Who hasn’t heard of the first ritual obeisance paid by the Indian flying home from a trip abroad? At a neat little shrine where it’s customary to show up before heading for the exit: the airport duty free where you stock up on the Johnnie Walkers, Black Labels, Chivas Regals and other Scotch whiskies. One reason is that genuine, imported alcohol attracts a 150 per cent tariff outside. But there’s a better reason —an unstated truth that hangs over a country that loves to quaff alcohol. If you apply global standards, much of the Indian spirits available at your friendly neighbourhood booze shop amount to nothing more than fakes.
Its ringmasters and impresarios hide behind loose legal terminology that lets them off the hook. The regulatory system for alcohol here—helmed by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS)—confers on these products the veneer of legitimacy. But in most parts of the world, it would have been called out for what it is: a scam. One that gets measured in millions of pegs. The actual, scientific truth is this—in India, the world’s largest consumer of whisky by volume, whisky is not whisky. It’s daru, made of molasses. Neither is Indian brandy really brandy. Vodka is in a grey territory. And even Indian rum is iffy. This is not rhetorical, not about the quality—most consumers have a fairly good idea that they scrape at the bottom of the barrel. T