2017: The year in review

Old-fashioned retrospection: the year gone by for whisky

Looking back at the volatile year that 2017 was for the spirits industry, particularly whisky

The year 2017 has been dynamic for the spirits industry in India. From regulations to customer trends; from old brands taking pole positions, to new brand launches, a lot has happened in this year.

India started the year with feeling the impact of demonetisation, which had taken place in November 2016. With currency notes being short in circulation, sales were affected across popular brands and segments. Cash sales of spirits fell significantly, with retailers witnessing a drop of even 30% to 40%. This led to a consequent decrease in marketing by leading brands. Large industry events saw modest turnouts and low sponsorship funds. Even though these were great opportunities for networking, most industry platforms were also shifted.

Close on the heels of demonetisation followed the ‘highway ban’ in April 2017, that caused major shrinkage in the market. After the ban on alcohol sales near highways, the market shrank by 5% to 20%. About 30,000 shops shut and large liquor companies had to choose channel de-stocking, as there wasn’t clarity on the way forward.

Sales were impacted in key states like Haryana, where a monopoly distribution was adopted by the State Government, leading to the elimination of a lot of small players who could not afford the high entry fee.

The good news

It was not a year only for challenges, though, and some heartening data did emerge. India now boasts of four out of the top five fastest-growing spirit brands in the world: Imperial Blue, Officer’s Choice, Royal Stag and McDowell’s. Whisky remains the favourite amongst all other spirits in India, and there’s no challenger in sight. Other major categories of spirits and their variants haven’t been able to shake whisky’s dominance in the market.

Old-fashioned retrospection: the year gone by for whisky
 

Pernod Ricard India is also taking its Indian whiskies, like Royal Stag, Blenders Pride and Imperial Blue to global markets.

In addition, the American whisky category has been seeing a renaissance worldwide, and India has been no different. As per industry estimates, it is the second biggest imported whisky category after scotch in India, and has been growing with a CAGR of more than 11% in the last few years. Consumers are increasingly choosing American whisky for the taste, quality and values that resonate with the category.

Besides raising the ‘bar of the bar’ with wider menus and better service, whisky and food pairing is also a regular feature on most menus now. Guests are looking forward to being guided, and make an effort to understand the pairing.

According to Vikramjit Roy, a leading chef who runs Asian restaurant POH, “Whisky offers a great pairing with Indian cuisine, though we also have some great menus with Asian and Japanese cuisine. Regular guests are guided on the selection of whisky and its pairings with our menu.”

Japanese whiskies still remain elusive however — with Indian consumers buying them only at duty-free — but they are steadily gaining a foothold. Radico Khaitan, a major Indian liquor producer, started the trend in 2011 by launching Suntory’s premium whiskies in the metros. Though this association lasted only three years, hotels and customers are constantly seeking Japanese whiskies. Cask Spirit Marketing, a leading firm, will be importing Kirin Fuji Sanroku in 2018.

Old-fashioned retrospection: the year gone by for whisky
 

Women have emerged as an audience on their own. According to Kamal Mohandas, a fashion designer, “Whisky is so much more easier and elegant to enjoy. Thanks to a much wider choice, in bars across India, our girls nights out are spent appreciating different flavours of whisky. I see a lot of them enjoying premium blends and Irish whiskies.”

People are keen on learning about whisky making and the correct ways of enjoying it to the hilt. Whisky-centric bars such as Whisky Samba in Gurugram and Kode in Mumbai are playing a key role in providing whiskies with varied experiences.

Year 2017 did not start well, but is ending very well, with whisky on a great high and still top of the charts for discerning lovers.

Sandeep Arora is a whisky expert and director of Spiritual Luxury Living

Spirited resurgence

For a country so taken with Scotch, gin was the new flavour of the season this past year. Earlier thought to be a favourite with the ladies, the drink was usually sipped on a Sunday afternoon by women in printed silks and pearls. But 2017 saw the millennials hijack the gimlet, pink gin and hanky panky from almost a century ago.

The past year also saw a host of bars and restaurants introduce the drink in a new way. From London Taxi in Mumbai that has a special section dedicated to gin, to The Electric Room at The Lodhi which did a gin night (the team served over 800 gin-based cocktails over a few hours), the spirit was in the spotlight.

From a London Dry to Old Tom, gin has been seen in several avatars over the years. What makes it click, however, is probably the fact that the drink has its own character, unlike vodka, which is a neutral spirit. And infusions is the new buzz word when it comes to gin. From orange, cumin, coriander, vanilla, fruity-floral, citrus to herb, there’s no limit to how gin can be raised from being just another ‘white’ drink. It’s what contemporary gin bars across the world did in 2017. And mixologists had a field day working with the gin’s flavour profile to base their cocktails on. Think Bombay Sapphire (lemon-ey notes), Tanqueray (spicy elements) and Hendrick’s cucumber profile.

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Printable version | Jun 3, 2020 2:24:13 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/the-year-gone-by-for-whisky/article22294143.ece

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