Whisky Renaissance in India
India as a nation has these great ability to absorb, adapt and create something new for the locals. This is what happened to whisky, one of the many leftovers from the colonial rule, as well. India’s first distillery in Kasauli (which was also India’s first brewery) still exists, run by Mohan Meakin. Edward Dyer the man behind setting up the project chose Kasuali since it had a climate similar to that of Scotland. It has always been an aspirational product, which led to the creation and boom of Indian whisky; today it is a category on its own. India consumes around half of world’s whisky but its misses out on per capita consumption holding 9th position with 1.24 liters per capita consumption, according to a Euromonitor report. Turns out, the French wear that crown with a per capita consumption 2.15 liters closely followed by Uruguay and the US.
For those who don’t know, most common Indian whisky available in the market is not the made the way Scotch, Irish, American or even Japanese way. Unlike how the Scotch ferment, distil and cask age malt, Indian whiskies are made from neutral spirit most often from molasses to which malt based whisky blended. United Spirits is one of the biggest players in Indian whisky with a brand like McDowell’s No 1 which sold 19.5 million cases in 2012 and recorded a growth of 21% in that year. However, with players like Amrut Distilleries and John Distilleries coming into the market with Indian malt whiskies, the change in dynamics of the market will be worth the watch.
As far aspirations go, it always yearns to achieve something more, both for consumers and spirits companies. Quality is cannot be taken for granted any longer, Indian consumer is well traveled, more educated and aware of more brands than ever before. He is no longer to be fooled with. Amrut Distilleries realized this a while back. They too were makers of typically blended Indian whisky, they introduced malt based whiskies in 2004 and got the permissions to export in the European Union in a couple of years recognition started coming in; in 2009 Amrut Fusion stood third as the best whisky in the world, “People no longer saw us cheap liquor company but of a quality product,” explains Thrivikram G Nikam, Executive Director, Brands and PR for the company, adding that quality and value for money is an important factor.
Indian whiskies still dominate the market and there will always be takers for the spirit, but knowledge of imported whiskies from the across the globe is also on the rise. Global brands like Glenfiddich, Jameson, Glenlivet and Jack Daniels are commonplace these days. Take the Irish whisky brand Jameson, for example. It was launched in 2010 in Bangalore and because of demand, expanded to Mumbai in 2011 and more recently Delhi in 2012. Even the company is sure that its position as the only Irish whisky in India will not stay for long. Jameson has brand Ambassadors located in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi who on a daily basis educate Indians what makes Irish whisky different from Scotch and American whiskies. Awareness and education have become key words for spirits companies. The Vault Fine Spirits, imports whisky like Kilchoman, Arran and Springbank, for instance conducts special tasting sessions for their consumers.
Interesting facet of all this is that the preconceived notion that whisky is a drink for the old and matured is changing. The movement of premium Scotch, whisky, single malt within the age group of 25-35 is surprising and a good thing. Gaurav Bhatia, Marketing Director, Moët Hennessy India believes that the Indian consumer base is predominantly comprised of men in the key metros of the country. He speaks of a Glenmorangie consumer who is affluent, has an ambitious career graph, is discerning, and is an aspirational figure amongst his contemporaries. “The average single malt consumer is an extrovert, with a wide social circle and affiliations to niche clubs and fraternities,” he says. Even women are now slowly opening up to pleasures of single malt. Spirits companies like Diageo, Pernod Ricard and Beam Global are eager to please these appetites. Ashwin Deo who is responsible for bringing the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) to India, points out that there has been a change in the consumption pattern; people are moving from whisky to scotch to aged scotch to single malts. High taxation on imported spirits is a deterrent, but if duty-free sales at the airports are anything to go by, the need to experience new and better whisky is quite evident.
Presence of SMWS in India is also proof of this upwardly mobile experiential nature of Indian consumer. As the market evolves and matures, we are seeing an increasing trade up amongst consumers from blended Scotch whisky to single malts. Small batches and craft whiskies will be the next big thing believes Vir Satyan, Head of Trade and Events at The Vault Fine Spirits. “People want to move away from the usual duty-free brands. They are happy to experience new brands and are not unwilling to spend extra for it. It is like craft beer, it’s more than just the image; such whiskies are more personal and there is also difference in quality and taste.” And this is just the beginning of a new era for India’s favorite amber liquid.
Featured Image: Glenmorangie Distillery in Scotland