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Toast to better days

Will the state government?s move to promote the brewing of grain-based whisky boost its export prospects? Connoisseurs believe so, writes Piyush Roy .

india Updated: Mar 16, 2006 13:54 IST
Piyush Roy

Whisky lovers have a reason to smile. The desi makes might just get qualitatively better with the Maharashtra state excise department’s drafting of a policy to promote the manufacture of whisky from jowar (great millet), apart from the existing brew made from molasses. Sommelier Magandeep Singh sees benefits ahead for the Indian liquor industry.

“Indian molasses whisky is considered rum abroad. Grain-based whisky, however, will enable us to market our products with the whisky tag and increase the exports,” he says.

For merdiplomat and drinks columnist Bhaichand Patel agrees, “The Indian whisky made from molasses is no whisky at all. Molasses is just a byproduct in the process of making sugar. Genuine whisky is made from grains and barley, which is fermented, distilled and aged for four years or more in barrels that have been previously used for making sherry. The colour of whisky comes through ageing in these barrels.

“None of this, however, happens with the existing Indian makes. Here, the colours and flavours of whisky are artificial and added to alcohol derived from grains or molasses. No wonder, this ‘whisky’ is banned in many countries, including the European Union, since it is misleading to label it as whisky.”

Then there is the question of quality: analysts opine we are still a quantity-driven nation. The proposed policy, while encouraging a lot of liquor manufacturers to enter the fray, is no guarantee of global acceptance unless local manufacturers concentrate on improving the quality of the brewing process.

“To make it to the top grade, we need to have governing authorities in strict control of the production process. In India, the final alcoholic content of a beverage is considered important (around 42 per cent for whisky), but each step of the production is not always clearly regulated. Abroad, the alcoholic content remaining flexible, governing bodies look into every aspect of production,” says Singh.

What is encouraging for potential manufacturers is that whisky drinkers have a high level of brand loyalty. “For instance, consumers of Johny Walker’s Black Label, in spite of discounts on higher labels, rarely upgrade or downgrade,” says Singh.

“Like the Indian wine, which has been carving a niche for itself in the recent past, the Indian whisky, too, is moving in the right direction,” observes Patel. “Though we have yet to reach the standards of Australian and French wine, some of Grovers’ wine labels, for instance, are much better than many French table wines available today.”

And then there is the price — Indian whisky still enjoys an edge because of its attractive budget pricing, much lower than international brands.

First Published: Mar 16, 2006 13:54 IST