It's whisky Bangalore at new distillery
The man behind the drink, Rakshit Jagdale, has won European trade clearance to export Amrut single-malt whisky into the UK, and plans to launch the drink in Glasgow this August.
Named after the Sanskrit word for "drink of the gods", experts describe it as a light, sweet malt with a relatively short finish and have admitted that in blind tastings they cannot differentiate the Indian dram from Scottish whisky.
Ken Storrie, the owner of the Pot Still bar in Hope Street, Glasgow, said it was very close to a ten-year-old Ben Nevis.
"We have put on several blind tastings for customers and whisky connoisseurs and I would say nine out of ten mistake it for a Speyside," Mr Storrie said.
After conducting two years of market research, Amrut Distilleries hopes to exploit the niche market of Indian restaurants and have chosen Glasgow, as the UK’s curry capital, to roll out the product.
Mr Jagdale, who has recently taken over as executive director of Amrut, said with more than 20,000 Indian restaurants in Britain, 70 per cent of which have a licence to sell alcohol, it represented an exciting market to exploit.
"We are competing against an industry which is 400 years old. But Indian malt has its own character and is different. If India can buy and consume a lot of Scotch then we too can sell Indian spirits worldwide."
Yesterday, a spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association said he was fairly relaxed about the introduction of Indian single malt as Scotch still sells more than 80 million cases a year.
But he did admit that India selling whisky in Europe raised a serious issue.
He said: "International trade cuts both ways, if India wants to become a major player in the European market, and there is no reason why it should not, then Scotch whisky should be allowed to be sold fairly in India.
"This should be a signal to the Indian government to dismantle its trade barriers."
India is potentially a huge market for Scotland’s whisky industry but is effectively denied access due to a federal duty burden of between 213 per cent and 525 per cent.
Following pressure from the World Trade Organisation, India eased tax tariffs, but they remain punitive, making Scotch unaffordable to most Indians. The last two Indian budgets have seen basic customs duty fall from 188 per cent to 166 per cent, something the Scotch Whisky Association sees as "steps in the right direction".
The latest figures show Scotch whisky exports to India in 2002 were worth 9.2 million, and accounted for 681,108 cases.
Last year, Whyte and Mackay announced a tie-up with the Indian brewer Shaw Wallace, and is beginning to build a distribution network for its Whyte and Mackay blend on the premise that the market will liberalise in ten years.
Amrut Distilleries, whose products include brandy, rum, vodka and gin, has the capacity to produce 2.5 million cases every year at plants in Bangalore and the southern Indian state of Kerala. Their barley is sourced from the north Indian states of Punjab and Rajasthan. The water is brought by lorry from a well 15 miles outside Bangalore’s industrial pollution.
The whisky is then matured in American oak barrels at the company’s plant in Bangalore, situated 3,000ft above sea level. But the intense humidity poses a problem, as the European Union requires four years of maturation.
In Islay or Moray, less than 3 per cent of volume per year is lost under maturation through evaporation. But in a tropical climate, the "angel’s share" can be much higher. Mr Jagdale added: "In our heat, the evaporation loss is about 12 per cent, so one has to immediately stop at four years to retain taste and flavour."
After the launch, the company will export 12,000 cases of Amrut to Scotland, as well as to other European countries and the United States, but those hoping for a cheap dram will be disappointed, as it will be priced at about the 20 mark.
Leonard Russell, the managing director of the Glengoyne distillery, which has a foothold in the Gulf with the King Robert blend, said there might be a small niche for it in Indian restaurants but was sceptical that it would catch on in Scotland.
He added: "I would venture that the market potential would be extremely small here as European consumers are not particularly interested in it.
"Bourbon is quite big here, but we already have malts that do not come from Scotland, like New Zealand and Japan."
ANY country in the world can produce single-malt whisky but current legislation must be complied with to sell it in the UK.
Scotch still outsells its nearest rival by more than four times, yet despite its pre-eminence, competition is hotting up from a number of global rivals.
• THE UNITED STATES
Since prohibition ended Bourbon has ruled supreme, with global brands such as Jack Daniel’s and Kentucky Tavern. But recently California has seen the emergence of a number of malt whisky micro-distilleries.
Canadian whisky is Scotland’s nearest rival, with the country producing both blends and malt and the world famous Canadian Club.
Japan has been distilling whisky since 1923 and it now produces some of the finest whisky in the world, with brands such as Suntory, Yoichi and Hakushu.
Whisky fever has struck Europe at the moment, with distilleries being built in Sweden, the Czech Republic and Finland.
Elsewhere, production is now going ahead in Austria, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.
Outside of Europe, whisky production is going strong in nations including Australia, Brazil, New Zealand and South Africa.
The new kid on the block with the launch this year of the Penderyn four-year-old, produced in the Brecon Beacons in mid-Wales.