Young Indians' Penchant for Premium Whisky Have Brands Excited

From new packaging to new variants, India has never been a richer market for Scotch whisky

Ashwin Rajagopalan

I’ve got an eyepatch and a pair of Sennheiser headphones on. Except I’m not on a trans-Atlantic flight but a whisky tasting session at St Regis Mumbai. The Glenlivet calls this Sonic Whisky Tasting, an experience curated by renowned whisky expert Dave Broom along with immersive audio experts, Art of Disappearing. It might sound gimmicky—can a set of audio sounds impact the flavour or tasting notes of a premium whisky? I’d say yes; at least based on this 45-minute experience and so did a few millennials in the audience. 

Premium Scotch whisky brands like The Glenlivet have smartened up to the changing whisky demographic. “The audience for premium single malts is getting younger. Not long ago, most consumers even in evolved markets began sampling single malts in their late 30s, that’s changing and fast.” Ken Lindsay, the international brand ambassador of Glenlivet who walked the audiences through the tasting (that included the exquisite 21-year-old) sums up this trend. 

A week earlier, I caught up with another whisky expert at the Umaid Bhawan Palace, Jodhpur who echoed the same trend. Torquhil Ian Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll, is the global brand ambassador for Royal Salute, a brand that debuted in 1953 to coincide with the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. On that day, Chivas Brothers gifted two bottles of a special whisky to the new Queen and almost ever since, the brand has been strongly associated with royalty and earned the moniker of the ‘King of Whiskies’.

The India event of Royal Salute’s re-staging saw the brand tweak its packaging for the first time since 1953. The Duke of Argyll said the time was right to give the brand a bold makeover and place the bottle in a new throne. Royal Salute commissioned Kristjana Williams, a globally renowned fine artist for the colourful, almost whimsical depiction of the British Menagerie—a home for exotic animals that was once part of the Tower of London.

It wasn’t just the new branding that held centre stage at Jodhpur. Royal Salute showcased its association with Polo that began back in 2007 with a match and an engaging Polo workshop.  While the brand’s long standing signature blend was presented in a blue flagon, the brand also unveiled two new whiskies, each with its own fascinating story to tell. The Lost Blend was the show stopper, housed in a black flagon, this blend features rare whiskies from two iconic distilleries—Imperial and Caperdonich that have actually shut down. 

Ken Lindsay has seen the Indian whisky market evolve over his last few visits to the country. He attributes the widening appeal of premium whisky in India to the rise of top-class bars and more Indians travelling around the world for premium whisky. The Glenlivet has also opted for a packaging makeover with a bright and bold identity that leverages the power of colour to energise the portfolio. It ditched the green glass bottle for a clear bottle and more vibrant labels. While the audience and tasting experiences might evolve, some of the brand’s signature malts have stayed the same. Like the 12-year-old that was the highlight of the Sonic Whisky Tasting session in Mumbai. 

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