It is almost as though Twain was looking into the future and prophesying the current premium whisky scene in India today. For gone are the days when generous ‘Patiala Pegs’ were splashed forth from bottles of inexpensive and rather pedestrian whisky brands that we Indians loved to indulge in.
Today, there is a paradigm shift in the way we consume…nay, enjoy our whiskies. Sipping them almost reverentially, instead of gulping them down. Admiring that sunlit, almost amber hue of the libation. Taking in that heady aroma and then savouring its smoky, peaty depths of flavour. All this, before letting it gently glide down our throats. Yes, that’s what sipping a premium whisky does to one. It takes you into its wonders almost instantaneously, ensnaring you for good.
Evolution is everything
It is safe to say that the last four to five years have seen the premium whisky consumption scene in India evolve more rapidly than ever before. Higher disposable income, frequent international travels and rapid digitisation leading to higher levels of awareness, are just a few of the reasons for this evolution.
Interestingly, the consumption of premium whiskies though, has largely been dominated by Scotch whiskies. Both Premium Blended Scotch whisky with brands like Royal Salute 21, Chivas Regal 25, Blue Label Ghost and Rare among others and by Single Malt Scotch whiskies. “When I look at the imports, I think the field has broadened from just Scotch whisky and Jack Daniel’s. Irish whiskey Jameson was the first to make headway, followed by, I would say, Bourbon brands like Jim Beam,” opines Vikram Achanta, Founder and CEO of Tulleeho, which is a drinks education, training and consulting firm.
The Japanese invasion
But there is also another disruptor nipping close at the heels, aka. Japanese whisky. “Over the past few years, Japanese whiskies have gained (strength in India) owing to their soaring popularity globally and lack of supply, which makes them very elusive,” say Vinayak Singh and Swati Sharma who are the Co-Founders of The Dram Club, a platform that endeavours to bring whisky enthusiasts and aficionados together and to create a community for people to enjoy and appreciate their whiskies. Echoing this sentiment of the elusiveness of Japanese premium whisky brands is Achanta. “Among the Japanese brands, Yamazaki and Hibiki have proved very popular, in spite of their price point, partially also due their scarcity. Yet, there are still some Japanese brands like Toki that are available at an affordable `4,000”.
Desi does it too!
When it comes to Indian whisky, experts seem extremely bullish about their success in the premium whisky category. And rightly so. We have recently seen newer brands like, both, Amrut and Paul John pave the way here, with a wide, ever-evolving selection of some truly premium, world-class whiskies. “The bottled in India scene is also going through a constant churn. Brands like 100 Pipers are broadening their product selection, with the latest being the launch of their HP 8yo Blended Malt. William Grant and Sons have also recently launched a special whisky for the Indian palate (called) Grant’s Distinction,” says Achanta, who also suggests watching out for Rampur with it’s impending launch in the domestic market.
It is also the local consumer who is the most important catalyst in this shift towards new Indian premium whisky brands. “Today, we have home-grown single malts and blends speaking to a younger audience, connecting with them a lot more than their grandfather’s brands did. So, this is what they aspire to. While the numbers may be just a fraction of the sub- premium category, it is still a growing segment, one that brands find value in investing in,” believes Karina Agarwal, Beverage Consultant and Founder – Director, Gigglewater Beverage Concepts, who goes on to site the example of Oaksmith, launched by the Beam Suntory group involved a Japanese distillery creating a ‘world blend’ especially for India, that’s been quite popular recently.
There has also been a change in how we consume our premium whisky today. Whisky, which was earlier considered a drink for the elite and the snobs is now breaking into new consumer segments. According to Singh and Sharma, female consumption of whisky is the biggest trend that the industry is witnessing. “More and more women are now independent and earning for themselves and they are not shying away from spending on new experiences and indulgences- premium whisky is definitely one on their list. Brands are also trying to break through the stereotypes and position it as a more accessible spirit of choice.”