For whisky enthusiasts, the year ahead holds promise with limited edition launches, rise of made-in-India single malts and cocktails imbued with the amber liquid.
“From a consumer standpoint, I see happy times for availability of whiskies in India, at least in select markets,” says Hemanth Rao, co-founder of the whisky appreciation community, Single Malt Amateur Club (SMAC). His observation can be traced to a significant transformation in consumer preference during the pandemic.
The premium segment of this spirit got a boost in the pandemic as whisky drinkers veered towards nuanced flavours and sought better quality. When the lockdown closed borders about four years ago, Indian manufacturers—who clocked in significant export revenue pre-covid—had to shift their focus to rising domestic demand. Goa’s John Distilleries, for instance, unveiled the single malt Mithuna (translates to Gemini) from its Zodiac series in 2020. The following year, Piccadilly Distilleries, headquartered in Gurugram, introduced the award-winning triple distilled single malt Indri Trini.
Global alcohol makers were not far behind. Diageo launched the small batch artisanal whisky Godawan from its distillery in Rajasthan in 2022. This trend of Indian distilleries and global behemoths creating exclusive bottles for India will continue and get bigger, predicts Rao.
From terroir-driven imprints to the growing popularity of Japanese drams, here are some trends that will define 2024.
In the world of booze, terroir is a distinctive marker. While wines and gins have capitalised on the terroir story, whisky has trailed somewhat behind. It is bound to change this year as more whiskies enter the market and Indian distillers compete to make their brands stand apart.
US-based whisky producer Varchasvi Shankar, who runs Shankar Distillers in Michigan, believes in enhancing the focus on the craft of whisky-making, and the story behind it. In November, Shankar Distillers launched three American style whiskies in India: Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Straight Rye Whisky and the blended Detroit Reserve. The blended whisky recognises the music and automobile history of Detroit in the US. A story of origin is attractive for enthusiasts, because it helps them trace where their drinks come from.
Apart from terroir, certain small batch whiskies have adopted a craft approach with botanicals—much like gin. Godawan, for instance, is infused with two botanicals, Rasna (Pluchea lanceolata) and Jatamansi (Nardostachys jatamansi) for a local imprint.
The fascination and curiosity for Japanese drams will continue this year. Whisky giant Beam Suntory dominates this space with labels like Yamazaki, Hibiki and the made-for-India blended bottle Oaksmith.
A key reason for their popularity is, they are made for tropical temperatures. Bottles such as Chita and Tenjaku are designed for an easy sipping experience and suit leisurely afternoon drinking.
“As Indians have embraced Japanese whiskies, I see more of them entering our country this year,” predicts mixologist Jones Elish, beverage manager, Social. He adds that the demand is driven by prudent marketing strategy that emphasises storytelling coupled with finesse in tasting notes.
Flavour-forward whisky-based drinks are a friendly entry point for new drinkers. Brands know this, and to reach a larger audience, they create sparkling cocktails. The whisky highball is a fine example of how Japanese drams were popularised by brands. Take the case of the Toki Highball. To drive demand the brand introduced highball dispensers in US bars in 2016, and this low abv cocktail style continues to remain trendy.
A new and upcoming cocktail trend puts a spin on classic cocktails like Old Fashioned, Whisky Sour and Penicillin. At the two-week old restaurant Bawri in Mumbai, there’s a cocktail named Our Tenga, a twist on the Penicillin. A classic recipe for Penicillin has scotch, ginger, honey syrup and lemon juice. Bawri’s creative take mixes peated whisky, and lemon juice is replaced with elephant apple puree.
To maintain uniformity, technology has entered the scene. A SMAC report about the future of whisky production states, “While currently in its nascent stages in India, there’s a growing emphasis on data-driven processes and automation. Techniques like employing spectrometers (that use lasers) to analyse whisky flavours and aromas are being explored to ensure consistency and quality.”
There is a growing preference for rare finds, like collector’s editions. Rao says, “In 2024, there are a few special launches that are likely to come out from the stables of Amrut (in Karnataka). They will complete 75 years, and would want to bring out something unique to commemorate a milestone anniversary. The third edition from Paul John—after Kanya and Mithuna—is very shortly awaited.”