfectly. I like to think that managing a brand is somewhat like maintaining a relationship – the amount of time and effort you invest into the other person, communicating and saying the right things at the right time and making the person feel valued are all crucial to a healthy relationship. When you think of your relationship with a brand, it’s more or less the same.
You seem to be more of a whisky person. When did you start appreciating whiskies?
I wouldn’t call myself a whisky person primarily but I do enjoy a good whisky now and then. I remember my granddad, dad and uncles tasting a range of whiskies and I used to sneak in a quick smell and taste the whisky (in my late teens mind you). What followed was a very memorable sensory experience. Fast forward to a few years later, the infamous whisky and coke was the weekend regular for my friends and I, which some people would call sacrilege but that never bothered us. Once I started working in the family liquor business was when I truly started understanding and appreciating the complex world of whiskies.
Your go-to drink?
A crisp, cold glass of Erdinger Weibier on a hot day or a dram of Glenmorangie Nectar D’or on a quiet, cold evening.
You being a whisky enthusiast, what would you choose: drinking whisky or selling it?
This answer requires a lot of restraint. I’d say a bit of both.
What was the idea behind introducing Bandipur?
The journey started over 28 years ago when our founder visited Bandipur as one of his stops during his travels around Nepal at that time. Following an unforgettable experience, he dreamt of creating a whisky that captured the essence of what he felt in Bandipur. Inspired by this, we decided to execute the project and this led me to Scotland in early 2020 in the pursuit of a blend. We wanted to learn how the pioneers and masters of the whisky industry make these incredible blends from start to finish. So, we visited a range of the best distilleries, from some of the largest to smaller family operated units. We also toured incredible cooperages (cask makers) and worked with legendary master blenders from the Glenlivet and Fife regions in Scotland. After days of nosing and tasting hundreds of samples and selecting the best casks, we finally came across a speyside single malt aged for 10 years in a sherry oak cask. As soon as we tasted it, we knew this was the blend and we had to bottle it. Soon after, covid hit and the pandemic was in full swing, so we had the time and opportunity to finalize the blend. After months of rigorous blending, under my uncle Rajesh Lal Shrestha, our Managing Director’s guidance, we finally achieved what we felt was the Bandipur blend. For the next few months, we developed the packaging and launched Bandipur during the pandemic.
Anything worth mentioning from your collection?
A super rare, super old and sublime un-labelled speyside single malt gifted by one of our partners in Scotland. It’s locked up in a cabinet at work.
Advice to young liquor enthusiasts?
I’d encourage anyone interested in whisky or spirits in general to look past the labels, brands and challenge the ‘old guard’ mentality. Whether you consume or sell, there is no ‘one way’ of having that experience. Drink what you like, how you like it. Make your own rules.
How did the idea to introduce Gurkhas & Guns come about? What makes it stand out in the market?
We gathered a solid knowledge base after the experience of Bandipur and we felt strongly that a more affordable while still very premium brand should be offered to the modern Nepali consumer. Although the Gurkhas & Guns journey had started almost 4 years ago, we were waiting for the right time and market scenario to launch a brand unlike any that had preceded it. We spent the entirety of 2020, and 2021 setting up a team, developing the blend, finalizing the packaging, marketing and preparing for the launch. The challenge was creating a brand as good as any entry level imported scotch at an affordable price and this is when we turned to our library of grain whiskies which are more neutral tasting and economical. This ultimately helped us price GNG at a lower price point than Bandipur. We launched in September 2021 and are excited for its future.