India is the world’s biggest consumer of whisky, but you probably haven’t heard much about it. You’d be forgiven for not knowing this, but the country is responsible for 50% of the world’s whisky consumption. If you think that this figure seems pretty high, we have some good news: that number is set to rise even further in the coming years. Here’s everything you need to know about the country’s favorite golden elixir.
Read More: Decoding: Indian Love For Whiskey
While the aforementioned statistic only accounts for scotch, Indians are no strangers to whiskey, bourbon, and locally made “whisky.” The country’s whisky obsession started with scotch, which was first introduced to the market in the 19th century, during British colonial rule. Before the introduction of scotch, the only foreign spirit that was available in the country was cognac, a favorite amongst the country’s elite. However, the aristocrats were in for a shock when imports of the beloved French brandy would stop entirely, owing to an acute shortage of the beverage due to the country’s affected grape harvest. The market was now wide open for the taking, and the British wasted no time in importing oodles of scotch into the country in hopes of getting the country hooked on the English nectar.
This move, however, was rather shortsighted, as the first shipment would arrive just prior to WW1. Local authorities would immediately protest the sale of the drink, stating that most Indians were addicted to cannabis and that the introduction of the spirit, which was much less expensive compared to cognac, would only worsen the problem. The British took a moment to assess the situation and decided that they would proceed to coax the authorities into selling the beverage. A Hemp Commision was formed to gauge the potency of the drink against cannabis. Several trials ensued, and members of the commission came to a consensus and stated that scotch was just ever so slightly safer than cannabis. This opened the floodgates to several Scotch houses that were eager to expand into the Asian market. These houses would send several envoys to the subcontinent to market their offerings to Englishmen and locals alike. The Englishmen were already accustomed to the drink and needed no convincing, with the Indian bourgeois following in their stead. Uniformed Indians took to the drink as well, since it was much smoother than the rum and local liquor they usually consumed. It wasn’t long before the drink made its way to the masses, when doctors prescribed it as a stimulant and sedative during an early outbreak of the Spanish flu in the country.
Fast forward to the 20th century, and scotch and cheap Indian “whisky” (technically a colored molasses-based spirit that mimics the appearance of whisky) were extensively featured in Indian media. Actors were depicted drinking absurd amounts of the beverage and singing whole songs as tribute to the golden elixir. This phenomenon would translate well into the 21st century. With the advent of the spirit’s second arc on domestic shores, several new Indian “whisky” brands would enter the fray, along with several global conglomerates that aimed to populate the country’s many liquor stores with bottles of the many scotch brands that were under their umbrellas. Both parties were subject to great success, which they continue to savor to this day.
However, the living standard of the average Indian began to improve over the years, with the advancement of the country’s economy over the next two decades. Indians were becoming more conscious of what they consumed, with liquor being no exception. This saw several Indian “whisky” manufacturers blending their liquor with scotch to refine the palate and cut down on the “fire”. Over the next two decades, Indians were becoming more conscious of what they consumed, with liquor being no exception. This saw several Indian “whisky” manufacturers blending their liquor with scotch to refine the palate and cut down on the “fire.” This endeavor, too, worked in the companies’ favor, but only for so long. As the companies began to lose out on the middle-class market yet again, they finally made the transition to 100% grain spirits. These brands, which include the likes of Amrut and Rampur, have won international acclaim for their single malts and blends made using Indian grains. This saw several other brands foray into the market, such as Paul John, Kamet, Woodburns, et al. Conglomerates were actively expanding their presence in the country as well, with organizations like Beam Suntory, Diageo, and Pernod Ricard bringing several whiskeys and foreign spirits into the market, including perennial favorites like Jack Daniels, Suntory, Nikka, Jim Beam, Johnny Walker, Talisker, et al.
We’ve all had journeys of our own with the amber liquid. Starting with something as humble as grain spirit blended with whisky, like Imperial Blue; or a budget scotch like Teacher’s. A lot of us still relish these bottles today, with the pain of nostalgia, well after we’ve moved up to single malts like Glenlivet or Ardbeg. Whiskies like Teacher’s, Blenders Pride, and Black Dog will forever be a part of the Indian experience, regardless of how far one ventures into the Uisce Beatha.
When it comes to selecting a bottle of whisky, today’s whisky connoisseurs are simply spoiled for choice; there is no shortage of options, whether domestic or imported. This can make it daunting for someone who is looking to get into the hobby, which is why we curated this list of offerings across the board, with something for everyone.
Jameson: Most Indians would have tried the fiery Irish spirit in their journey down the whisky rabbit hole. This is an excellent choice for those coming from scotches like Teachers; the Irish blend has a similar palate, which makes it all the more approachable. The Irish blend has familiar notes of toffee and treacle in the body, which are beautifully complemented by flowers and fruit on the nose.
Amrut Fusion: Probably the best value premium whisky on the market, this award-winning single malt is a work of art, made with barley grown right here in India. There are big notes of citrus and a hint of smoke, which translate onto the palate, where they are joined by flavors like oak, coffee, and chocolate. We’d definitely recommend having a bottle of this whisky on your bar.
Lagavulin 18: a legendary Islay scotch. Smokey and full-bodied, think iodine, smoke, and treacle.
Kamet Single Malt Whisky: A mild and fruity Indian whisky with a rounded, silky mouthfeel. inexpensive and ideal for beginners.
Glenlivet 12: One of the most famous single malts in the world, this timeless dram is sure to impress with its delicate floral notes, mild sweetness, and light citrusy quality. We’d recommend this as the starting point for those uninitiated in single-malt scotch.
Ardbeg 10: Yet another quintessential Islay, smoky, with bold notes of spice and earth. not for the faint of heart.
Aberlour 12: This chill filtered single malt is smooth, sweet and fruity, with hints of spice at the end, an incredibly pleasant and accessible palate overall.