It’s not everyday the whisky world is combined with interpretative dance. But, then again, it’s not everyday a new Indian whisky launches with all the flair and flash of a staged Bollywood film.
And so, that is what I recently found myself in the midst of at the unveiling of the new Seven Islands Whisky. I originally attended because I thought that – like Amrut – this was a new whisky being made in India for the global market. It turns out this is actually a whisky being made in the UK market for the Indian and international luxury consumer. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The launch – which happened at glitzy, moody Mint Leaf restaurant on Haymarket in London – was filled with all the drama and excitement that only Mumbai’s Bollywood could produce: a harem of women sashayed and danced, swirling purple material over their heads, while a tall blonde played the sax, a muscled man in “Hammer pants” flexed his abdomen and an announcer took us through the seven “levels of consciousness” which (apparently) the whisky also takes drinkers through. Intriguing? Definitely.
Having that “oh so horrible” English cynicism built into me (I may have grown up in Canada, but my English father taught me the ways of this country from birth) I couldn’t help but cock my head to one side, arch an eyebrow and wonder: “Is this just a way to spice up an average product?”
To give you some background on Seven Islands – this is not a whisky made in India. In fact, Indian drinks behemoth Tilaknagar Industries (which owns a portfolio of liquors through its “Indian Made Foreign Liquor” brand) owns Ryan50 Scotland, which in turn has a “strategic partnership” with BenRiach Distillery to produce Seven Islands Vintage. Sticking with me? Good.
As such, this is basically BenRiach in Bollywood drag.
The idea is that is has been created for the “Indian” palate and will match well with spicy Indian foods.
The whisky – which took two years to create – is being sold as an upmarket, super-premium whisky and is selling for £90 a bottle. It will soon be launched in Paris, Milan and Mumbai, and has no age stamp (except to say it is a vintage). The company will be doing limited edition releases, such as a single malt, single cask edition of 5,000 bottles, due to be launched this month.
Interestingly, the company’s mission is also in targeting women. Sanjay S Dash, the director of marketing and sales for Ryan50 Scotland, told me that, unlike older brands which are established in the boys’ club, a new product can reach out to women by doing so from the start of its appearance in the market.
“They [an old brand] can’t go back and say, ‘Look we’ve just created this for you,’ because they didn’t do that to start. This is a population that needs to be looked at,” he said.
Additionally, he said that the female demographic’s ability to be more discerning about what they drink and, also, to try new things is attractive.
“To Seven Islands, women are an appealing demographic, because their willingness to buck tradition suggests they’re more open to other options. Men have established a rapport with the Johnny Walkers of the world and the Jim Beams of the world, but women are interested in seeing what else is out there,” he said.
The company will be targeting lifestyle magazines and working with art programmes to reach out to the 25-70 year old female market on a global basis.
Asked whether there was any worry from the company about moving into the luxury world when there are so many Scottish brands in this space, Sanjay said that because this area of the market is growing so rapidly and because of the product’s difference, this wouldn’t be a problem.
“Our identity is different from that of other Scotch brands in the market, so we don’t really see those as competition. We are an Indian brand, inspired by the rich cultural heritage of the country and this reflects in our brand personality,” he said.
So, at the end of it, what did I think of Seven Islands Vintage?
For me (and, as always, this is a personal reflection), it was nice. But it didn’t have the “wow” factor I was hoping for. There were notes of honeysuckle and spring flowers on the nose. The palate was full of honey and vanilla, along with a bit of lemony, chilli bite mid-palate, which finished on a rich, plummy flavour. Good. But worth £90? For me…no.
But, as always, I encourage you to try it yourself. And if you do, let me know if you think it’s got the “Bollywood” factor…