When JD met Jameson
As soon as someone figured out farming, someone else also figured out how to drink those grains. But who knew a simple GI tag would bring two of the best whiskey creations, Irish and Bourbon, at loggerheads? And, the fight is heating up in India
Kaushal Shah and Vikas Bhagat admit to succumbing to the growing popularity of American whiskey Jack Daniels (JD) while still in college. "Back then, I would have a lot of JD coke [a highball cocktail made by mixing JD with cola]. And, if I had JD honey [blend of JD and a unique honey liqueur], I would have it on the rocks," recalls 33-year-old Shah of Sirocco Restaurants LLP. Bhagat, however, has JD with plain cola. "I am a '90s kid. During the time I was studying in Scotland, no other whiskey in the market was as loud as American whiskey. So, we were drawn more to the latter," adds 30-year-old Bhagat, owner of Goregaon's Mannrangi restaurant.
But, only one of them continued the love affair with American whiskey. While Bhagat, still loyal to his youthful spirit, now prefers Tennessee whiskey, which is straight whiskey produced in the US state of Tennessee, and also known as bourbon whiskey, Shah likes the taste of Irish whiskey on his palette. "I drink Jameson on the rocks or with water. I've realised it's just smoother and easier on the palette than any American whiskey," Shah shares, when asked why he decided on changing teams.
Rivalry between the two whiskeys is not new. But, in India, it's getting a bit more intense.
India is the largest whiskey market in the world, with 2.3 billion bottles sold last year. A large bulk of this was domestically produced. And now, with a large number of imported whiskeys making inroads, the tussle seems to have reached an all-time high. Add to it that the Indian government has now granted a Geographical Indication (GI) tag to Irish Whiskey, which could help push sales of the newbie rival.
Vikas Bhagat drinks Bourbon. Pic/ Sayyed Sameer Abedi
William Lavelle, head of the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA), believes the GI tag will work in their favour. "Irish whiskey sales in India have been negligible to date but sales nearly doubled in 2018, albeit from a very low base. At present, brands such as Jameson and The Quiet Man are available in India," he adds.
The news has not gone down well with manufacturers and fans of Bourbon, which is fast-emerging in the Indian pub scene as the preferred drink among 25 to 45-year-olds.
Bhagat, who has his loyalties marked out, says, "Bourbon has a stronger taste and a sweeter side to it. While the choice of a spirit is subjective, I personally like
drinking hard liquor. And Bourbon gives me that kick. Irish whiskey, on the other hand, is lighter and leaves a fume-y taste in the mouth, which I don't enjoy." He pairs his drink with "a less spicy meal to be able to enjoy the flavours of my drink".
However, Lavelle says a healthy competition with American whiskey is more than welcome. "The growth of American whiskey offers opportunity to Irish whiskey as it means Indian consumers are willing to try new whiskeys," Lavelle informs.
Kaushal Shah likes drinking Irish Whiskey. Pic/Atul Kamble
Keshav Prakash of The Vault, an importer and distributor of some of the best-aged single malts in the world, calls for a ceasefire. "They are very different drinks in terms of structure and DNA. While Bourbon is distilled with 51 per cent corn, Irish Whiskey uses barley as a raw ingredient. Bourbon has to be matured in a new cask, but Irish Whiskey can use any cask. There is no comparison between the two, apart from the fact that they both are called whiskey. So I don't understand what the deal about the GI tag is," Prakash says.
Agreeing with Prakash, Shah, who pairs his Irish Whiskey with mince mutton, says, "Stick to your preference; drink whatever you enjoy."
Maturation period: It has to be aged for at least three years in wooden casks no bigger than 185 US gallons (or 700 litres)
Fun fact: While it's not an official rule, most Irish whiskeys are distilled three times
Maturation period: It is aged in charred, oak containers; contained in the barrel for ageing at no higher than 125 proof; and bottled at 80 proof or higher
Fun fact: Bourbon was declared by Congress to be America's only native spirit in 1964 and as an indigenous product of the United States, it can't be sold as "Bourbon" if it's made in any other country
What does a GI tag mean?
It means that Indian consumers can have confidence that produce labelled Irish whiskey is, in fact, authentic and high-quality Irish whiskey. GI protection also provides confidence to producers to invest in bringing more Irish whiskey to the Indian market as they can now be assured of legal mechanisms to deter and enforce any possible case of fake Irish whiskey being sold. The GI protects consumer, ensures authenticity and promotes fair competition in the market.
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