How Scotch whisky rose from a plague drink in England to a status symbol in India

Amrutha Pagad
Amrutha PagadFeb 13, 2023 | 15:00

How Scotch whisky rose from a plague drink in England to a status symbol in India

India topples France to become the largest market for Scotch whisky exports from UK. Photo: Twitter/ScotchWhiskySWA

The British may have left India, but Indians' love for Scotch whisky has outlived the British Raj. India became the UK's largest Scotch whisky market, toppling even France in its way, according to the Scotch Whisky Association. In 2022, India reported a 60% hike in imports. 

However, Scotch whisky comprises only 2% of India's whisky market. Scotch whisky refers to whisky made in Scotland. India is also a market to several other types of 'whiskeys' and 'whisky'.


Scotch whisky is also famous for being aged in a barrel for a minimum of three years. 


  • Whiskey spelled with an 'e' refers to grains distilled in the US and Ireland.
  • Whisky without an 'e' is the spelling for Scottish, Canadian or Japanese grains.
  • Also, the words 'Scotch' and 'whiskey' aren't interchangeable, even though you might hear them used in that manner

But how did Scotch whisky become popular worldwide? About 150 years ago, Scotch whisky wasn't nearly as popular as it is today. 

  • The first mention of Scotch whisky can be found in a letter dating back to 1494. Till it became popular, it was mostly the Scots who were taken by the poison and had been perfecting the art of distilling it. 
  • But it wasn't till the mid-19th century that a plague that destroyed much of Europe's cognac and wine production, pushed Scotch whisky to prominence. 
  • Soon, Scotch whisky became one of UK's most prominent exports. 


How did Scotch whisky enter India? It was obviously the British that introduced Scotch whisky to India during the late-19th century. 

  • Indians, back then, did not like the idea of foreign liquor in the market. They had their own local choice of poison, Cannabis, perfectly legal; and also questioned the health impact of Scotch, rightfully. 
  • So, the British did what they are good at, conducted a study known as the Hemp Commission. The study found that Scotch whisky was no more or no less harmful than cannabis consumption. 
  • Scotch gained popularity in the subcontinent soon enough, mostly enjoyed by the Indian upper class during the colonial period. 
  • It also became a sign of status, of progress, and success. 

Today, many types of whisky/whiskey are popular in India. So much so, that India is now the largest importer of the Scotch, for the UK.

Last updated: February 13, 2023 | 15:00
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