Indian Whisky: The World’s Top Seller

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Indian Whisky is the top selling whisky in the world. But what are the brands, and what exactly is it? Read on to find out!

Indian Whisky is the top selling whisky in the world. But what are the brands, and what exactly is it?

Determining the top selling whiskeys in the world is a bit difficult. First, there are differences in the definitions of whisky worldwide. Indian Whisky stands out in this regard. Second, due to the different definitions of whisk(e)y as well as the different countries that produce it, the lists of sales figures are generally country or type specific. So, to compile a list which includes every spirit that calls itself whisk(e)y, I had to utilize multiple sources. Lastly, sales figures are reported differently across brands, with some using calendar years, and others using fiscal years. Confusing things further, some companies which are privately owned can pretty much disclose as little information as they want. Nonetheless, once all is said and done, when it comes to total number of cases produced, there is one country that stands out well above the rest.

The Top Selling Whiskies In The World (2021)

Unfortunately, we have to step back a few years to get even remotely accurate figures. Note that 7 of the top 12 selling whiskies in the world are Indian Whiskies.

The top selling whiskies in the world as reported for 2021. Sales are in millions of 9 liter cases

So what do the majority of these whiskies all have in common? They are from the country with the largest whiskey consumption in the world. That’s right: India. India consumes around half of the world’s whisky produced each year! Now, the people in India don’t drink the most whisky per capita, though. Of course, that is France, according to Liquor Laboratory. That’s a surprise to me. The US is so diverse, with very varied drink preferences across our vast country. Therefore it makes sense that we are not number one. However, I would have thought countries like Ireland or Scotland would have been first, but apparently that is not the case.

More about Indian Whisky (spelled without the “e”)

So, the interesting thing about Indian Whisky is that much of it may not meet the requirements for whiskey elsewhere in the world. Perhaps more of it does now, but quite frankly it is very difficult to tell.

India’s definition of whisky differs from the rest of the world, in that it does not seem to have a clear definition of whisky. This had caused India great problems in exporting its “whiskies”. That is, until Amrut came along, and back in 2004 produced a true single malt whisky, based on the standards utilized in Scotland. Since that time, there are now more true Indian single malts on the market that meet the definition of whisk(ey) worldwide.

However, there are still others that may not. In fact it could be the majority. Some are blended whiskies which use a small amount of malt whisky and a fairly large percentage of other grain spirits, including grain neutral spirits. Coloring and flavoring are allowed. More significantly, for many years, the primary base spirit in Indian Whisky was distilled from molasses. Sounds more like rum, doesn’t it? But it is whisky in India. Hence, the problem selling it as whiskey anywhere else in the world.

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Indian Whisky Can Be Made From Molasses

In the world outside of India, whiskies (or whiskeys) are made entirely from grain. In India, many distilleries make whisky from distilled sugar cane products or byproducts, mainly molasses, blended with a variety of other spirits. These other spirits are generally used in only small percentages, and might be made from cereal grains, or be an imported spirit, such as blended Scotch. That would be unheard of anywhere else in the world where whiskey has strict definitions. However, in India, these spirits have their own name, India Made Foreign Liquor or IMFL.

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Maturation and Barley are Different in India, Too
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Age Matters

Some countries also have restrictions on just how young whisky can be. For example, the minimum maturity for Scotch is at least 3 years. Whereas, many Indian Whiskies are fairly young, as reportedly whiskies mature more rapidly in India’s climate. In fact, some in India have said that if they are forced to age Indian Whiskies longer to meet other countries’ age requirements, the whiskey would be ruined.

Indian Distillers Use Primarily Malted Six-Row Barley for Indian Whisky

One last difference between Indian Whisky and the rest of the world is that Indian Distilleries use six-row barley for most of their whiskies. Distilleries elsewhere generally use the two row variety. The use of six-row barley is purely utilitarian; it is the type of barley primarily grown in India. However, six-row barley has some different characteristics than two-row barley. For example, there is less starch and more husk, and hence a lower yield from six-row barley. However, there is more protein in six-row barley which has some effects on the flavor characteristics. There are also more enzymes (enzymes are proteins, too) to aid in starch conversion.

Transparency Is Sorely Lacking

Transparency is sorely lacking amongst many Indian Whisky brands. So, it is difficult to tell which contain molasses based spirits and which are all grain spirits. Other than the single malts, that is. I am led to believe that there is still a significant amount of molasses based whisky produced and consumed in India, and some or all of these top selling brands likely fall into that category. If you know otherwise, please let me know!

Conclusion

So, while Indian Whisky is the best selling whisky in the world, as a category, it is also unlike any other whisky in the world. We have learned that Indian Whisky encompasses everything from blended whiskies, which may contain various grain spirts or spirits distilled from molasses, to single malts which meet the rigorous definitions utilized in other parts of the world. Maturation times may be shorter than elsewhere, and six-row barley is used, rather than the two-row variety utilized elsewhere. All of these variables certainly make for quite a diverse array of spirits. I don’t know about you, but my interest has certainly been piqued, and now I want to try them all! What about you? Cheers!🥃

Would you like to read about an Indian Whisky that meets the world’s definition of a whisky? The read our Amrut Indian Single Malt Whisky Review! Or learn the differences between Bourbon and Irish Whiskey in our article: Bourbon Whiskey vs Irish Whiskey.

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