India comes in from the cold

These counterpoints to Boris Johnson’s poppycock are not intended to embarrass or humiliate him, but rather to reinforce the point that the Indian whisky market is like no other, has a unique set of challenges, and cannot be treated in simple black and white or binary terms, as the foreign secretary tried to do.

When we consider Indian whisky we’re looking at what is effectively a whisky Apartheid. If we were writing about Australian or Swedish whisky we would write about the country’s leading brands and how they are doing across the world.

But India is different. There are two distinct definitions of what Indian whisky is: the one that covers the whisky brands operating in India, but virtually nowhere else. That would make for a fine feature if this magazine were called Drinks Internal, but it’s not. And then there is the definition of it that focuses on the distilleries which are Indian but trade internationally.


For many years, that meant writing a feature about India’s lone voice, Amrut Distillery in Bangalore. Slowly and surely, though, that’s changing. Indian whisky has not only carved out its own identity, it has won itself a hard-earned reputation for quality.

The latest Indian drinks company to enter the international market is Radico Khaitan, which markets Rampur single malt whisky. President for international business, Sanjeev Banga, pays credit to Amrut but thinks Indian whisky is about to take another leap forward.

“Credit goes to Amrut for introducing Indian single malt to the world,” he says.

“We are taking the legacy forward and to a new level. India has huge potential and it’s about time we made our presence felt on the world stage. Our Magic Moments vodka is already creating waves globally. So are Indian wines – and now is the time for Indian single malt.

“Our malt distillery has been in operation for 25 years and we have been ageing malts since then. We were never in a hurry to launch our single malt. Only once we felt confident of having a very fine product and adequate stock did we decide to venture into single malt whisky.”

Amrut had a relatively low profile in some territories during 2017, choosing to target its limited stocks at core markets. But the company’s general manager for international sales and marketing, Ashok Chokalingam, reckons that this may well have been a calm before the storm.

“2017 was pretty good for us,” he says. “We, as the pioneers of Indian single malt, see a potential for strong growth and this category will become even stronger than it was before. The future is bright. Overall this has been much better in terms of consumer understanding than the past and I see this movement will continue in terms of education. I am seeing the world whisky movement getting stronger day by day.”

For Shilton Almeida, regional manager for the Paul John whisky range, consumer knowledge has moved forward noticeably. “People are very surprised at the fact that India makes single malt whiskies and impressed at the same time once they try them. Certainly the brand is better known in the market nowadays compared to two or three years back. Most consumers have moved from ‘new to Paul John and Indian whiskies’ to ‘new to a particular Paul John expression’.