India sets a new tone

Indian whisky has had its ups and downs over the years, but distillers’ talk of a quality revolution suggests it’s back in the ascendant. Dominic Roskrow reports


HAS ANYONE ELSE noticed the weird phenomenon of the disappearing world whisky brand? One month you can’t move for features on whiskies from some exciting new part of the world, the whiskies are being showered with awards, and everyone wants a taste of the action. The next month, nothing. The circus has left town and normal service is resumed… until next time. It happened with Australian whisky. It happened with Japanese whisky. And now it seems to be happening with Asian whisky and, in particular, Indian.

Why? Well, partly because the media is a fickle beast and once the story’s gone writers move on like a group of hungry soldier ants. But there’s more to it than that. All the awards and attention create demand, prices rise, supply struggles. From wanting to talk to anyone and win everything, the producers shy away from publicity that will create an even greater demand they can’t meet, possibly alienating and annoying potential consumers. And, in turn, that leaves a void for some new country to try to fill.

But the main reason is growing pains. Think about it: you’re a world whisky producer and everyone’s talking to you and about you. It’s great that you’re selling everything you produce. But what next? You have choices: stay small and esoteric; grow gradually; focus on your best markets and ditch others; raise funds, invest heavily and go global; or look for an overseas partner and shoot for the stars.

More than that, what are you going to do? You like making whisky, but do you want to be the head distiller, the managing director, or a global brand ambassador?

Decisions, decisions. And as expansion for whisky makers means a hefty time delay, any of these factors can result in you exiting stage left – at least for a while. Question is, will someone have moved into your seat when you return?

Never is this issue more acute than in the Indian market. Internally India has always been a huge whisky market, made up of some internationally-backed huge brands and countless spirits drinks made with molasses and described as ‘whiskies.’

But 12 years ago, along came Amrut, a distillery in Bangalore making single malt whisky. Not only that, but showing a remarkable ability to think outside the box and set whisky enthusiasts alight with stunning, innovative, creative whiskies. For a while there, Amrut was the toast of world whisky.

Then, in many world territories, it all went quiet.


So what happened? Ashok Chokalingam, general manager for international sales & marketing at Amrut, who has moved back to India from the UK, reveals that the distillery is in the process of expanding and hints that it’s not all been plain sailing.

“We have been working on moving in the right direction,” he says. “We are also working on the distillery expansion project where we will be building a new malt distilling plant adjacent to where we are now. Our Indian market is gaining momentum for our single malts and Europe is getting stronger.”