India has become the world’s largest market for Scotch whisky by volume, surpassing France and the US, according to the latest figures from the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA). The country imported 219 million bottles of Scotch whisky in 2023, a 60 per cent increase from the previous year. This reflects the growing demand and preference for premium whiskies among Indian consumers, who are also exploring new varieties and flavours of the drink.
Scotch Whisky: A Status Symbol and a Lifestyle Choice
Scotch whisky has a long history in India, dating back to the colonial era when Britishers introduced it to the local elite. Since then, Scotch whisky has been seen as a status symbol and a lifestyle choice for many Indians, especially in urban areas. Scotch whisky is also associated with celebrations, festivals, and social gatherings, making it a popular gift item as well.
However, until the late 1990s, Scotch whisky was a scarce and expensive commodity in India, due to the high import tariffs and the ban on foreign liquor imports that lasted for several decades. This led to the emergence of domestic whisky brands, mostly made from sugarcane molasses, which dominated the market with their low prices and sweet taste. These brands still account for more than 90 per cent of the whisky sales in India, but their share is gradually declining as more Indians switch to Scotch whisky and other imported spirits.
Scotch Whisky: A Diverse and Dynamic Market
India is not only a large but also a diverse and dynamic market for Scotch whisky. The country offers a range of opportunities for different types and categories of Scotch whisky, from blended to single malt, from entry-level to super-premium. According to the SWA, India is the fifth-largest market for Scotch whisky by value, with exports worth $357 million in 2023, a 93 per cent increase from the previous year.
The SWA also notes that India is the Scotch whisky industry’s number one priority market, and a potential trade deal between the UK and India could boost the exports further by reducing the import tariffs, which are currently at 150 per cent. The SWA estimates that if the tariff were liberalised, Scotch whisky’s market share could treble to 6 per cent, giving greater access to Scotch whisky products for Indian consumers but still allowing Indian whiskies and other spirits to retain the dominant share of the market.
Scotch Whisky: A Source of Innovation and Inspiration
India is not only a consumer but also a producer of whisky, and in recent years, the country has seen the rise of several home-grown single malt brands, such as Amrut, Paul John, Rampur, Indri, and Godawan. These brands have gained recognition and appreciation from whisky connoisseurs and critics around the world, and have also inspired other Indian distillers to enter the segment.
India’s tropical climate, which accelerates the ageing process of whisky, gives Indian single malts a distinctive character and flavour. Indian single malts also use local ingredients, such as barley, peat, and water, to create unique expressions of whisky. Indian single malts now constitute 33 per cent of the local market and are growing at the rate of 42 per cent a year, as compared to 7 per cent for the imported varieties.
India is indeed a whisky nation, and Scotch whisky is a key part of its whisky culture. As the country’s economy and society evolve, so does its whisky consumption and production. Scotch whisky makers and lovers can expect more surprises and delights from this vibrant and diverse market in the future.