The fascinating history behind India's love for scotch whisky

When you travel through Scotland and take in its stunning history and culture, you realise that the country deserves all the credit for bringing Scotch to the world.
The fascinating history behind India's love for scotch whisky
The fascinating history behind India's love for scotch whisky
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In 2019, India consumed the second largest volume of scotch whisky in the world, a whopping 131 million 700ml bottles. While this is understandable considering India’s huge population, it’s still quite the statistic.

How could this be?

It’s because India loves its scotch whisky, and has a longstanding relationship with it.

A window of opportunity

During the late 19th century, Europe was devastated by a parasite known as Phylloxera vastatrix. The parasite shocked vineyards, spoiling there produce and thus leading to an unprecedented drop in wine production.

Cognac, a spirit created by distilling wine and aged in a similar way to Scotch whisky, took a hit because of the plague, too. It was a mainstay in the homes of the bourgeoisie, where heading to the drawing room for a cigar and a nightcap was a ritual. The aristocracy began to panic. What would they drink after dinner now?

At the time, the Scots were drinking something called ‘Single Malt’ - a drink that was known to warm you up and also get you quite raucously toasted. In Scottish Gaelic, it was called “uisge-beatha” meant “the water of life.”

The first written reference to Scotch whisky dates back to 1494, a letter written by friar John Corr. Scots had been drinking it and honing the art of making it ever since. Scotch was known for its extreme smoothness and the fact that it had to be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of three years. 

And so the English made the tentative shift to scotch, and it took them by storm. Scotch was also easier to produce, since it was made from only grain, water and yeast. The industry boomed, with the first distillery license being obtained by The Glenlivet in 1824. Thus, The Glenlivet is regarded as “The” Single malt, the single malt that started it all.

As the world of Scotch whisky developed, blended whisky became a more popular whisky of choice, particularly at the turn of the 20th century. One blended whisky that sought to establish itself was Chivas Regal. Inspired by the Chivas brothers James and John Chivas, pioneers of the art of whisky blending, Chivas burst onto the scene with Chivas 25 year old, released in 1909; the world’s first luxury whisky.

Canny entrepreneurs from across Scotland were keen to join the booming industry. George Ballantine was no different, establishing himself in 1827 as a grocer and going on to create the famous whisky of the same name.

And then Scotch came to India

By the late 19th century, the British had colonised India and were ready to introduce it to their favourite dram.

But they came up against an obstacle. Local Indians were used to their own local drinks, and pushed against the new product in town. The British Raj established a commission to study scotch whisky in an attempt to prove to India that it was worth drinking.

The commission, on completion of their studies, found out that scotch was harmless of outstanding quality, making it a perfect drink for social occasions. Scotch whisky entered India then, and has become a sign of taste and culture ever since. It became the drink that Indians brought in for social gatherings or used to toast during a particularly special celebration.

Spirit of Scotland, a 5-part exploration series focusing on the lesser known facets of Scotland is now up on YouTube and currently live on Times Now (7:00 to 7:30 PM, Saturdays) and ET Now Times Now (7:30 – 8:00 PM, Saturdays)

At first only enjoyed by the British Raj and the Indian elite, scotch carried with it a sense of royalty. One that brings to mind the fairytale landscape of Scotland - with its castles and soaring landscapes. As scotch made its way to being a drink that was accessible to more of India’s people, it held on to its aura of exclusivity. It’s no wonder that India, with its own rich and regal history, took to a drink that echoed the same facets.

Scotch took on a special role in Indian cuisine - the pre-dinner dram and the post-dinner digestif. It was found to be both warming and invigorating, a welcome effect for Indians who had just eaten a heavy, spicy meal.

To see how scotch whisky was first made and to imbibe the lavish beauty of its birthplace, watch Spirit of Scotland - anchored by Kunal Kapoor.

Through the five-episode series, Kapoor explores the castles and distilleries of Scotland, including Strathisla distillery, the home of Chivas Regal and the Old Distillery at Glenlivet, where This remarkable single malt was made when the distillery was founded in 1824. He tries Scotland’s signature food and Often stops to enjoy a dram of Scotland’s greatest gift to the world. Rubbing shoulders with some of the leading figures in the industry, such as Ballantine’s master blender – Sandy Hyslop.

The more you learn about Scotland and the origin of scotch whisky, especially the commitment to creating incredibe flavour and using only natural, pure ingredients, the more sense it makes that India drinks so much of it.

You can watch Spirit of Scotland, a 5-part exploration series focusing on the lesser known facets of Scotland, right here on this channel. Here is Episode 1 to kick it off!

This article was produced by TNM Brand Studio in association with Wavemaker Films, and not by TNM Editorial. 

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