“Grab that beautiful bottle Japanese single malt before it disappears off the shelves. Does this seem familiar?
Japanese whiskies have achieved famous status in the past 10 years, in keeping with the phrase: the nation that is rising was one of the first countries to be affected by the soaring demand. However, this hasn’t all the time. looking at the background production of whiskies within Japan will reveal a fluctuating demand that fluctuated every five years or so until the end of the century, when the demand is on the rise. The impact of the 1980’s overproduction of Scotch had a significant impact on the burgeoning industry in Japan as demand in the country was still maturing. Production mostly focused on exports, which declined in this period. Distilleries were shut down and production stopped, leaving whisky of high-end quality maturing in closed warehouses.
However the popularity of whisky in Japan is steady and positive since the latter half of the sixties that is evident by the bars that serve whisky in the region. Beautiful whiskiesand custom bottlings of old casks from an earlier time are frequent in the majority of bars. The exploration of alternatives to the traditional European as well as American Oak led to the discovery of the Mizunara cask, which has become the most well-known of Japanese whisky. The real reason that has led to the international interest in Japanese whisky is recognition of the whisky industry through various forums as well as through the famous whisky judges. The cult Yamazaki 18 was priced at $80-$100 about 5-6 years ago, but is now selling for an estimated $1000 if you can find one!
Where do this Indian whisky industry draw its parallels to this shift?
The resemblance is apparent when you connect the dots distilleries, which had begun production of malt whisky in the mid- or late 90’s brought about an international demand for the category because the market in the country did not change. Its walls are dotted with awards and citations, diverse whisky companies around the world and, finally, experiments with craft and casks. This is a lot like what you’ve seen before, isn’t it? The revolution may be taking place a few decades after, but some elements are very identical. In addition, I can remember Amrut’s limited edition Greedy angels were very expensive at 12,500 rupees in 2013. The increasing attention from international industry leaders is a major change from the old strategy of India being a dump site for whiskies of substandard quality, which was marketed as Scotch.
As the creator of a whisky-club in India I am able to say from personal experience that the lure of curiosity and appeal to the masses of whisky enthusiasts even to this day. The idea of avoiding pitfalls and being open to new ideas are which are being accepted by the majority of people and appreciated, but what is uplifting is the growing number of fans becoming experts and enthusiasts.
The reverse side, or the opposite!
The popularity of Japanese whisky isn’t without its share of challenges that are modern. It doesn’t require experts to comprehend the role played by the Scottish Whisky Association’, also known as SWA as a key factor in the growth that is the Scottish whisky industry. Quality control and regulation are the key to its success during a time where the majority of whisky production was illegal and bootlegging and with the prohibition of alcoholas the background (more similarities?). The absence of an governing body in Japan has resulted in numerous producers that I refer to as “instant whisky producers. Shanty shops filled with malt imported from the US and grains from various parts of the world white-labeled with traditional Japanese calligraphy, have flooded the market. For those who are in the opposite side of the spectrum there is “Japanese Whisky” and worth trying – but only to be utterly disappointed. Recent studies conducted by experts in the industry have shown that more than 30% of whiskies that are labeled as Japanese are not tied with the Geotag. The category of premium single malt has also been a target and, with no regulations regarding the information on the label, innovation is at its highest. If you’ve been a victim of a fake whisky, it’s likely to lead to this category having less demand.
Do I have to mention the gaps within the Indian context? To put it simply and clear, I can bottle a whisky using an age declaration of 50 years old and the current legality and governance do not have any laws or regulations that can verify this. The source of the spirit whether it is malt or grain – isn’t required to be revealed. If I’m able to afford the cost of a label and FSSAI declares the liquor suitable to drink, the remainder is a blank canvas that the future artist can paint. The quality of governance is largely up to the discretion of the distillery and there have been many which have maintained the highest standards in transparency and quality, but , then the “are the bhai India hai’ comes in to take over. The fear is not as bad when I consider the numerous creative companies profiting from this scenario The wheels are already moving.
If it took more than 20 years to allow whisky from the Indian whisky category to become acknowledged in the world table as a premium product, and not colored ENA derived by molasses would require less than two years to bring uns back in the dark age, if this issue remains unresolved.