We take an elevator to reach the air- conditioned basement of his Delhi home, a raw space with an industrial finish that can hold up to eight cars. Among them, a few supercars. It also doubles up as a man-cave for Varun Jain, racing car fanatic and founder of Smoke Lab, a premium vodka label. This luxurious garage includes lounge seating, the ubiquitous large-screen television, a music system and a sign that reads, “Drink Responsibly.”
“The cars are the actual props here,” says the 39-year-old, waving at his white Ferrari 488 Pista Spider and yellow Lamborghini Aventador. “It’s a place for my friends, fellow petrolheads, to meet and chill. These are the people with whom I go on drives [or those who are a part of his Cannonball Club, which organises high-speed jinks around the Buddh International Circuit in Noida].”
With a mini-collection of four racing cars — two Ferraris, a Porsche and a Lamborghini, Jain is clear he’s not a car collector per se.
“I only collect for the track. I’m not an old- school car guy who’s into vintage machines. The only classic car I like is the Ferrari F40. My high is to go crazy at the Buddh circuit. I like speed [he hits speeds of up to 280 km/hour in his 2020 Ferrari 488 Pista Spider], but only on the track.”
His other Ferrari is the 458 Speciale, acquired in 2015. Then there’s his Lamborghini, purchased in 2011. It’s a piece of art, a showpiece, that needs to be experienced to be savoured.
“The doors open upwards. It’s very loud and is a real experience to drive it,” says Jain, who acknowledges that even though it sits very low, a Lamborghini is a great drive. “The best of the lot out of the three meant for the track is the Porsche GT3 [bought in 2017].”
Jain’s very first sports car was the Toyota MR2, which he received when he was in Class 12. His first supercar was the Lamborghini Gallardo, bought in 2009, replaced a couple of years later with the bigger and better Aventador.
Jain likes to customise his wheels — it takes nine months to get custom-made interiors — with Alcantara sports seats that are lighter than leather and used in racing cars, carbon fibre interiors and a good music system, but no fancy specifications like television screens.
“I like to be practically specced with things I will use, not just for show. That’s also how one saves money. Moreover, when driving on the track, I don’t need music as the engine itself is the music!”
He should know: he’s taken over 500 laps of the Buddh circuit, his fastest lap being 2 minutes and 8 seconds. He’s also sent his car to Chennai — and planned a vacation with his fashion designer wife Sanya Jain and two boys to Fisherman’s Cove—to race his car at the circuit there.
And when he races on the track, he’s kitted out in a Sparco fireproof jumpsuit, helmet and racing shoes, which are what the professionals wear.
Jain has passed on his passion of cars and racing to his 5-year-old son Enzo — aptly named after Enzo Ferrari, the founder of the Italian carmaker — who he describes as his “mini-me”. “Whatever I do, Enzo wants to replicate. Younger son Robin is more like a mini Sanya. But now, Robin wants to emulate Enzo, who emulates me, so it’s a real chain!” says the proud father.
With a burgeoning Ferrari collection, we wonder whether Jain is interested in owning a special edition Ferrari.
“I’d need to own five to six Ferraris to be eligible for that,” he says. “There’s a limited number of people in the world who own five Ferraris, even though it’s a car that’s sold out at dealerships today. Such is the demand. But I’m stopping now!”
While racing is his life’s passion, Jain’s professional calling has been one of a spirits entrepreneur in the increasingly competitive alco-bev business. Cardiff University-educated, he’s the founder and CEO of the indigenously grown and distilled vodka Smoke Lab. Conceived in 2017, it was launched in India during the pandemic, after conquering the US, and picked up major international awards last year.
“Nobody thought Indians could make a great vodka, so we took the first mover’s advantage.” These vodkas are deemed ‘exotic’ in the US not just because of their flavour — there are two, classic and aniseed — but also because of the Basmati rice that goes into its making, the Himalayan water and the zero-carbon-footprint credential.
“Plus, it takes time for Indians to change their mindset towards home-grown products, which is happening.”
Part of the NV Group that was started by Jain’s father Ashok Jain 25 years ago—it includes spirits like Blue Moon Indian Dry Gin, Blue Moon Elite Vodka, Royal Envy Premium Whisky, Langur Premium Beer and even Smoke Water—Jain’s brainchild is distilled five times using a special charcoal filtration process in its own distillery in Rajpura near Chandigarh. He works on the creative side, is entrenched in the R&D of the drink and is currently focused on setting up an experience centre at the distillery, which will be up and running by the end of the year.
“People go to Scotland to see how whisky is made. We want to show how our vodka is made right here in India,” says Jain, who also wants the space to host tastings with the country’s best mixologists and bartenders.
After his uniquely flavoured aniseed vodka, Jain is working on a saffron-flavoured one that will first be launched in New York, Miami and California, and reach Indian shores by Diwali. However, what’s surprising about Jain is that despite having such a nose for the premium spirits business, he’s a complete teetotaller.
“I’m a marketing guy who has never sipped alcohol,” he says. “My father is the real blender. We have a master blender, of course, but my dad locks it up. He has all the secret formulas for each spirit and was a pathbreaker, introducing Blue Moon Gin 22 years ago, when Bombay Sapphire had just been launched. His vision changed the game for the gin market in India.”
For a young man who always wanted to race cars, Jain was sent to Bacardi to intern, to learn the ropes and be a real trainee, not just the boss’ son.
“It taught me the practical reality, which is different from sitting in a cabin. I also learned to nose single malts, vodkas and Indian wine.”
After our ‘spirited’ conversation around alcoholic beverages, we find ourselves back in his basement, also home to three motorcycles—a Harley-Davidson Softail, a Can-Am Bombardier, and a Tesla ATV, the first in India.
“I like to take them out when the weather is good, but it’s just for fun, no racing!” says Jain, who had a bad crash on a motorcycle before he switched his focus to supercars.
For someone who’s raced on the Silverstone Circuit in the UK and the Bologna track at the Lamborghini factory, Jain dreams of driving a supercar on the Amalfi Coast—he usually rents one while he’s abroad. Meanwhile, he’s busy promoting the hashtag #DrinkResponsibly so that people don’t mix driving with drinking at any time.
For now, he’ll be enjoying his supercars for “a long time”, as he’s not planning on making any new purchases for the moment. “Today the prices have jumped to Rs 4 crore for a new Ferrari, as the duties have shot up,” he explains. “Prices even go up to Rs 7 crore for a supercar. The Lamborghini used to be Rs 4 crore, and today, it starts at Rs 6 crore and goes up to Rs 9 crore. Of course, you can get a second-hand one for Rs 2 to 3 crore.”
Jain is content with his fleet of supercars and the pleasure they give him on the track, as he sets his sights on adding even more exotic spirits to his company’s extensive portfolio. Drink responsibly—it’s the only way!
Photography: Abhishek Khandelwal; Creative Direction & Styling: Amber Tikari; Videographer: Perminder Singh Rana
This story has been adapted for the website from a story that was originally published in HELLO! India’s May 2022 issue. Get your hands on the latest issue right here!