Whisky from India - the true mega sellers
Do you know which whiskies are the top selling whiskies globally? Chances are few of you do, and fewer still have actually tasted most of these top sellers. Oddly enough a disproportionate number of these mega sellers are whiskies produced in India and for the most part only sold in India.
The top sellers of the world (2017 figures) included the following gems. The sales numbers are taken from the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2019 (a most excellent book):
Officer’s Choice (Indian whisky)
McDowell’s No. 1 (Indian whisky)
Imperial Blue (Indian whisky)
Royal Stag (Indian whisky)
Johnnie Walker (Scotch)
Jack Daniel’s (Tennessee whiskey)
Original Choice (Indian whisky)
Hayward’s Fine (Indian whisky)
Old Tavern (Indian whisky)
Jim Beam (Bourbon)
I have now tasted five of the top selling whiskies produced in India; the four in bold on the list above, and the Bagpiper (number 15 on the list).
This was a fun tasting, but it was also challenging - as the notes below will show in horrid detail. I provide these tasting notes as a public service - from me to you. Enjoy!
Officer's Choice, NAS, 42. 8 %
Produced by Allied Blenders & Distillers. Sold 32 million 9-litre cases in 2017! Made from Indian grain whisky - so it is a blended grain.
Introduced in 1988, and known as simply OC. In 2012, OC overtook Bagpiper to become the biggest selling Indian whisky. In 2013, OC for the first time became the largest selling whisky in the world by overtaking Johnnie Walker. In 2015 Officer's Choice overtook Smirnoff vodka to become the world's largest selling spirit brand altogether.
Nose: Caramel ice-cream. A melted Snickers bar. Caramel popcorn, minus the salt. Vanilla, vanilla, vanilla. Grape juice. I would never in a million years have guessed whisky.. but it is not unpleasant at all. I have a sweet tooth, after all. With time there's a darker underbelly here - burnt caramel and a touch of alcohol.
Taste: Thin, slim, unhealthy-and-photoshopped-super-model-skinny. The initial taste is - nothing. Nothing whatsoever. Then, after a few seconds I get burnt caramel in floral water. On subsequent sips there is a distinct backdrop of acid reflux.
Finish: Short. Dry and slightly bitter caramel. Nothing happening otherwise.
Comment: Well, drown it in ice and soda and it will go down on a hot day, that's for sure. I do not believe this is to be consumed neat. The nose was more than passable though.
McDowell's No. 1, NAS, 42.8 %
Produced by United Spirits (Diageo). Sold a whopping 23.7 million 9-litre cases in 2017. This is a blend of imported Scotch, select Indian malts and premium grain spirits.
The McDowell’s No. 1 was introduced in 1968. Their slogan is “Mera No. 1” which translates to “My No. 1”. It also, incidentally, means “More No.1” in Swedish.
Nose: Not all that different from a "typical Scotch blend (tm)". Mild, somewhat fruity - in particular banana, as well as the compulsory vanilla and cinnamon. Seems a bit raw on the nose, more so than the OC.
Taste: Medium body, and massive sweetness. The flood of sweetness is partly balanced with pepper and herbs. The sweetness quickly takes on a sickly, burnt edge. Notes of soap in the back.
Finish: Short, with thanks. Watery with burnt caramel and odd bitter-ish herbs. Petrol on the finish?
Comment: What can I say? I was almost fooled into thinking this might be a whisky by the nose. Then I tasted it, and the answer is no. This is not a whisky in my book.
Imperial Blue Whisky Superior Grain, NAS, 42.8 %
Produced by Pernod Ricard. It sold a solid 19 million 9-litre cases in 2017.
This is a blend of Indian grain spirits. The Imperial Blue Whisky Superior Grain was launched in 1997.
Nose: Mild fruitiness and red berries. Not at all bad at first sniff. Deeper sniffs reveal sugary sweetness and vanilla. Not a whole lot more. No, wait - there's a whiff of perfume. Oh, dear.
Taste: Medium body. Heavy on the perfume, I mean really heavy as in beat you over the head with a 10 pound perfume bottle! Call a full blue-haired-old-ladies-on-a-cruise alert! Phew! Did I drink from my after shave bottle by mistake? I'm not sure I will be able to detect any other flavours - ever.
Finish: Short to medium. Unfortunately the perfume does stay with me for a while. But why? Why?
Comment: Perfume bottle disguised as "whisky".
Hayward's Fine Whisky, NAS, 42.8 %
Produced by United Spirits (Diageo). This whisky sold 9.3 million 9-litre cases in 2017.
The producer describes it as "carefully blended with extra neutral alcohol and flavorings”. Apparently Hayward’s Fine Whisky is very popular in several African markets.
Nose: Bananas, vanilla, dried fruits and a touch of gastric acid. There seems to be something off here..
Taste: Medium to slim body and heavy on the (weird) sweetness. Image something as unusual as a herbal, perfumy, salty, caramel ice-cream, left to sit way, way too long in the freezer, then taken out and left to melt and subsequently congeal in the sun. Yeah..I know. I just had this in my mouth. Oh crap, I just realized I can never untaste this.
Finish: Short! Yes! 'nuff said!
Comment: Again I am left wondering “Why?”..
Bagpiper's Gold Reserve, NAS, 42.8 %
Again a product from United Spirits (Diageo). This whisky sold 6.7 million 9-litre cases in 2017.
The Bagpiper was the top selling Indian whisky between 2007 and 2012, when it was overtaken by OC.
Launched 1976, the Bagpiper whisky is known for its woody character. It is made from distilled molasses instead of grains.
Nose: Bananas, vanilla, caramel sauce, red berries and hints of baby vomit. I'm sorry - that was a bit harsh, but there was no real way to ease into that one.
Taste: Medium to slim body. Vanilla, cinnamon, ginger and massive amounts of molasses sweetness. Hints of citrus in the back.
Finish: Medium long finish. Still heavy on the molasses, but now with added bitter-ish floral notes. Mixed herbs. Dry in the end.
Comment: Nothing even resembling a good whisky, but the most drinkable of this lot.
PS! Massive thanks to Magnus for the samples!