Indians love traditions; they look for the familiar. Even when they travel abroad, they seek 'home' food; and when it comes to beverages, they go for the ol' familiar. Or so says conventional wisdom. But marketers are beginning to notice a gradual change. It would seem that the new Indian is beginning to develop a taste for the exotic. So while the romance with world cuisine has been on for a while, they are beginning to now flirt with global wines and liquors too.
Diners are seeking out pint-sized versions, or even smaller glasses of Blue Agave (Mezcal ), a tequila, Grappa, Sake, Cachaca, Calvados , Metaxa, Shochu, and Aquavit. In Mumbai, most five star eateries and fine-dining restaurants now serve these and other specialty liquors.
Even as cuisine from different parts of the world-from Japanese to Italian to Vietnamese-continue to tickle Indian tastebuds, consumers are now keen to experiment with spirits from different countries too.
Just as India has its local drink Arrack, a low-end country liquor and Feni, more popular as Goa's own drink, other countries too have their own alcohol beverages. So there is Grappa from Italy, Sake from Japan, Cachaca from Brazil, Calvados from France, Metaxa (Greece), Shochu (Japan and Korea), Mezcal (Mexico) and Aquavit (Scandinavian), which are offered as an additional choice to Indian connoisseurs.
Spirit of adventure
Though the market for these beverages is not big, consumers are clearly experimenting. Says A M David, vice president, international division of Sultania Trade, a Mumbai-based spirit and wine importer, "These drinks have a growing clientele in India though the market is relatively small at the moment. These are niche products but with more and more Indians getting exposed to global culture and cuisine , thanks to travel, many consumers are eager to try out these new varieties."
Adds Kishore Joshi, a food and beverage assistant manager at The Leela hotel in Mumbai, the trend is particularly noticed among the well-heeled and the well-travelled . "Though consumers are more into foreign wines and ask for a ruby red from California or a reisling, there is a certain section which is asking for certain national spirits, especially when they are partaking of a certain cuisine. Tequila is popular among youngsters; martinis among a slightly senior crowd. But, clearly, people of all ages prefer to drink the local spirit that gos with a particular country's cuisine."
Grappa, the Italian after-dinner drink, is a big hit at the Leela. "It's a combination that goes well with espresso. After an exciting Italian meal, when patrons have to decide between the delectable tiramisu or the egg-based liquer Zabaglione for desert, Grappa is a must have as the last downer," says Joshi.
Fad or evolving trend?
As an official of the Taj group pointed out, "It is an evolving trend. We have noticed more and more customers ask for a specific drink, though wines are the hot favourite any day. At the Wasabi restaurant in Mumbai, Sake is a must have with the Japanese food on offer. No one will drink anything else."
She added: "Indians, unlike in the past, are exposed to global culture and cuisine. Thanks to travel, they are well-informed." As for the clientele, it's a combination of young and old people. Then there are the nouveau rich, who want to keep tasting all that life has to offer.
Sultania has brought the Grappa Classica to India, the flagship brand of Mazzetti dAltavilla , a spirit major from Italy, and Sake from the Gekkeikan Sake Company. These alcohol beverages are found in five star hotels and fine dining restaurants. As of now, they are restricted to the metros and large cities as compared to other beverages like whisky, rum, brandy and beer, which are available even at the local wine shop down the street.
The wine market in India too has kept pace and has grown by 30%. Sensing the demand, companies from South Africa, Spain and Italy are moving in with their ranges. Wine importer Gurpreetesh Singh Maini feels the market has "improved phenomenally. Wine is a lifestyle product," he says. "It sounds sexy and looks good. The wine market grows when the economy grows. People now can afford to spend on wine."
Though the price for these liquors is steepthanks to a high duty structure for imported spirits-consumers are not put off. Grappa, a fragrant grape-based pomace brandy, primarily served as a digestive or after-dinner drink, is priced at Rs 1,750 per bottle.
Interestingly, Vijay Mallya's UB group too has big plans to take Feni from a country liquor label to the level of a premium, classy drink, both in the domestic and international markets . And why not? His counterparts in other parts of the world have created strong global brands out of obscure local products through savvy marketing.
Mexico has its tequila, Jamaica its the ubiquitous rum, Britain its scotch whisky, bourbon in America, vodka in Russia, champagne and cognac in France. Greece has its Metaxa and Japan has its Shochu. So why not a signature drink from India?