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.
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….