There was homage to history. There was homage to grapes and wine and misty hills. There was homage to Indian capability. Last week, when the world’s largest selling whisky brand, McDowell’s, launched a single malt, the colour purple — in all its hues, from pale lavender to deep burgundy — dominated the room. An apt colour to denote that the origin of the McDowell’s & Co Distiller’s Batch Indian Single Malt (yes, that’s what it is called) was from a distillery in the wine capital Nashik.

In its 125th year, McDowell’s has joined the ‘Made-in-India’ single malt party. Actually it did make one attempt earlier some 27 years ago, but at that time single malts had not yet found favour with the Indian palate. Now, as Ruchira Jaitley, the CMO of Diageo, which got the McDowell’s brand post its acquisition of USL, points out, the time and context is right. “We are in the 125th year of McDowell’s, a brand created for India by a Scottish gentleman (Angus McDowell) who wanted to get the best liquids into India. Fast forward to around 70 years ago, when McDowell’s began manufacturing in India. Today, we are unlocking the case to those beautiful archives,” she says.


Describing the creation of the single malt, Chief Innovation Officer Vikram Damodaran says he was clear about one thing. It had to have a distinctive new character. “A lot of people romance the hills, but we didn’t want that,” he says. So, instead, this single malt romances the grape and the terroir of the Nashik distillery, one of its largest units, with a capacity of 6,000 litres per day. “The malt distillation plant at Nashik is huge and the mastery of the craft of distillation there is perfect,” says Damodaran.

The packaging is an ode to the terroir of the wine region with deep purple tones, a golden map and veiled peaks that denote it has risen from the mists of the Sahyadri. “Being wine country, we have access to the best wine casks and marry them into the single malt to give a mellow finish. It is a wine-forward whisky,” he says. The distilled drink is first matured in bourbon and virgin Oak casks and then in Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz casks unique to the Sahyadri terrain. “I would call it the ideal transition whisky — for those moving from blended to single malts,” said Hemanth Rao, founder of the Single Malt Amateur Club, who was roped in to co-create the spirit.

The positioning is super premium. “Exceptional liquid has to be super premium,” says Jaitley. Only 6,000 bottles are available in this batch. Pricing is in line with Godawan, the other Made-in-India single malt from the Diageo portfolio.

Why such a limited edition? “This is only the beginning,” promises Damodaran, harking back to the story of McDowell’s first ever distillery in India, which was in Kerala in Cherthala on the banks of the Vembanad Lake. There are more stories of heritage and romance waiting to be written.