The ABCs of Spirits by Alexandre Vingtier: I for Indian Made Foreign Liquor
I for Indian Made Foreign Liquor A.K.A IMFL
While India now has about 1.3 billion inhabitants, it is estimated that about 30% of this population consumes alcohol at least once a year: very rarely wine (1%), more often beer (7%) and especially spirits (92%), making it the third largest market in the world. Two weeks ago, I was talking to you about Feni de Goa, the first Indian Geographical Indication. There are also a large number of traditional spirits still very popular in the countryside. But, undeniably, Indians are increasingly turning to whisky, brandy or rum (only slightly to gin and vodka), whose sales have doubled in volume over the past decade. So much and so well that India is the world’s largest whisky consumer with 98% local production. Nevertheless, we must put a damper on it since this whisky only meets the local definition and cannot, with the notable exceptions of single malts such as Amrut, Paul John or Rampur, be comparable to its British model. Admittedly, while large quantities of grain whisky and some malt are produced in India, most of the production is made up of ersatz based on neutral grain alcohol or molasses, depending on the raw material mainly available in each state, which is flavoured or cut with real brandies before being coloured to give the impression of ageing of brown spirits, whether they are whisky, brandy or rum (except in the case of Wild Tiger or Amrut Two Indies for the latter category, which are authentic products and therefore exportable).
This industrial production is called Indian Made Foreign Liquors to distinguish it from traditional local spirits. It is similar to or corresponds to what the Americans call Imitation Spirits or what we called fantasy in France a century ago, beet alcohol enhanced with aromatic concentrates. Many Asian countries have equally permissive legislation and the Indian industry is currently serving as a model for the development of distilleries in Africa, where these Indian whiskies are enjoying some success against international giants.
It is interesting to note a broader movement, over several decades, from traditional spirits to an awareness of their economic and cultural interest with the introduction of Geographical Indications, towards international categories, even their ersatz, with a constant premiumisation to develop larger margins. One only has to look at the labels of Indian whisky brands insisting on their assembly of “selected Indian grain whiskies with imported Scotch malt”. It is not for nothing that groups like Diageo and Pernord Ricard invest massively in these markets. In the long term, we can predict the creation of real original blends and the rise of Indian single malts over the coming decades, probably followed by many rum brands.
Don’t drink and drive. Enjoy responsibly.