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Friday 18 May 2012

Seven Nation Army

To say that India is a big whisky market would be, well, an understatement. Last year I had the pleasure of sharing a dram with Dr. Vijay Mallya, the ‘King of Goodtimes’ and Indian drinks Barron.

During our ‘session’, the facts came thick and fast; from the huge (and I mean huge) amount of liquor sold in the country, through to the current number of potential consumers reaching drinking age every day (more than 50% of the population is under the age of 25) and onwards through to the complex taxation system within each Indian state which seems to be holding the industry back there.

The whole affair was fascinating, not least as I have a monthly column writing about whisky (real whisky, not Indian Made Foreign Liquor) in a major Indian daily newspaper, so I’m like a dry sponge thrown into the Playboy mansion pool when it comes to facts and figures for this particular market.

One of the biggest challenges facing brands operating in the spirits category, especially in the luxury spirits category, in India is how to upscale their offerings. With assaults on the marketing from the likes of Johnnie Walker and Royal Salute, proper ‘Ultra Premium Scotch whiskies’, it’s a tough old game when you’re churning out molasses based spirit all day long.

However one company, one major player in the market, has seen an opportunity to build a luxury brand for the Indian market dealing with high-end Scotch whisky. Seven Islands is a new label on the block, acting somewhere between an independent bottler and a diffusion brand (to steal a fashion term) started by Tilaknagar Industries Limited, one of the biggest drinks brand owners in India. As I rifle through my reams of notes on liquor sales in India (seriously) I see they own Indian whisky brands such as Shot, Classic and Mansion House, so they know their stuff. (Note to anyone starting an Indie band: look to Indian liquors for band names. Here are some examples: Red Knight, Special Appointment, Black Stallion, G.S. Genius, Silver Peg... the list is almost endless)

It seems from the launch of this brand, that the idea is to create a ‘cool’ independent bottling and then take it back to India once the brand value has been properly built in places such as the UK and Spain. Well, it is a shame they didn’t take the time to mention either the ABV or the age statement of the liquid in their literature, giving their text over pretty much solely to the idea behind the brand. Personally, I  feel it is always dangerous to focus on the brand building at the expense of the liquid. Or not even at the expense of the liquid. I mean, they don’t give any details about the liquid what-so-ever in their press release. A bad sign.

What we do know is that the hooch in the bottle is from BenRiach and subsequent research has shown up that it’s been bottled at 42.8% abv. Oh, and it is going to be £90. So let’s have a try of the liquid and see if they’ve got solid rock on which to build their house, or if they’ve just gone down the beach and chosen some sandy land...

Seven Islands Vintage – NAS – 42.8% abv

Nose: Apples and pears are the most notable aromas to jump from the glass and the longer one enjoys these notes, the more prominent the flavours of clear apple juice become, backed with a hint of furniture polish and some cinnamon. It’s actually very inviting.

Palate: Apple strudel, short flurries of whipped cream, rich honey and heather. The palate is soft and smooth.  Very drinkable.

Finish: Medium in length, the finish has elements again of apple sauce, spiced rum and some hint of vanilla.

Overall: Hugely inoffensive, this whisky is dangerously drinkable but for a luxury product, I was expecting something richer, thicker and a whole lot more sherried. I’m not sure I’d be happy to part with £90 for what appears to be a perfectly drinkable No Age Statement, no-name (unless you’ve got a press release) Scotch whisky.

I’m kinda left confused by this release. Scant details on the liquid always makes me shudder;  like when I’m at a football match and order a ‘meat pie’. “What is this mystery meat you’re serving me up?” I’m left to wonder. I guess Pukka Pies have built a very good business on that, but then they’re not pretending to be Mark Hix are they?