No party (or wedding) in India is complete without an adequate supply of booze. While beer and Breezers are just gateway drinks, whisky still remains the real deal. Just ask any hot-blooded Punjabi or brooding Bangalorean about Scotch whisky and watch them wax eloquent on the drink of the gods in their own, unique ways.
In India, the epitome of Scotch whisky is the single malt and it comes with an air of pretentiousness attached. Blended whiskies (the majority of stuff in our wine shops) are more or less discarded by such elitists. It was such a bore to see my beaming relatives return from travels abroad, clutching bottles of Duty Free Laphroaig and Talisker only to share the precious liquid gold once they were done with extolling its virtues, and instructing us lesser plebs about the right way to drink. Sure, single malts are marvellous but the joy of bonding over a wee dram was highly painful in such situations.
It’s different these days. At 41 million bottles, India is the third largest importer of Scotch whisky in the world. But this doesn’t mean that everybody is sipping Glenfiddich and generally being a mean snob. Domestically, the three highest-selling whiskies are Officer’s Choice, McDowell’s and Imperial Blue – brands that only the most-broke youngsters would even touch with a bargepole. In another shocker, at 32.3 million cases sold (each case is approximately 9 litres) Officer’s Choice also claims the second spot in the world!
For a country that frequently raises a hue and cry over “tradition, culture and Indian values”, it stands proven that Indians do drink a lot, and drink hard. A recent report also revealed that 93% of liquor consumed in India was hard spirits (whisky/rum/vodka etc). However, even as consumption trends go higher each year, there’s still not much offered for those who prefer a decent single malt brewed in the motherland.
Among the biggest contenders, Amrut makes great single malts but suffers from sketchy availability. Mohan Meakin, makers of the legendary Old Monk, have something called Solan Gold which again only surfaces in badly-lit photographs from weird booze shops around the country. Paul John, a recent entrant in the single malt arena, has a few promising variants emerging from their Goa distillery, but I’ve yet to see it in my friendly neighbourhood wine shop. Yes, the battle for a great native single malt is long and needs to be fought hard, but all is not lost. Given our love for booze, the day isn’t far when Indian single malts evolve to perfection and become more accessible.
My entry into the world of whisky started with my girl friends over a bottle of Royal Stag. It was the only stuff we could afford in the final years of school. As time progressed, I moved towards better whiskies, and currently love Jim Beam for its gentle flavour and roasted-oak notes. As millennials undertake the journey into adults who are interested in their alcohol, my advice would be to discard the snobbery. Don’t get lost in the hype of Scotch whisky, though they taste great. Learn to appreciate the character of all whiskies, whether it is Indian, Canadian, American, or Japanese. Blended Scotch whiskies are not bad either. Stay away from the cheap stuff and learn to enjoy (and hold) your drink. Above all, always drink responsibly.
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