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Issue 29 - A taste of India

Whisky Magazine Issue 29
March 2003


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A taste of India

The market for whisky in India is huge. Tom Bruce-Gardyne examines its colourful, unconventional nature

Thank God for Spain!” was a cry that echoed round the boardrooms of the great whisky corporations in the 1990s. With the American market in fullscale retreat, dropping by six million cases that decade alone, the surge in Spanish imports came at just the right time. Today it has become the most valuable market for Scotch whisky of all, though not as big as its neighbour, France, in terms of volume.

Yet Europe is as nothing compared to India – the greatest whisky-drinking nation on earth. That is if you accept the Indian definition of the word ‘whisky' – something the European Union refuses to recognise.

As a drink it does at least share the same colour and strength as Scotch, even if the taste can be varied in the extreme. Indian whisky comes in a riot of styles, from the roughest rocket fuel imaginable to a number of well-respected brands. None of them offer carbon-copy Scotch, but one or two come pretty close, and as a general truism, the higher up the price ladder you climb, the closer to the real McCoy you'll get.

The fundamental difference is in the use of molasses rather than grain, which was banned by the old regime that ruled India in the years after independence.

The regime, known as the license-permit Raj, decreed that grain was needed to feed the poor and could not be used to make spirits. The ban was lifted in 1995, and since then there have been indigenous grain whiskies made and even single malts.

The vast majority of Indian whisky is still molasses-...

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