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Have you tasted this Indian whiskey?

September 01, 2017 11:16 IST

The Eclipse, with its vanilla and fruity palette, is easy to drink on the rocks, says Ritika Kochhar.

Whiskey

IMAGE: In 2014, Indians consumed 1.5 million litres of whisky -- over three times the amount of whisky consumed by the United States. Photograph: David Moir/Reuters

There's nothing as important as whisky for an average Indian.

Why else would Sula, the maker of India's best known wines, turn its hand to creating a whisky?

From a business point of view, it makes perfect sense.

India is the largest whisky consumer in the Asia-Pacific region and, according to a global research undertaken this year, one of the fastest growing markets in the world.

A study by Bank of America Merrill Lynch found that,in 2014, Indians consumed 1.5 million litres of whisky -- over three times the amount of whisky consumed by the United States, which consumed only 492 million litres.

 

In contrast, the wine market in India grew by 20 per cent in 2015 leading to a 'record' production of 18 million litres of wine in 2016.

Only 2 million litres of wine are now being exported from India -- mostly to countries like Malaysia, the UAE, Bhutan, Germany, the United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and New Zealand.

This is mostly due to the fact that, unlike the West, wine has not become the drink of choice for Indians.

While Sula is the most recognised name in Indian wines, much of India's wines suit the sweeter Indian palate.

And most wine drinkers will prefer to drink a wine with a foreign label over an Indian wine, regardless of whether it has been mouldering on a dock somewhere till it has lost all flavour.

Fifty per cent of consumers in India buy wine by the glass, and even women drinkers -- traditionally the largest segment of wine drinkers in India -- are moving to more calorie conscious choices like spritzers, vodka and whiskey.

This is evidenced by the number of women's whiskey clubs and whiskey-based events being held.

Eclipse whiskey

IMAGE: Eclipse also seems well-suited to cocktails. Photograph: Kind courtesy urbanescapades/Twitter

Eclipse, Sula's latest launch after a brandy called Janus, is a blended whiskey made up of 62 per cent grain spirit, 10 per cent malt Scotch, 20 per cent grape spirit and 8 per cent peated malt spirit.

The scotch has been matured for more than three years and gives the whiskey its vanilla undertones.

The natural malt that is four-and-a-half years old, obtained from Loch Lomond Single Malt Distilleries, adds the classic smokiness of the Highlands, while the grape spirit adds a fruity zest of peach, apricot, plum and, yes, grapes.

Master Blender Yogesh Mathur, who is also the vice-president of manufacturing at Artisan Spirits, a subsidiary of Sula Vineyards, says the winery turned to creating the whiskey because it already had a well-established distributor base as well as existing channels of production.

He comes to blending whiskey from 30 years of experience in the liquor market.

Mathur has been in charge of bottling and, therefore, knows the taste well.

Rather than trying to fight the big players, he has chosen to create a blend that is noticeably different in taste than other Indian made foreign liquors.

So, can the Sula whiskey do what its wines have been unable to do -- break into the international market to compete with the world's best, like whiskeys from India such as Goa neighbour Paul John are increasingly doing?

The amber liquid with its vanilla and fruity palette is easy to drink on the rocks, which could make it popular among the younger crowd graduating to scotch.

It also seems well-suited to cocktails and the launch featured several cocktails, including the ones made popular by the speakeasies of the 1930s: the ever fashionable Old Fashioned, a version of Whiskey Sour with egg white and pineapple juice; and Farzi Café’s special, the three Musketeers that starred chillies and chocolate.

Whiskey cocktails are as on-trend right now and the Eclipse seems ideal for it.

The whiskey, however, is similar to bourbon in taste, despite Mathur's claims that the acetaldehyde levels are low, thanks to its 25-day marination period, but, it produces the same effects as bourbon.

So far, the three-month-old whiskey has been supplied to Goa (where it's produced), Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry and Delhi and been sampled abroad.

It's also been focused tested in Punjab.

The company intends to produce 5,000 cases in the first year.

A 750ml bottle of Eclipse blended whiskey costs Rs 1,250 in Delhi, Rs 1,500 in Maharashtra and Rs 750 in Goa.

Ritika Kochhar
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