For more than a century, whisky has been the favourite spirit of India. Indians have been enjoying whisky and have treated it like its own native spirit. Though most whisky consumed in India is Indian whisky, the desire and aspiration for imported alcohol, or more importantly Scotch whisky, has always been high.
Even though whisky is the lead spirit in India, the acceptance for Indian whisky is not very high. When I entered the world of whisky, back in 2003, Indian whisky was not even considered as whisky, but more as rum, as the primary base was molasses.
During the post-independence years the focus was on the economy and the mid-segment section of the market, with distilleries producing whiskies that appeal to the masses.
Things changed over the years, with a higher percentage of grain being used, better quality liquid, packaging and above all some astute marketing.
The turning point came in 2004, with the launch of Amrut in Glasgow. Now, after Amrut’s success with single malts around the world, we see that a lot of distilleries are aspiring to release their own premium whiskies.
A sizeable differentiator for Indian whisky comes in the form of its uncompromising quality and innovative nature, along with the character the whisky gains due to the tropical climate.
It is of significant importance the way the Scotch whisky industry has paved the way for all others during the past century. They have led by example in opening new channels and also establishing whisky as the leading drink in the world.
Now many countries around the world, including India, produce whiskies of exceptional quality.
A good percentage of the whisky drinking populace is waking up to Asian whiskies led by Japanese, Taiwanese and now Indian.
While the future of Indian whiskies is exceptionally good, the new distillers should not misuse the faith and admiration for Indian malts by compromising on quality and thereby compromising the category. It is the industry`s collective responsibility to ensure that they give their best to consumers and the category in itself will flourish.
There are also an array of new offerings across segments which would redefine the product landscape, that are also being launched.
While Scotland has more than 100 distilleries, I now ask myself, why not India?
It is great to aspire to produce quality Indian whiskies, as long as the standards are maintained and people’s faith is preserved. Indian malt producers should unite and be governed by regulatory bodies like the Scotch Association. We should have something similar in India. By volume, regular and prestige segment whiskies are preferred due to price point offerings, especially in the Middle East and Africa. However, Indian malts are making a mark internationally now.
Whisky brands also need to consider banding together to promote Indian whisky as a category globally.
An Indian single malt category appellation, with guidelines to create a single malt of highest standards, could also be considered.
Indian cuisine heritage also needs to be explored, creating expressions of a new India, while also making Indians feel proud of Indian products and local single malts.
We learned the art of whisky making from the Brits and have mastered it now. Indian whiskies are quite similar to Scotch organoleptically, but at a much more competitive price.
While the current flag-bearers of Indian whisky are single malts, there is a lot of scope for good blended malt whiskies in the near future.
The emergence of whisky cocktails has added another dimension to consumption, particularly amongst the younger consumers.
Indian whiskies have been gaining global acceptance, but a lot more needs to be achieved. However, Indian single malt whiskies have truly positioned India as an emerging purveyor of finest quality single malts. The future looks bright, as premium offerings and micro-segmentation are creating an exciting spectrum of opportunities.