Where the love for whisky co-exists with a Gandhian mistrust of all things alcoholic
In June 1495, the first known written reference to a batch of scotch whisky was made in the Exchequer Rolls, which were the records of royal income and expenditure in Scotland at that time. The entry shows that eight bolls (an archaic unit of measure) of malt had been given to a Friar – Brother John Cor, a monk based at Lindores Abbey in Fife in Scotland, who was quite possibly an apothecary – to make ‘aqua vitae’ (the Latin word for distilled alcohol meaning ‘water of life’) by Scotland’s King James IV. The fact that this much malt would have been enough to make about 1,500 bottles of whisky suggests that distillation of whisky was well-established in Scotland by the end of the 15th century (and perhaps that King James IV was quite fond of his tipple). In the (at least) five centuries of its existence, whisky – scotch or otherwise – has found a dedicated following in the world — and a major chunk of that following now resides in India.
Looking at bare consumption figures establishes India as the largest whisky drinking nation in the world, putting the lie to the belief that we are a largely teetotalling nation. In 2014, Indians consumed 1.5 billion litres of whisky, leading by a mile the world’s whisky consumption charts. Second to India was the United States which only consumed 462 million litres, less than a third of India’s figures. In 2016, whisky took the lion’s share of India’s total spirits market by accounting for 61.2% of it. And if the trends are any indication, India’s love of whisky is only growing (at a pace of 3.8% per year between 2011 and 2016). French distiller Pernod Ricard has reported 24% growth in India in the last quarter of 2018; while its British rival Diageo reported 12% in the same period. This just goes on to show that Indians are becoming more and more interested in high-end spirits.
In spite of the fact that there are four states and one union territory in India that have imposed complete alcohol prohibition – Bihar, Gujarat, Mizoram, Nagaland, and the Union Territory of Lakshadweep – India’s overall alcohol consumption continues to remain high. As a culture that is often suspicious of alcohol drinking (with good reason – instances of violence against women have shown a downward trend in states that banned alcohol), alcohol consumption figures, especially for whisky, are surprising. But like most other cultural markers, India is a State of contradiction. Where the love for whisky co-exists with a Gandhian mistrust of all things alcoholic.