One emerging market everyone is keen to get in on is Africa – Nigeria in particular.
With a population estimated at 200 million – making it the 7th most populous nation in the world – and an alcohol sales figure of 2.84 billion dollars in 2014 – who wouldn’t want to have a slice of that cake?
Indian whisky is to the forefront here – at least until Nigeria develops it’s own distilling industry.
India produces mass market blends usually consisting of imported bulk malt from Scotland – augmented with Indian grain – plus a dash of added caramel.
All the big players – Diageo, Pernod-Ricard, United Spirits & others all have their own particular brands in this category. I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying a few here, here & here.
They retail – in Lagos at least – for about €5 per 750ml bottle of Nigerian strength – 43% – whisky.
My latest acquisition – via my Nigerian correspondent – is Black & Blue Premium Whisky.
The name is entertaining.
A play on the successful Black & White Scotch mixed in with the premiumisation associated with Blue (a la Johnnie Walker Blue) – and the unfortunate association attached to ‘battered black & blue.
It’s not clear as to the origins of this brand.
The label has a London address – a rather drab office in Kingsbury NW9 – and oddly a phone number – which rang out when I called.
Oh – I think ROI in this instance means Republic Of India.
I’ve not yet encountered any Irish whiskey in this segment of the market.
So what does ‘the finest oak aged matured malt blended with Indian grain spirit’ taste like?
Well – there is a burnt quality to the nose. I couldn’t describe it as smoky or peaty – yet it’s rather attractive. Mainly as it dampened down the sweet caramel influence.
This followed through into the taste – which didn’t offer much regards depth of flavour or complexity – but it was smooth & approachable.
The burnt note returned on the finish – which along with the 43% strength left a decent degree of heat & warm feeling on the palate.
It certainly didn’t leave my insides black & blue.
Just pleasantly intoxicated.
Sure at only a fiver – what can you complain about!
But living in the global village – I reach out for the biggest selling brand of whisky in the world.
Which I failed to get hold of.
So I give you the world’s 2nd biggest selling whisky in the world.
McDowell’s No 1 Reserve Whisky.
Selling an astronomical 25.5 million 9 litre cases 2016.
Johnnie Walker – the top selling Scotch – comes in at 17.4 million cases.
Jack Daniels – the top selling Bourbon – at 12.4 million.
Whilst Jameson – the top selling Irish – comes in at 6.2 million.
7 of the top 10 biggest sellers in the world are Indian whiskies.
Which considering they aren’t exactly household names in Europe is rather surprising. Especially when for the most part there are very familiar companies behind these brands.
So what does McDowell’s No 1 taste like?
To begin with the nose is rather soft & sweet grainy. None of that over powering added caramel hit I’ve experienced with other mass market blends.
In the mouth it’s also rather easy drinking. No strong flavours or notes. Just a gentle soft heat mixed in with a pleasant graininess & a slight chemically industrial note which doesn’t overwhelm the experience.
What flavour there is fades fast – but the warmth stays for a while.
I’ve had a few whiskies of this style from around the world.
Scotch is imported in bulk, blended with locally produced distillate made from easily available home grown grain/rice/molasses – which are all legally permitted in the country of origin – to make the final product, which is generally only sold in the country of manufacture.
McDowell’s No 1 stands out as one of the finest of these.
A friend kindly brought it back from Nigeria for me. Africa is a market Indian Whisky is expanding into. Which has led to action from the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) which you can read about here.
Maybe I’m missing something though.
Isn’t Diageo a member of the SWA?
And a certain Scottish gentleman by the name of Mr Angus McDowell founded a company in India back in 1898 to service the needs of ex-pats stationed there?
The very company Diageo is now the majority share holder of?
There are a number of factors mitigating against holding a Burn’s Night in the heart of Ireland.
One of them is the difficulty in finding a haggis for sale in Westmeath!
Thankfully I brought some of the prize pudding back with me from a recent Scottish trip – along with some whisky I had in mind – which is my cue for a song!
So January 25th found me in Sean’s Bar – the oldest bar in Ireland – hosting an Irish versus Scotch blind whiskey tasting.
I’d decided to go blind – the whiskey that is, not me – wrapping the bottles in tinfoil to disguise the brands – so there would be no bias in the results. The nose & taste of the spirit would be the crucial factor.
I roughly paired the whiskeys into 4 categories.
‘a’ being grains,
‘b’ obviously blends,
‘c’ single malts &
‘d’ being undefined – which will become clearer later. I tried as far as possible to get pairs of equal cost, style, flavour & profile – with only 50% success. The idea was to get a winner for each pair – then a ‘best of’ for the evening – having some fun along the way.
Votes were cast at the end of the tasting round to get the 4 individual winners – as well as the overall winner – before any of the whiskeys were revealed to some surprised faces.
The first winner of the evening was Egan’s Vintage Grain.
I’ve featured this single grain previously in a blog here. For a grain whiskey Egan’s delivers some punch both in flavour & style which didn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Most of them assumed it was a Scotch. 1st surprise of the evening.
I’d cheekily paired this with McDowell’s No 1 – the 2nd biggest selling brand of whisky in the world. This is actually a blend of Scotch, malt & neutral spirit – as it says on the label. Guinness Nigeria is also on the label – although McDowell’s is distilled in India by a company founded back in 1898 by a Scotsman unsurprisingly named McDowell.
Some 90% of all whiskey sold throughout the world is blended. So category ‘b’ is the real battle ground. The winner of the evening?
Well – being held in Sean’s Bar what else would you expect? But remember – this was a blind taste test and not all the participants had tried either of the entrants before.
The other bottle was named after an Irishman. Ernest Shackleton was born in Co Kildare in 1874 and went on to became a famous Antarctic Explorer. This blend I found a rather weak representation of a whisky he took to those frozen lands in the early 1900’s. My audience seemed to agree.
The single malts also had a clear winner. It gives me great pleasure to announce the wonders of this whiskey.
I’d paired this with the Dalmore Valour which delivers quite a nice rich, dry port & sherry finish to the palate. It’s youthfulness probably let it down when compared to the depth of flavour of the Irish 26yo. On a price front however – they are comparable.
The last category contained spirit which is not currently available in both countries. Ireland has it’s single pot still whiskey made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley. While Scotland has just released it’s 1st rye for over 200 years. The winning margin in this case wasn’t as wide as previous categories – but a winner there was.
The cleaner, bolder, more upfront spice hit of Arbikie Highland Rye gave Scotland it’s only winner of the evening. There were a few surprised faces during sampling on this one – and even more when it was revealed – but clearly rye is a style to be reckoned with – and I can’t wait for that 6 year old Kilbeggan rye to be released. Unfortunately Green Spot just didn’t hit the high notes in this round.
Of all the category winners – in fact of all the entrants – I’d asked for a favourite for the evening. The 67% majority vote took me a little by surprise.
What else can I say but congratulations to Aldi & all the team that were behind this amazing release.
The bottle was drained, the haggis was shared out, and the participant that turned out immaculately attired in a kilt was duly given a bottle of whisky by way of a prize.
I’d like to thank all those that attended. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from comments on the evening, everyone else did too! Big thanks also to Sean’s Bar for hosting the event. By the sounds of it – we’ll be back for more!
A land of 190 million souls – 3 Guinness Breweries and a variety of local whiskies.
I say ‘local’ as a quick internet search failed to find any Nigerian whisky distillery. It did find however a selection of whisky brands that are sold in Nigeria – but have been sourced elsewhere – namely India in this instance.
I managed to get my hands on Royal Circle Whisky via a friend who kindly brought me back some samples whilst working in Lagos. A trip to the local Spar shop did the trick.
Packaged in an attractive dumpy bottle with a logo that reminded me of Chivas Regal – Royal Circle is presented at 42.8% and hails from the Khemani Distillery in Daman, India.
It’s a blend of ‘Selected Malt Whiskies’ as it says on the label. Probably imported Scotch and locally produced ethyl alcohol as a lot of these Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) brands are commonly made from.
The IMFL category interests me. They represent THE BIGGEST selling whisky brands in the world – they contain Scotch whisky (which must feed back into profits for those involved) – and yet they are mostly ignored.
Meanwhile – I jump straight in.
A healthy dose of caramel assaults the nose along with a rather spirity aroma.
After working through the cloying artificial tasting sweetness, a muted soft malt briefly appears before a rather robust alcoholic hit warms the palate.
The heat – which I must say is the most attractive part of this otherwise characterless expression – slowly fades away.
Nothing unpleasant – just devoid of any real flavours other than the dreaded caramel.
An entry level drinking experience with which I celebrated the New Year.
By fortuitous chance – and a little rearranging of travel plans – my trip to Oz coincided with Whisky Live Melbourne.
I couldn’t let such an opportunity pass by so booked my ticket online even before the flight plans had been finalised!
Held in the fine looking St Kilda Town Hall – I arrived early to find a queue of fellow whisky fans eagerly awaiting the delights inside. Having previously attended a similar show in Dublin last year I made sure I was well hydrated and fed before the event.
My original plan to sample as much Australian whisky as I could had to be revised as browsing the pre-show website it became clear not many Aussie distilleries were attending. They didn’t need to! Their limited releases usually sold out very quickly leaving little stock leftover for sampling at shows.
The only representative of the new crop of Aussie distilleries happened to be Melbourne’s own Starward whisky where I reacquainted myself with Paul Slater who had so eloquently guided me through their portfolio during his Starward Talk &Taste evening at Pilgrim Bar the night before.
The lovely Apera and Wine Cask releases were on display at Whisky Live – but Paul had something under the table new to me – New World Projects X .
The contrast between your minds perception of what a clear spirit should be like – and want you actually experience on tasting – is certainly an interesting experience. It’s definitely whisky – if a little more oily and sweet than the Solera release on which a 3rd distillation has removed the colour to obtain Project X.
In a similar vein, Glendalough – one of 3 Irish stands at the show – had their Sherry Cask Irish Poitin which I tried in an almost mirror effect to Starward. In this case the unaged spirit has rested for a short while in sherry casks to give a lovely rich brown colour to the liquid which upon tasting gave a sweetness to the rather young spirit in the bottle. I found both these expressions a rather novel approach which would certainly be a talking point if offered to guests from the drinks cabinet!
Leaving Australia behind, India was the next nearest whisky producing country to exhibit with Paul John Distilleries being the sole representative.
I’d read lots of rave reviews about their whisky so eagerly accepted an invitation to be guided through the range by an enthusiastic ambassador who passionately informed me of the manufacturing process as well as the greedy angels in Goa which result in the wonderfully rich fruity & very tasty single malts before me.
After 4 of these fine malts were tried I found it hard to pick a favourite between the Bold Edition at 46% or the stunning Select Cask Peated at 58%! Both we’re delicious and deserve all the praise they have attracted.
Following on from my 4th of July blog I thought I’d further explore the American contribution to whiskey by starting with 2 distilleries new to me.
Appalachian Gap Snowfall is an unaged Vermont spirit made with a corn,barley and rye mash. The sweet corn influence took the edge off the 54% ABV together with a pleasant rye spice which I liked and a slightly oily mouthfeel. Their Kaffekask 44% release whereby the whisky is filtered through coffee beans in a Lincoln County Process style certainly brought a coffee kick to the table but was too sweet for my tastes. I declined the Kaffekask Liqueur.
Dry Fly Distilling from Washington State had a slightly more traditional selection using 100% wheat mash offerings at both 40% & 60% cask strength as well as a Port Finish at 43%. The combination of vanilla sweetness together with a slightly harsh finish didn’t endear them to me but the Triticale Whiskey I found much more appealing. Triticale is a hybrid grain derived from wheat and rye varieties and Dry Fly claims to be the first using this type of grain in a whiskey. The sweetness was still there but softened by a smoothness and slight spicy rye finish.
Woodford Reserve had a stall – but I found nothing of note.
Jack Daniels were next door with 5 releases for the Australian market. Not being a fan of Old No.7 I went straight for the No.27 Gold. At 40% this expression took me by surprise. The lovely pronounced spicy finish had me hooked. Even better than the Gentleman Jack release which I’m partial to. The Jack representative on the stall reliably informed me the double mellowing through 10 foot of sugar maple as well as additional barrel finishes provided the flavour boost. In this instance Sinatra didn’t sing for me!
Having called in at Glendalough I thought I’d better say hello to both Hyde and Tipperary.
Hyde had 3 offerings which I have tried before and enjoyed very much.
Tipperary meanwhile had eluded me with their Rising release so I gave it a go. Oh dear! Far too sweet for my liking.
My last port of call before turning to the largest contingent of the show – Scottish whisky – was to Sigrun, an Australian importer of Scandinavian malts. Mackmyra & Box from Sweden, Floki from Iceland and Teerenpeli from Finland were in attendance.
Sheep dung is used to dry the 100% Icelandic barley Floki is made with. It’s an unaged offering at 47% which gave a characteristic oily mouthfeel together with a slightly off-putting sour note for me. Pity – as I really enjoyed my visit to Rekyavik a few years ago. Maybe further ageing will mature it to my tastes.
Teerenpeli Rasi appealed to me instantly with it’s lovely well balanced light smooth taste. I must try out more of these Scandinavian expressions!
My remaining time at the show – along with staying hydrated from the water coolers placed handily around the hall and partaking in some tasty snacks from the centrally placed canteen buffet – consisted of Scotch.
I challenged my peat tolerance by going for the peat monster that is Octmore 7.1. Wow! Peat then spice and an explosion of flavour. Now I get it.
A trio of Finlaggan expressions from an unnamed Islay distillery – or even distilleries – were all very engaging with the cask strength coming out tops.
The Glenrothes rep impressed me very much by keeping a large audience enthralled with his sales patter as he went through a series of releases AND topping up all the glasses at the same time. By this point in the evening I couldn’t quiet keep up with him and my tasting notes were becoming illegible! Suffice to say the one that stood out for me – Glenrothes Vintage 1992 2nd Release had the most balanced nose complemented by a complex cacophony of taste – happened to be one of the priciest.
Despite there being a large shop at the back where eager whisky geeks could purchase rare or hard to find expressions – I simply immersed myself in the wonderful opportunity Whisky Live events provide in sampling a wide variety of styles, strengths and regions of whisky production throughout the world. Conversations soon flow as to the merits of NAS vs Age Statements, Bourbon vs Whisky, to chill filter or not and even to add water or not.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Whisky Live Melbourne.
If ever a Whisky Live event comes your way – make a beeline for it.
You won’t be disappointed.
Oh! Don’t over do it.
The combination of drinking plenty of water inbetween samples as well as topping up with a lovely goat curry from the wittily named iCurry restaurant on St Kilda Road afterwards ensured I woke up relatively bright and cheery to face yet another day of adventure in Melbourne.
Due to a tragic unforeseen event a series of cross Irish Sea flights were unfortunately taken at short notice lately.
Normally I’d relish the opportunity to try out some new expressions offered at airside retail premises but on this occasion a good stiff drink was certainly required.
Dublin’s Terminal 2 didn’t disappoint in this instance with a choice of 3 separate whiskey stalls all touting their wares.
The newly commissioned Walsh Whiskey Distillery proudly showed off their core range of the 3 Irishman releases – Founders Reserve – Single Malt and 12 Year Old Single Malt – together with the Writers Tears blend. All are very agreeable whiskeys. It will be a few years yet though before we can taste the spirit currently being laid down in Co Carlow as actual matured whiskey.
Teeling had a rather fine display all to themselves showcasing the Small Batch and rather tasty Single Grain releases. The Aviators Whiskey Society Single Cask exclusive bottling was on display too. This Cabernet Sauvignon finished release is sure to taste fantastic but what drew my eye was the last stand.
Bushmills new Steamship release commanded attention next to the Whiskey Collection at the duty free shop. As Bushmills haven’t exactly been profuse with their offerings of late – this hotly anticipated release is one not to miss.
Steamship is an oloroso finished single malt bottled at 40% and can be summed up in 2 words – sherry bomb – which is no bad thing in my book as I’m partial to that style of whiskey.
The rich smooth mouth feel and sweet sherry notes left the 10 year old rather a dull comparison when I tried it.
I was sorely tempted to buy a bottle – but having recently finished my Amrut fusion a suitable replacement in the shape of the Amrut Oak Barrel Single Malt won out on the day.
The return journey came via Gatwick which understandably didn’t feature as much Irish whiskey.
We reacquainted ourselves with our former habit of a wholesome meal at a Wetherspoons care of their Flying Horse airside establishment. Despite having an extensive array of craft beers on offer – the whisky menu was rather limited. A Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select did the honours of washing down my Bangers ‘n’ mash and as bourbons go – this had a smooth delivery coupled with a slightly spicy finish which I found very nice indeed.
I’m not a fan of the layout at World Duty Free airports whereby all passengers have to wind in and out of the shopping area before gaining open space. I’ve found it frustrating having been both a non-shopping late traveller rushing to catch my flight as well as a timely flyer looking for a relaxed retail experience being bumped into by by my former self.
I much prefer the layout at Dublin which has a large central aisle with shops either side the customer can chose to go in to – or not as the case may be.
No choice is no good in my book.
Whatever option is in play – I usually scan the whiskey area to see what is being promoteted or if any special offers are available. Heading through to Wetherspoons I did spot 2 Bruichladdich expression to tempt me and in this instance I chose to go back after my meal.
Mark Reynier – the former CEO at Bruichladdich is currently laying down distillate for maturation at his new distillery in Waterford – Ireland. I was therefore curious to find out what his previous tenure on Islay had produced as a pointer of things to come.
The Laddie Eight is a non-peated single malt matured in american and European oak casks – non-chill filtered and bottled at 50%. It’s sister travel retail exclusive Port Charlotte CC 01 is heavily pleated – matured in Cognac casks for a few more years and bottled at 57.8%.
I sampled both neat and was blown away by how smooth they were. I could easily drink these straight which can be dangerous at high strength!
Despite the moniker ‘Heavily Pleated ‘ on the Port Charlotte bottle I found this a very well balanced whisky. There was peat present – but it did not dominate the taste and much more complexity shone through in both the palate and finish. The Laddie didn’t disappoint either with a rich wholesome array of flavours coating the mouth.
Based on the delights of this duo of beauties – any new release from Waterford will be highly sought after.
Bruichladdich are also involved in the transparency issue with the Scottish Whisky Association as highlighted by Compass Box so I felt a desire to buy a bottle to acknowledge that stand. However – my finances have taken a bit of a beating with all this last minute travel – so despite Port Charlotte CC OI being the better malt – The Laddie Eight made it back to my drinks cabinet. I also like doing the unexpected – a non-peated Islay anyone?
My 2nd trip over the water was the usual red-eye-express so too early for whiskey. With finances low I did pick up a small bottle of Johnnie Walkers Spice Road with my last sterling note in Gatwick. It’s a step up from the Red or Black – but nothing fancy – which at the price point is just fine.
Whenever you fly – it’s always a treat to try out some new ‘exclusive’ – and invariably they are – whiskeys at the airport.
You’re already on the premises with usually a little time to spare – so why not give something new and potentially outside you’re normal range a whirl?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few tastings that I wouldn’t have gone for otherwise unless I’d taken the opportunity airside.
I usually stock up at the airport too. The staff are generally well informed and very helpful. It’s often the only specialist whiskey shop I manage to get into without going out of my way for months at a time.
Just go easy on the return journey – especially if you’re driving home after landing.
India. A land of 1.3 billion souls stretching from the glacier valleys of the Himalayas in the North to the tropical jungles of the South.
India. A great track by 80’s indie rockers The Psychedelic Furs.
India. A land of whisky.
Yes – You read that right. I’ll say it again.
India. A land of whisky.
Those 1.3 billion inhabitants enjoy whisky at a similar rate to us in Ireland – which makes it a pretty damn big market. So big in fact that some statistics have it as THE BIGGEST.
Not only is India THE BIGGEST market – it is also produces THE BIGGEST BRANDS for those consumers.
But like me – I think you’ll be hard pressed to name any of them.
So let’s get it straight here.
The worlds BIGGEST SELLING BRAND of whisky is an Indian expression I’ve never heard of.
Not only that – 8 of the top 10 brands are Indian and make up over 80% of actual volume sold.
There are similar figures for others years if you care to hunt them down.
So what is going on?
It seems as if Indian whisky falls foul of European regulations helpfully aided by The Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) on what a whisky is.
But lots of Bourbons also fall foul of the above regulations in regard to item 2(a)(iii) and yet we can still buy it in the supermarket.
A bit of seeing things from a Western-centric angle going on here?
It seems to be accepted that lots of Indian whisky – and I’m talking here about high volume blends, not the excellent Amrut or John Paul single malts – are produced by a combination of neutral spirit made from fermented molasses and imported Scotch.
So far so good. I see nothing wrong with using a by-product of sugarcane which is abundant in India for manufacturing a spirit drink.
When whisky makers first entered america there wasn’t much barley. They used what was available – corn, rye – and a new drink called bourbon was developed.
Couldn’t there be room for another category named ‘Indian Whisky’ that can cater for this?
There is already the term ‘Indian Made Foreign Liquor’ (IMFL) commonly used to describe such spirits.
There is also much talk about ‘fake‘ and ‘you can’t trust it’.
But wait a minute.Anyone who has read Naomi Klein‘s book ‘No Logo’ wouldn’t be surprised to learn that 6 out of the 8 Indian Whisky brands in the above table are manufactured by only 2 familiar names; Diageo and Pernod-Ricard.
If you’re not prepared to trust what’s in a bottle of Royal Stag or Bagpiper – why do you trust what’s in a bottle of Glenlivet or Lagavulin? The same companies make it.
So when I stumbled across one of these Indian whiskys – I just had to try it!
Seagram’s Royal Stag DeLuxe Whisky according to the label is;
‘A smooth full bodied feel of the best Scotch malts from the highlands and carefully selected Indian grain spirit.’
Bottled and blended by Pernod-Ricard India at 42.8% using the following ingredients;
‘Demineralised water, Grain neutral spirit, Scotch malt concentrate’ and that old ‘INS 150a’ or caramel to you and me. How many times do you see caramel listed on your bottle of Scotch or Irish?
Taste. Sweet, thinking Baileys The Whiskey, Nomad territory here – and then some – but follows through with a lovely softly growing pleasant burn on the mouth and tongue – must be the Scotch kicking in – which lingers.
Finish. Satisfyingly long after the sweetness has faded.
Overall. A very pleasant whisky of 2 halves. The sweetness almost put me off during the first half but when that lovely burn came through in the second – it just made me happy – so happy in fact I had another during extra time!
Verdict; This is an easy going blend to drink. Needless to say I had it neat. The sweetness should be toned down for my liking but otherwise I can see why it’s a popular brand. I don’t think this bottle will last long!
Based on my experience with Royal Stag – I’d happily go on to try the other Indian brands in the top 10. The Bagpiper and Old Tavern names appeal to me – so if there are any reps out there heading home….