Column : Whiskey, not whisky

Written by Reghu Balakrishnan | Updated: Jan 31 2009, 05:32am hrs
Of course pubs routinely spring surprises on you, but sometimes these are of the instructive sort. This was the kind of experience I had during a recent visit to a pub in the western suburbs of Mumbai, thanks to an encounter with a sophisticated bartender. First, he strongly suggested that I try Jameson or Bushmills, the Irish masterpieces. Next, he brought me up-to-date with how the demand for these Irish brands has been increasing nowadays. I crosschecked his insights with the International Wine and Spirit Record data, finding myself surprised at the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of Irish Whiskeys (spelt with an e) in India. It was 133%, while Scotch whisky showed just a 9% CAGR. Irish brands sold about 3,500 cases last year, up from a mere 1,500 cases in 2005.

There is a history behind the e in Irish Whiskeys. Two centuries ago, the poor reputation of Scotch whisky forced the Irish and American distilleries to adopt the spelling whiskey, to distinguish their higher product quality. Today, the brands distilled in Scotland, Wales, Canada and Japan go by the sobriquet whisky, while whiskey is what we call the spirits distilled in Ireland and America.

Historically, Indian liquor manufacturers have a love-hate relationship with their foreign counterparts. Foreigners have never recognised Indian-made whisky or brandy, arguing that it doesnt rise up to their standards. This has led to a peculiar situation, wherein Indian manufacturers call themselves Indian made foreign liquor makers. Just acquiring a high-end historical single malt brand and turning it into a low-cost blended brand will not suffice for Indian manufacturers to get the coveted, extra e. This will only result in the invasion of more Irish and Canadian brands.

Wikipedia currently defines Indian whisky as an alcoholic beverag e that is labelled as whiskey in India, which is distilled from fermented molasses, and as such would be considered a sort of rum outside of the Indian subcontinent. An unflattering decription for sure, but it is unlikely that we will see this condescension subside any time soon.

reghu.balakrishnan@expressindia.com