Eat Indian, drink Indian

  • Agence France-Presse, PTI, Bangalore
  • |
  • Updated: May 15, 2004 21:23 IST

Scots have a taste for Indian food, so a young entrepreneur here hopes they will be receptive to washing it down with an Indian blend of their favourite drink, whisky.

During blind tests in Scotland, most drinkers gave his family business's new single-malt whisky a thumbs up not knowing it came from barley grown in Punjab and Rajasthan in northern India, Rakshit Jagdale said.

"They told me it tasted like a 10-year-old matured whisky and close to Speyside which was very encouraging," Jagdale said. "Some said it was similar to Glenfarclas as it had a fruity flavour."

Jagdale, at 25-years-old a third-generation businessman, will launch the whisky called Amrut -- which refers to the nectar drunk by Hindu gods -- in August in Glasgow, which he noted was called the curry capital of Britain.

"There are more than 20,000 Indian restaurants in Britain and 70 per   cent of them have a licence to sell alcohol. This is an exciting market and there is a niche to be exploited," Jagdale told AFP.

But he knows he is up for a challenge selling the first Indian whisky to Scots.

"We are competing against an industry which is 400 years old. But Indian malt has its own character and is different. If India can buy a lot of Scotch and consume them then we too can sell Indian spirits worldwide," he said.

Jagdale first went around with samples of the whisky made at his family's plant when he was a management student in Britain.

He even wrote a paper for class that showed an Indian whisky could work in Britain in a bid to persuade his parents back in Bangalore to export it.

Two years after completing his studies, Jagdale took over as executive director of Amrut Distilleries, founded in 1948.

Western countries have been pressing India to liberalise its trade laws amid an outcry about business outsourcing to skilled Indian workers, largely in Bangalore.

Britain has been urging India for fair market access for Scotch whisky, which draws import tariffs of up to 592 percent.

But Amrut has won clearance for the British market and will launch the drink in Glasgow, with a target audience of Indian restaurants, with 2,400 cases or 30,000 bottles.

At first the premium whisky will not be sold in India, where his family's company has five percent of the liquor market.

After the launch, the company will export 12,000 cases of Amrut, mostly to Britain, other European countries and the United States. Each bottle of Amrut is priced at 20 pounds, or just under 37 dollars.

"It has to command a price it deserves," Jagdale said, adding his firm had invested 150 million rupees (3.4 million dollars) to produce the whisky.

He said Scottish firm Tatlock and Thomson assisted his company to develop the malt to quality.

The whisky is matured in American oak barrels at the firm's plant in Bangalore, situated 915 meters (3,000 feet) above sea level, with the water drawn from a plant 25 kilometeres (15 miles) away.

"The main hurdle was the European Union regulations. The bottle is sourced from abroad and so is the packaging. The EU rules require four years of maturation," he said.

"But in our heat the evaporation loss is about 12 percent while in Europe it is about three percent. So one has to immediately stop at four years to retain taste and flavour," he said.

Amrut Distilleries, whose products include brandy, rum, vodka and gin, has the capacity to produce 2.5 million cases every year at plants in Bangalore and the southern Indian state of Kerala.

The Jagdale Group, of which Amrut Distilleries is a subsidiary, has interests ranging from drugs to exported roses and last year registered a turnover of 1.5 billion rupees (34.5 million dollars).


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