India. Loves. Whisky. Simple as that. The country’s biggest brand, Officer’s Choice, sold an astounding 400 million bottles in 2015. This must be great for Scotland and the Scotch whisky industry? Well, not quite, as the world of Indian whisky is a bit of a labyrinth.
In India, the guidelines for what constitutes whisky are extremely lax, meaning that Indian whisky and Indian single malt whisky are two very different beasts. Most of the whisky consumed in the world’s second most populated nation is made from molasses, rather than barley, and cannot be sold in Europe as whisky. In fact, they’re probably closer to rum, although most do have a certain amount of malt whisky blended into them.
However, Indian single malt is a steadily growing category. The country’s relaxation of import duties in the 1990s (although they are still very high!) gave distillers access to better technology, with foreign players also entering the market. These were seen as being more upmarket and desirable, so Indian distillers were forced to up their game. Now, a number of distilleries are producing Indian whisky to Scotch Whisky Association guidelines, meaning it can be exported and sold outside of India.
The process for making Indian whisky is pretty similar to Scotch, with the main difference being the speed of maturation. In Scotland, the “Angel’s Share” (i.e. the amount of whisky that evaporates during the maturation period) is around 2% ABV. But due to India’s hot climate, this climbs to 12% ABV. Not only does this make the maturation quicker, it also means that distilleries have to bottle their whisky much quicker, before it all evaporates away.
Distilleries producing single malt in India are currently few and far between. The best known is Armut, which was established in Bangalore in 1948. But it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the company decided to produce a premium whisky by combining malted and unmalted barley. And even then, its first single malt didn’t arrive until August 2004.
Similarly, Rampur Distillery has been making whisky for more than half a century and started producing malted barley for its blends in 1990. However, it wasn’t until last year that it produced its first single malt for export, which you can read about here.
The final player is John distillery, which officially launched Paul John Whisky in 2012. And you come back later this week to find out what I thought of two expressions from the distillery.
(The picture is from my amazing holiday to India in October and November 2016)