OPINION: Indian whiskies and the unspoken risks

As Indian whiskies find themselves in the glare of the spotlight: captivating discussions, and sparking enthusiasm, it’s crucial to pause amidst the fervour and shed light on the obscured risks that lie beneath the surface. While the spotlight illuminates the successes, it often casts shadows on the challenges that demand our attention.

One such challenge is the availability of authentic expertise in the intricate domains of distillation, maturing, and blending. In India’s whisky landscape, the scarcity of seasoned professionals often leads to the unfortunate trend of entrusting crucial roles to amateurs: a result of inadequate resources and training opportunities. This practice jeopardises the artistry and quality that discerning enthusiasts seek in their whisky experiences.

The recurring phenomenon of luring foreign experts, particularly from Scotland or Ireland, to establish manufacturing plants in India hasn’t consistently delivered the anticipated outcomes. The complexities spanning cultural adaptation, climatic variations, and work environment disparities pose formidable obstacles. Lessons drawn from the beer industry’s evolution highlight the impracticality of mirroring such methods in whisky production. Adding to the intricacies is the rush of manufacturers leaping into single malt whisky production, drawn by others’ triumphs without meticulous groundwork. Often overlooked are critical aspects such as material accessibility, costs, extended gestation periods, and multifaceted factors crucial to assessing Return on Investment (ROI). The allure of emulation blinds many to the nuanced realities that define sustainable success in this realm.

Equally misleading is the reliance on market statistics showcasing India as the largest importer and consumer of Scotch whisky. However, the variance in product segments and price points within the market renders this statistic insufficient to gauge the true demand accurately. The diversity in preferences and consumer behaviour warrants a deeper understanding beyond superficial statistics.

Amidst the growing prominence of Indian whiskies, there’s a poignant risk concealed in the absence of a robust governing body tasked with safeguarding and defining the essence of Indian-made whisky. Present regulations predominantly revolve around food safety or revenue, devoid of a comprehensive qualitative standpoint. This gaping void poses a substantial threat to the identity and standardisation of Indian whiskies. The absence of stringent qualitative benchmarks exposes the industry to a potential dilution of quality, compromising the essence that aficionados seek. Unlike their Scottish counterparts, whose identity and excellence are fortified by stringent regulations, Indian whisky operates within a framework that prioritises fiscal and safety concerns over the nuanced aspects of quality and authenticity.

Without a dedicated governing body overseeing and safeguarding the integrity of Indian whisky, the risk of misleading practices and deviations from established benchmarks looms large. The absence of defined standards and guidelines exposes the industry to unregulated variations, casting a shadow on the credibility and consistency of Indian whisky on the global stage.

The trajectory of Indian whiskies toward global acclaim necessitates not only entrepreneurial zeal and technological advancements but also a steadfast commitment to qualitative excellence. It is through the collaborative efforts of industry stakeholders, regulatory bodies, and passionate enthusiasts that the true potential of Indian whiskies can be realised.

Hemanth Rao is the founder of Single Malt Amateur Club. The views expressed are personal