Beverage: Glenfiddich has created what we know today as the single malt category, states Ian Millar, the brand’s global ambassador on a visit to India.

Some years ago, on a flight from Singapore, midair, the airliner announced a ‘deal’ on Red label Johnnie Walker scotch whiskey. Being packed with Indian travellers — by then a few free whiskeys down and munching on nuts, there went up a distinct swarm of whirrs and murmurs in response. And when I got out of the aircraft, I couldn’t avoid noticing many a hand clutching on dearly to bottles of the brand.

In the tree of Johnnie Walker scotch whiskey gradations, the Red Label is at the lowest, and therefore, the cheapest. And yet, a world-class brand-starved Indian drinker, for a long time, was seen clutching on to whatever they could lay their hands on. Happily glugging on something not worthwhile in the name of enjoying an international brand.

Thankfully, the skies have opened up now and good options have rained on us. The exclusive Blue Label Johnnie Walker is not out of reach any more.

But this change of times has certainly moved some more things. Today, Scotch whiskey, the two oft-heard words till a while ago, have shifted to give space to two other words — single malt. So much so that it is no more a novelty to see single malt brand names flying out of conversations, say in parties and drawing rooms, not predictably among men alone but between women drinkers too. I am sure you have also noticed that the choice for single malt whiskey also spews out a clear class divide among the drinking lot in India. “So what’s your poison?” “Single Malt”, said with a degree of swagger, is supposed to reveal to the questioner that, “You know, I know my whiskey”.

Trying to make sense of this fledgling market — seemingly as much driven by the silkiness of a single malt on the tongue as by the eagerness to be seen holding something international, a slew of brands and their ambassadors are touching the Indian shores for a while now. And that is how Ian Millar, global ambassador for the coveted single malt Glenfiddich finds himself in New Delhi. All the way from Dufftown, Scotland.

The brand now holds 29 per cent market share in India and Millar is revelling in the fact that their brand is the market leader on single malt in the country. “We aim to work hard to stay there, we see India as a very important market,” he says in an interview. Though compared to Taiwan, the Indian market is miniscule. Giving figures, he adds, “Taiwan is the biggest single market in Asia with approximately 7 per cent of all Glenfiddich sold there.”

An important feature, Millar highlights, that differentiates Glenfiddich from other single malts is because it is still owned by a Scottish family and therefore still an independent company. “In fact, we are the only Scottish owned malt whisky in the world’s top ten bestselling single malt whiskies.” Glenfiddich is owned by William Grant and Sons. The first distillery was put in place by William Grant in 1886 in Dufftown.

Yet another factor that adds weight to the name is that it is “the world’s most awarded single malt whiskey, given by the International Wines and Spirits Competition, the International Spirits Challenge.” Millar considers these awards important “as master distillers and blenders sniff and taste the whiskies blind before recommending that particular expression for an award.”

In terms of what makes Glenfiddich different from its competitors, the global ambassador is quick to note, “I would begin by stating that it was Glenfiddich that created what we know today as the single malt category, this due to a decision taken by the Grant Family to commence the marketing and export of Glenfiddich malt whiskey in 1963. Since then, Glenfiddich has always been in number one position globally.”

Glenfiddich has two malt whiskey expressions in the top ten bestselling single malt expressions, the 12 and 15-year-old. Millar says his favourite is the 15YO.

In India, besides these two expressions, it has made available the 14YO, 18YO, 21YO, 30YO, 40YO and the 50YO. Rajiv Bhatia, India director of the brand, says, “The range is complemented with a limited release of high-aged vintages selected by our master distiller.” Because it “sees an increasing interest across all variants of Glenfiddich in India.”

Recognising the fact that fine wine is another fast growing beverage in India, the brand is reaching out to single malt clubs across the country, ‘women only’ gourmet clubs and also working with chefs to develop signature menus. “Every year, Glenfiddich conducts city trails by working with hotels to develop special menus paired with our core range, 12YO to 21YO, and offer it to connoisseurs for a week,” fills in its brand manager Cherryn Dogra. It is these city trails that have been bringing Millar to India every year at least once as “building value ahead of volume” is the company’s aim here.

Both Millar and Bhatia are excited about the number of billionaires — world’s 6th largest– that India has today who can be its potential customers. But high import duties levied on international brands, which affects retail pricing, is still a core issue. Bhatia adds, “Through the efforts of the Scotch Whisky Association, International Spirits and Wines Association of India and Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage along with other agencies in the E.U. and U.S. continuing to work with the Indian authorities to seek a reduction in the high import duties, this is work in progress.”

Well, I can only send up a prayer on behalf of all those eager buyers of cheap Scotch whiskies on that flight years ago.

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