The Great Indian Scotch Whiskey Adventure

My Dad told me this story of the great Indian Scotch whiskey adventure. I can’t check the sources with my Dad anymore because he is not alive but he sounded sincere and truthful when he told me the tale. Here it goes.

Scotch whiskey is big in India. The British taught Indians to drink Scotch whiskey and it is a very big business in India. It is said that the best gift you can take to an Indian executive is a bottle of fine Scotch whiskey. At the time of the story (a couple of decades back) Scotch whiskey was imported into India and there were stiff tariffs making it quite expensive. However, there was no Indian manufacturer of whiskey that tasted as good as Scotch whiskey or even came close to the taste of Scotch whiskey. In this backdrop, a group of enterprising Indian businessmen got together to make the first version of Indian Scotch whiskey that would compare well with the whiskey made in Scotland. My Dad tells me that their logic went like this:

  • What does Scotland have that India does not? They have highlands so do we; they have lowlands so do we!
  • We have similar weather such as Scotland in several parts of India.
  • We have trees identical to those in Scotland from which we can make barrels to make age fine Scotch whiskey.
  • Grains, hops, sheesh! Easier said than done. We can match them with identical batches made from a fertile region in India.

So off to work they went with dreams of producing Scotch whiskey using Indian labor and products and someday taking the Scottish in their own game and make an Indian best-selling version. After 4-5 years they were ready with the product. As is the norm in the industry, they conducted a blind test with some of the top whiskey experts in the world who were flown into Bombay (now Mumbai), India.

The experts sat around the table in full view of a few elite press reporters. On the table wrapped in paper were some of the finest Scotch whiskeys in the world along with a few mediocre ones and hidden among them was the Indian product. The experts praised the finest Scotch whiskey with lavish prose. The mediocre ones they said they would drink as a last resort. When the Indian product was tasted the experts were unanimous in their judgment. One of the experts even spit every last drop from his mouth into a bowl as he exclaimed “God help me! What kind of horse piss is this?”

Disappointed the Indian entrepreneurs convened an emergency meeting. After examining different aspects of Scotch whiskey making process they found what they thought was the problem. It was those damn barrels that the Scotch whiskey was aged in that was the source of the problem! They decided to import barrels from Scotland and use them to age the Indian whiskey. They figured that they should be able to overcome the quality problem. Another few years passed because that is how long it takes to make Scotch whiskey and minimally age them. They had the taste test again and flew in the same experts. If they were expecting a different result they were disappointed. “Goddamn it!” exclaimed one expert. “Whoever produced this monstrosity should be hung! Even Canadians can make better whiskey than this!”

Deeply disappointed the Indian entrepreneurs held yet another crisis meeting. They concluded that they needed to import the grains and hops as well to fix the quality problem. Now the only Indian element in the whiskey would be that it was made in India. The Indian entrepreneurs didn’t mind. They now desperately wanted success given their huge investment.

A few years passed and there was yet another taste test held in Bombay. If they were expecting a different result they did not get it. They even flew in a different set of world class experts but the judgment was unanimous. “Even if this was the last whiskey in the world I would not touch it!” declared one expert.

The entrepreneurs looked at each other and they knew there was only one answer to their problem. Get the Scotch whiskey made in Scotland and bring them in barrels in large ships to India where the bottling would take place. There was the final taste test and the entrepreneurs knew that the fate of their enterprise hung in balance. They watched with great anxiety as the experts tasted the Indian Scotch whiskey. They were thrilled and broke into a big applause when they heard the following remarks form the experts.

“I say, this is really bad shit but I guess I can drink it somehow if nothing else is around!” said the first expert.

“Most definitely better that that shit they make and bottle in Canada!” said the second expert.

“Definitely would drink this as opposed to getting high on paint fumes or varnish!” said the third expert.

And that is how (my Dad told me) that the Indian Scotch whiskey was born.

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