How Indian Single Malts Got Back In The Game
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Early this year, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) revealed that India outdrank France as the world’s biggest Scotch whisky-consuming country by volume. This surge in demand for Scotch, coupled with high import expenses has opened up a space for home-produced premium whiskeys. Indian single malts are gaining ground over Scotch whiskeys as exporting single malt whisky is lucrative due to lower taxation. 

In 2022, the sales of single malt Scotch saw 35% annual growth, while Indian single malt whisky sales experienced an impressive spike of 142%. “In a stunning turnaround, Indian malt whiskies now account for nearly half of all premium single malt whiskies consumed in India and are all set to overtake by next year,” Vinod Giri, Director General of the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies, said in an India Today interview in October. 

Indian single malts typically use six-rowed barley while Scottish whiskeys two-rowed barley. The Indian six-rowed variety offers an oily richness; it’s also less starchy and has more proteins. Upon breaking down, these proteins yield fatty acids in the whisky, rendering it aromatic and smooth on the palate. 

More distilleries venturing into malt whisky production like Amrut, Paul John, Rampur, and newcomers like Piccadily Distilleries are looking to cater to the global market, amid rising Scotch whisky imports. “As more players enter the market, the increase in the production of single malt whisky and aged barrel whisky will have a positive impact on product consumption in the coming years,” says Siddhartha Sharma, the founder of Piccadily Distilleries, which had a standout year. 

Piccadily’s Indri Diwali Collector’s Edition 2023 recently earned the ‘Best in Show, Double Gold’ at the Whiskies of the World Awards 2023. Sharma notes that this showcases the global competitiveness of Indian single malt and this sort of singular global recognition is likely to inspire other local distilleries, fostering healthy competition and innovation within the Indian whisky scene. 

‘Not Just About The Price Tag’ 

Hemanth Rao, Founder of the Single Malt Amateur Club which was founded in 2011 credits Picaddily’s recent accomplishments for the recent buzz around homegrown single malts. “There has been more traction in the premium whiskey space because of the recognitions which have been garnered by Piccadily, which is a brand that’s not been around for the last 10 years. Till now, Amrut, Rampur, Paul John were the dominant players in the single malt fraternity and now there’s a new name. So the curiosity is revived,” says Rao. 

The buzz around Indian single malt comes only two decades after the European Union refused to recognise Indian whisky. Currently,  India has around nine single malt distilleries. After Amrut launched India’s first single malt in Glasgow in 2004, it expanded across Europe and entered the Indian market in 2010. 

Paul John took a similar route and launched its single malt in the UK in 2012, and to Indian consumers in 2013. Rampur followed suit in 2015. Indri-Trini launched in 2021 is India’s first triple cask single malt bottled at 42.8% abv and matured in ex-bourbon, ex-French wine, and PX Sherry casks. Diageo, producer of the world’s biggest-selling Indian whisky, McDowell’s No.1, introduced its first Indian single malt, Godawan which is produced at Alwar distillery in Rajasthan and finished in casks curated with exotic Indian botanicals.

Rao ventures, “With Godawan coming in, it’s a clear signal that players like Diageo, Pernod and Beam Suntory recognise the need to produce in India to compete globally and to protect revenue. It’s a significant move in the industry.” 

Whiskey Cocktails Are Booming 

Unlike established producers like Japan, India’s whisky prominence is relatively recent but there is more movement as the industry shifts from traditional consumers to younger audiences, by diversifying consumption methods through cocktails. Ritika Sinha, a techie from Pune was never a whiskey lover; but the frequent pubber fell under the spell of single malt cocktails once things went back to normal after the pandemic. 

“I’ve never really liked whiskey but after I binged on Peaky Blinders, I really wanted to try Tommy Shelby’s go-to drink, the whiskey sour. My first brush with it wasn’t great, I hated the intensity. But I gotta say it grew on me. I’m all for whiskey cocktails now,” she tells us. 

“My favourite whiskey for cocktails is Amrut, which is available in most bars. I remember my friend introducing me to the brand saying it smells like a banana milkshake and I didn’t believe her (haha)! But I think I warmed up to it because it has a classic taste,” she adds. 

Vishal Joshi, a Chennai-based IT consultant who has recently switched from the Speyside-style Cardhu whiskey to the Goan single malt Paul John Nirvana, says, “I’ve recently started exploring whiskey cocktails, every club I go to tends to have so many options. I received a Paul John from a friend once and I really like the brand now. At home, I try to make a mojito with it, with lime and mint!” 

Master Mixologist Yangdup Lama who also owns the award-winning Delhi cocktail bar Sidecar, notes, “ I think the popularity of whisky cocktails did play an important role in taking the whisky consumption to a different high. The trend of using premium spirits in cocktail making and the acceptance and understanding of the present-day consumer who also has a much-developed palate has given rise to increased consumption.” 

‘Consumers want to drink less but drink better’ 

The popularity of premium Indian single malts tracks with the global reports of growing premiumisation in the alcohol sector; IWSR Drinks Market Analysis reports that all major beverage categories posted growth in 2022 across premium-plus price tiers. Indian industry leaders agree that premiumisation is the driving force with homegrown distilleries catering to aspirational and value-seeking consumers. 

“Premiumisation is a huge reality. It’s in direct correlation with the macroeconomic factors that India is witnessing. The GDP growth, the rise of the middle class and upwards,” shares Kartik Mohindra, CMO, Pernod Ricard India. In October this year, Pernod Ricard launched the Indian single malt whisky Seagram’s Longitude 77, crafted in small batches in a distillery in Dindori, Nashik (Maharashtra), the whiskey has a rich, woody profile that also balances soft and mellow notes and a balanced sweetness. 

“It’s an interesting era for the business and when we look at these categories across, from top to bottom, ultra-luxury all the way down to the mass segments; the upper end – the premium end and above is outpacing the lower end by a massive difference in percentage point. It just showcases that in our urban centres, consumers want to drink less but drink better,” Mohindra points out. 

There is a category of consumers who have been around and know what’s on the table and that community is growing. “The confident Indian consumer does not feel like they are second to anyone and that’s what’s leading this premiumization trend,” says Mohindra. 

“Consumers seem willing to invest in higher-priced, premium offerings, viewing them not just as a beverage but as an experience. This trend indicates a desire for quality, craftsmanship, and a connection to the heritage and tradition associated with specific brands,” Sharma says.

 According to a recent projection by Research and Markets report, whisky consumption in India is set to reach 289.49 million cases by 2027-28. Single malt whiskey is expected to grow at a CAGR of 22.92 per cent. Sharma believes that the innovations in the Indian single malt category is building interest among whisky purists. “The category is witnessing an upgrade as the younger and more diverse Indian drinking population is increasingly embracing premium spirits, particularly whisky,” he points out.