Few would see India as a popular destination for high-class whisky, save for top shots like Amrut, John Paul etc. Still, if you count its value by the number of cases whisky is sold, the country arrives at the top in all pomp and parade. Just think, of the largest selling whiskies in the world, 13 are from India.
It was in the early part of the 19th century that the British had introduced the amber liquid to their largest colony in Asia. A distillery was set up in Kasauli which was later shifted to Solan in Shimla. But in a country where people were reeling under poverty and starvation, grains for the production of whisky was too much to ask for. Add to that the moral stigma the society attaches to drinking.
Despite all that whisky has become the most popular alcoholic beverage in India. Just imagine, Officer's Choice, a budget choice for Indian whisky lovers had been the world's leading producer until last year. So what trounced it to the second position? No need to worry. Yet another Indian brand—Mc Dowell's No 1 Whisky owned by the spirits giant, United Spirits! Here are the top Indian brands leading the world by the sheer number of cases they sell.
1. McDowell's No 1 Whisky
The first mention of the brand goes back to a time as early as 1898 when Scottish distiller Angus McDowell extended the operations of his McDowell & Company, established in Scotland to India. Once taken over by Vittal Mallya's United Spirits in 1951, the distillery in 1968 brought out to the market, its product, famed product, McDowell's No. 1 Whisky. In 1968. The blend of imported scotch with Indian malt whiskies was a phenomenal success. The brand is today part of Diageo's portfolio.
Tapping the appeal of Bollywood and cricket, MacDowell's No 1 systematically brings out interesting ads to keep itself entrenched in the psyche of the country.
2. Officer's Choice Whisky
Born in 1988 as the brainchild of Kishore Chhabria, Officer's Choice soon became the most popular brand in the world, drubbing Smirnoff to the second position. The idea was to give a premium feel to the whisky coveted by the masses.
The naval stripes you find on the cover are well in tune with the name of the brand - Officer's Choice - coined by an advertising agency. To maintain his control over the whisky, Kishore Chhabria had to wag a lot of legal battles not only with his brother Manu Chhabria but also with Vijay Mallia, Indian business tycoon and presently a controversial figure threatened with extradition by the UK.
Also Read: The man behind Paul John whisky on his single-malt journey, drink-making philosophy and premium gin in the works3. Imperial Blue Whisky
Called fondly by IB, Seagrams Imperial Blue, launched in 1985, is owned by Pernord Ricard . Commonly available in various sizes of bottles, the whisky caters to the taste of millions of people all across the country. As is common among popular Indian whiskies, Imperial Blue is also a blend of imported Scotch malts with Indian grain spirits.
4. Royal Stag Whisky
Launched in 1995 by Pernod Ricard, Royal Stag is named after a species of deer known for its antlers, The whisky is available in bottles of various sizes. Unlike the majority of Indian whiskies, keep in mind that this Indian brand doesn't use molasses or any artificial flavour. If you like only the cream, go for nothing less than Royal Stag Barrel Select released in 2011.
5. Original Choice Whisky
Known earlier as OC, Original Choice whisky has sold millions of cases since it was launched in 1996. John Distilleries founded by Paul P. John, originally from Kerala, the son of a plantation and liquor baron in Karanataka set up a distillery in Bangalore decades back. Original Choice became an instant hit. The company also has gin, dark rum, wine etc under its rich portfolio.Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog — A Cup of Kavitha — introducing world poetry to Malayalis. The views expressed here are personal.