The barley has been grown by four generations of farmers on land overshadowed by majestic mountains; harvested by hand it is nurtured to life by crystal clear, cool waters.

Roasted over peat-fuelled fires, twice distilled in shiny copper pots, and laid to rest in Pedro Ximénez ‘PX’ sherry casks, the result is a world-beating malt, described as a “symphony of flavours, which includes candied dried fruits, toasted nuts, subtle spices, oak and bittersweet chocolate.”

It may sound like a very good Scotch single malt whisky.

Yet the recently crowned Whiskies of the World Awards 2023 ‘Best in Show, Double Gold’ winning dram comes from the heart of India.

Smoky and smooth, Indri Diwali Collector’s Edition 2023 took the honour not just from Scotch producers, but from whiskies around the world.

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Indeed, just three Scottish-made whiskies featured, two from Isle of Arran Distillers – its “Bothy” and sherry cask Bodega - alongside Maclean’s Nose, a blended whisky from Adelphi on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula that honours whisky expert Charles Maclean.

The Whiskies of the World Awards, which saw more than 100 whiskies blind-tasted and rated on aromatics, flavour and finish by leading lights, is just one of countless annual awards handed out by tasting groups, magazines, websites and whisky afficionados around the globe each year.

Yet according to some in the know, there is no doubt that Indian-produced whisky – once shunned as a rough shadow of the real thing - is certainly on the up.


The Herald: Award-winning Indri Diwali Collector’s Edition 2023 Award-winning Indri Diwali Collector’s Edition 2023 (Image: Piccadily Distilleries)

Such is its new-found status, Indian single malt whisky is now said to have reached the same high quality as Japanese whiskies achieved two decades ago – a breakthrough which saw the country firmly established as a bona fide whisky nation, with leading brands that have become highly sought after, commanding premium prices.

As the festive rush to invest in a fine malt for the table or to gift gets underway, could an Indian single malt find its way into Christmas stockings this year?

Whisky expert Jim Murray is currently putting the final touches to the 20th anniversary edition of his Whisky Bible, which includes a section on Indian whiskies.

Having drawn shocked gasps from whisky drinkers in 2015 when he declared his top whisky of the year to be Japan’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 , he says he is delighted Indian whisky is having its moment in the sun.

“I’m not at all surprised that Indian whisky is winning awards,” he says.

“In the last 15 years or so India has been making very good whisky and the fact that an organisation has given it world whisky award doesn’t surprise me at all.

“It has been obvious for a while that it has become world class.”

Murray, who has tasted 4,000 whiskies from more than 30 countries for the latest edition of his guide, urges Scotch whisky drinkers to put their concerns aside to give Indian offerings a go.

“Whenever I’m around the world doing blind whisky tastings, I include a couple of Indian whiskies. No-one ever picks it out as Indian, they always think it’s Scotch,” he continues.

“But people think if it’s not Scotch whisky, then it has got to be inferior, and if you’re saying differently then you’re a traitor.

“There’s such a snobby element to Scotch whisky which I can’t stand.

“The fact is that India makes world-class whisky and has done for a long time. Finally, people are waking up to the fact that it’s true.”


The Herald: Whisky

He concedes, however, that it has taken time for Indian distillers to figure out how best to cope with maturing their spirit in a hot climate that is distinctly different to Scotland’s cold and wet.

“In Scotland, it’s slow going,” explains Jim. “You throw a barrel in a Scottish warehouse and forget about it.

“Throw the same barrel in an Indian warehouse and you have to keep an eye on it and check it every four to six months or it will just cook.

“I remember visiting one distillery in 1996 or 1997 somewhere up in the Himalayas where it’s cooler,” he adds. “The whisky was like drinking stewed pencils.

“But Indian distillers are far more sophisticated now in knowing how to handle whisky.”

There are now said to be 24 distilleries in India - said to be the world's most lucrative whisky market – worth $18.8bn (£15bn) last year – producing single malt whisky.

Leading the way are premium Indian whisky brands Indri, Paul John, Amrut and GianChand - credited with placing Indian among the top whisky countries in the world, while homegrown single malts now make up 33% of the market, from 15% five years ago.


The Herald: Founded in 1948, Amrut became India's first home produced single malt whiskyFounded in 1948, Amrut became India's first home produced single malt whisky (Image: Amrut Distillery)

Such is demand within India for its home-produced single malt, that sales soared by 340% in 2022, dwarfing the 35% rise in Scotch sales, and mainly fuelled by Indian consumers more willing to spend more on alcohol.

Speaking to Forbes India, Surrinder Kumar, master blender and distiller at Piccadily Distilleries, makers of Indri whisky, pointed to sales of Indian single malts reaching just over 2 million cases of 9 litres in 2022.

“I anticipate this growth rate will soar even higher, approaching nearly 30% annually in the years to come,” he added.

Whisky writer and Keeper of the Quaich, Felipe Schrieberg, says that while Indian single malt is still too small scale to dent Scotch whisky producers, quality Indian whisky is at a key point in its evolution.

“There are two categories of ‘whisky’ in India,” he explains.

“With some so-called whiskies, you’ve got a grain-based spirit which is then mixed with spirit derived from molasses - you are almost talking about rum.

“You have a spirit put out as whisky, legally called whisky in India but by others’ standards, it’s not whisky.

“Then you have these Indian single malts, which is an upscaled product that deserves to be taken as seriously as any other best-selling whisky out there.”

They mirror the rise of quality whiskies from a number of countries previously not associated with whisky production – from Australia and New Zealand to Israel, where M&H Distillery, established in 2013, has already scooped a number of prestigious awards.

Southern hemisphere whiskies often stand out from the crowd because they are younger and punchier due to being matured in more extreme temperatures than Scotch, he adds.

“When you’re maturing whisky in extreme heat, you have a lot more evaporation from the casks,” adds Felipe.

“Traditionally in Scotland, evaporation in the cask tends to be 2 or 3% every year - the angel’s share.

“In these hot climates, the evaporation rates are way higher, it’s 4 to 10% a year in liquid being lost.

“So, you don’t want a 10-year-old southern hemisphere whisky. Firstly, there’ll be very little left to sell but also because it matures so intensely under these conditions that what comes out at 10-years-old is not very nice.

“But what you have as a result of the intense climate is rich and intense whiskies that have interesting flavour profile even after just a few years’ maturation.”

Awards aside, Indian single malts are unlikely to pose a threat to Scotch whisky, he adds.

“It is nothing for Scotch to be concerned about, there’s a changing market and changing consumer perception but also this is a young industry much smaller and tiny compared to Scotch whisky.

“Scotch has its own unique set of challenges but over all it’s a sector that is doing well.”

The biggest problem for whisky followers like him, he adds, is there’s so much happening right across the world.

“Back in the 90s you could keep on top of it all but now it’s hard to keep on top of all that’s happening right across Scotch and the whisky world,” he adds.

As for choosing an Indian malt whisky, Jim has simple advice: “Just choose it like you’d choose a Scotch.

“If you like a wine cask finish, then there’s wine cask finish Indian whiskies. If you like peated, there’s peated, and there’s unpeated.

“There is slightly more tannin from the cask because it’s maturing at a much faster rate,” he adds. “So with Indian whisky, it has a propensity to be slightly hefty, it hasn’t equalled itself out around the palate in the same way.

“But,” adds Jim, “that’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes it can be breath-taking.


The Herald: Made in Goa, Paul John Christmas Edition 2023 single maltMade in Goa, Paul John Christmas Edition 2023 single malt (Image: Paul John)

“The flavour can charge at you like a bull. Then, when it stops doing that and settles in there is a seriously complex whisky.”

Meanwhile, India’s increasing appetite for premium spirits – whisky has experienced 61% annual growth – makes it high on the agenda for a Scotch whisky sector yearning for a trade deal which can cut eye-watering tariffs on their product.

Scotch Whisky Association International Director Ian McKendrick said: “The Scotch Whisky industry wants a UK-India FTA which delivers a tariff reduction for the industry.

“Lowering the tariff to open the Indian market to more producers can be the centrepiece of a deal which UK government has called a “golden opportunity” for Scotch Whisky.

“A deal which delivers for Scotch will, in part, address the imbalance which exists in the export landscape for Scotch Whisky versus Indian whisky.

“For example, Indian whisky, made from cereals and which adheres to the UK/EU definition, can be traded in the UK and EU with no tariff applied.

“But the same is not true of Scotch Whisky sold in India, which faces a 150% tariff.

“Indian whisky sales globally are around 1% of the current Scotch Whisky global sales, so the category has some way to go to challenge Scotch.

“However, in India, Indian single malt whisky currently outsells Single Malt Scotch Whisky. But there is room for both, and indeed all world whiskies, in an increasingly competitive market with consumers looking for premium, well-crafted spirits.

“If the tariff was lowered, this would provide consumers with greater choice, and allow Scotch Whisky to prosper on a more equal footing with Indian whiskies in the world’s biggest whisky market.”