Indian whisky

07 August, 2015

Of greater interest, perhaps, is the substantial growth of premium domestic blended whiskies. Officer’s Choice Blue Label, for instance, was launched by Allied Blenders to compete with Pernod Ricard’s Royal Stag, which is India’s fourth best-selling whisky. It is selling in the region of four million cases now, nearly enough to get it into the national top 10 in its own right.

These whiskies are giving the growing middle class a taste of Scottish whisky, even if it is diluted by Indian grain. But if change has been slow, it hasn’t been a lot better for the two distilleries exporting to the rest of the world. After Amrut’s impressive flurry of awards and critical acclaim, the past two years have been relatively quiet. And John Distilleries hit the ground running with a solid core range and some exciting single cask bottlings.

Both, though, have lost direction to some extent. Ashok Chokalingam, Amrut’s head of international operations, moved from the UK back to distillery headquarters in Bangalore while the Paul John brand seemed to lose its way last year when the company’s main European brand ambassador stood down. Krish Kumar’s appointment has at least put everything back on track. 

Both companies seem to have had stock issues but both are adamant that we are in the calm before an Indian storm.

Chokalingam isn’t prepared to give too much away about his company’s plans. But this year, at least the company has plans. “These are exciting moments I guess,” he says. “Changing colours and hands of the businesses, new opportunities, more challenges and, in a nut shell, it is a ‘Bombay mix’ of good and bad.

“In the past 12 months we have repositioned our strategic direction in the international markets in terms of sales and distribution. We see opportunities exist both in the domestic market and international markets. “We are slowly but steadily expanding both on the domestic and international markets. This year we will have a couple of new releases and will be raising our own already high bar.”

Paul John is also intending to release a new expression in the coming few months and Kumar says the company is growing nicely.

“Our plan for the next 12 months is to keep things very simple and not over complicated,” he says. “We have a brand value that we will maintain and build strategically. John Distilleries will continue to cater for the Indian markets as have been doing for the past 23 years, and Paul John will keep spreading the joy of an absolute gem of a single malt.

“We have very good partners across the board in the UK and Europe. As I always say, you need to do better than what you did yesterday, so the graph is definitely going onwards and upwards.”

So can the three strands come together? Eventually, it seems. Amrut and Paul John are pursuing a domestic and international business strategy, and consumption of quality scotch whisky is on the increase. The question now is whether India can follow the rest of the world and create a sizeable single malt market of its own? Tricky one.

“If only I could predict the future I would be Guru Krish Maharaj,” says Kumar. “India is one of the most trending countries these days, Indian culture has always been renowned. Being Indian is very fashionable. Are Indian whiskies the ones to look out for? Emphatically, yes indeed we are.”

Chokalingam sets his sights high. “The future is bright for sure, and it is a matter of time and how aggressive we want to be,” he says.“It is anybody’s world and there is an opportunity for everyone. From our perspective, any new player that wants to enter into the market is welcome as long as they maintain and enhance the reputation of Indian whisky that Amrut has created in the international market. “If that’s the case then the Indian whisky category can be like the Japanese whisky category in the years to come.”

That’s a big ask. Don’t be so sure it will happen. And if it does come about, expect it to do so slowly. Very slowly indeed.

Keywords: indian whisky

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