It is no secret that when it comes to drinking, Indians love their whiskey. No wonder India is the largest whiskey consuming country by volume in the world. Traditionally, most of this consumption is of lower end Indian whiskies. However, slowly but surely Indian consumers are also opening up to international brands and are beginning to appreciate the varied nuances, complexity and taste profiles these premium whiskies have to offer.
Renaissance of American Whiskey
For the past few years, the American whiskey category has been seeing a renaissance worldwide and India has been no different. As per industry estimates, it is the second biggest imported whiskey category after scotch in India and has been growing with a CAGR of more than 11% in the last few years.
Consumers are increasingly choosing American Whiskey for the taste, quality and the values that resonate with the category. Some of the key factors driving this growth are the increasing disposable incomes, increasing aspirations amongst legal drinking age consumers to upgrade and increased exposure to global brands. The well-travelled young Indian consumers are not very different than their counterparts across this digitally connected world. As more and more of them travel the world, they are seeking brands, which are authentic and have a legacy of craftsmanship.
The mixing of American whiskies and emergence of whiskey cocktails are some of the reasons for the rising consumer interest in these spirits. American whiskies are versatile and owing to their unique flavour and taste profiles, they lend themselves very well in cocktails. It allows mixologists the opportunity to experiment with different ingredients, using an American whiskey as a base and create innovative recipes of their own. The emergence of speakeasy bars and craft cocktail bars specialising in whiskey cocktails have further fuelled this trend.
American Whiskey is Different from Scotch
American whiskey enjoys a rich heritage and has its own laws governing its production. While there are quite a few differences in how Scotch and American whiskies are made, there are two important points that stand out. American whiskey, by law, has to be matured in brand new white oak barrels. The barrels are a key ingredient for the whiskey since 100% of the colour and almost 70% of the flavour of a whiskey comes from the barrel.
Scotch whisky, on the other hand, allows use of reused barrels and a lot of the Jack Daniel’s barrels actually end up in Scotland for reuse. This is also one of the reasons why, unlike Scotch whisky laws, American whiskey regulations do not allow any colour to be added to the product as the new barrels provide the necessary colour to the whiskey. The second key difference is the grain bill. American whiskey uses corn or rye as their key grain while Scotch whisky uses malted barley.
American Whiskey With its Own Nuances
Another popular misconception amongst consumers is that all American Whiskey is Bourbon whiskey. American whiskey has its own nuances and one of the most popular names, Jack Daniel’s is in fact not a bourbon whiskey. Jack Daniel’s follows all the rules of bourbon whiskey, but then goes through the additional process of charcoal mellowing, in which every drop of the whiskey is passed through 10 feet of hard sugar maple charcoal. The process of charcoal mellowing is called the Lincoln County Process and this additional “blessing” makes Jack Daniel’s a Tennessee whiskey and not a Bourbon whiskey.
Spreading Awareness in India
As an industry, we want to educate consumers on the distinctive qualities and such stories of American whiskey. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) has been undertaking a number of initiatives and outreach programs to further spread awareness around American whiskies in India. The Council recently appointed Yangdup Lama as the American Whiskey Ambassador in India who will be hosting a series of education and tasting sessions across India. Initiatives such as these help spread the message to consumers and make them aware of the rich heritage of American whiskey.
The increasing cocktail culture, premiumization of the retail environment and the lifestyle of consumers in India hold great promise to the future for the American whiskey category in India.