September 30, 2023
Indian Single Malts
India is in high spirits.
And that's not only because the country is the biggest consumer of whisky in the world. It also has an up-and-coming Single Malt market that should not be underestimated.
With western Single Malt lovers stunned and often biased at the sight of Indian Whisky conquering the markets in Europe and the US, it is time to have a closer look at what is actually happening on this exotic subcontinent.
But first things first: The most raised question definitely is: does the Indian water of life at all deserve the title Whisky, does it fulfill the criteria and regulations implemented in Europe for this potion? Well, it depends.
Most spirits distilled in India and labelled as whisky are, in fact, a concoction of neutral alcohol obtained from fermented and distilled molasses, blended with a bit of malt whisky and some added flavours and colour. Outside India, such a drink would rather be called rum, especially since in 2008 Europe passed a directive asserting that whisky is a drink exclusively produced from the mash obtained from malted grain.
The so-called IMLF – Indian made foreign liquor has been produced since the mid 19th century and until recently Indian consumers were content with the spirits they could get.
But with demographic and economic changes, growing cities and not to forget the social acceptance of alcohol, India has quickly developed a quality awareness and drinking culture that has been and still is changing the drinks industry remarkably.
And with 19 million Indians entering legal drinking age every year, it comes as no surprise that producers set new goals to please this growingly attractive market and quench its thirst.
Let's have a look at some of the big players who demand their seat at the table of top-notch Singe Malt producers:
Founded in 1948, a year after India gained independence from Britain, the then called Amrut Laboratories focussed on bottling alcoholic beverages that were mainly supplied to the Indian army.
In the 1970s the production of a grape brandy from Bangalore grapes marked the beginning of in-house distillation. But it was only in the 1980s that the company started making malt whisky. The maturation takes place in Bangalore, the barley is specially grown on the foothills of the Himalayas. Amrut has constantly been striving to provide products that would meet international requirements and leave an impact on the international market. Scottish whisky experts were hired for consulting and today Amrut is probably the best known and highest acclaimed producer of Single Malt in India.
The ultimate seal of approval came from Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, that in 2010 declared Amrut fusion the 3rd best whisky in the world.
Another distillery that has received numerous awards from the World Whisky Masters is Goan Paul John. From its start in 1992 the intention of this traditional pot-still distillery has been to produce only top quality Indian Single Malt. Their first whisky was released in 2012 and from then on the range kept growing constantly. The selection includes unpeated and peated whiskies, as well as cask strength versions. For maturation, Paul John uses mainly ex-Bourbon casks, although you can also find some much sought after Sherry matured whiskies.
But are Indian Single Malts really so much different from their Scottish brothers and can they satisfy the palate of Single Malt lovers who have been calibrated on the Scottish taste for ages?
It is undeniable, that the subtropical climate accelerates maturation and with higher evaporation, the angel's share is much bigger than in Scotland. So until now, we don't see any 25 or 30-year-old Indian Single Malts on the market. But maybe one day the distilleries follow the lead of Caribbean Rum producers – many of them ship their casks to Europe for maturation.
But let's face it: just like Japan, that entered the international Whisky league around 10 years ago and shook things up pretty intensely, India has definitely earned its place in the World of Single Malt.
Ultimately we should acknowledge that for many decades millions of European whisky fans have considered their sight on Single Malt as the ultimate status quo. But so do Indian fans of the dram. Just that they are a few more – over a billion to be precise.