When is Scotch not whisky? When it’s 21st century.
Vijay Mallya, head of United Breweries Group, owner of Whyte & Mackay has caused consternation in the staid world of Scotch whisky production by suggesting that he wants to spice-up Scotch with natural colours and flavourings to produce alcopop-style drinks.
Well he can’t call it Scotch. Not if it contains any additives. That would be illegal, said a spokesman for the Scotch Whisky Association, referring to the very strict rules, centuries old, governing the production of, what can be called, Scotch whisky. Mr Mallya, speaking about the growth of the Indian market recently, accused the Scotch Whisky Association of “paranoia”.
The Indian Tycoon, who paid £600 million for Whyte & Mackay nearly a year ago, one of India’s richest men, said that he wanted to: “Innovate”. Adding, that the market for Scotch was losing out to Vodka and wines. He said he wanted to experiment with natural additives to make Scotch more attractive to the young. He pointed to the 500 million people, in India, under the age of twenty-five, a huge target market for his proposed innovations, larger than Europe or the US.
There has been much controversy concerning alchopops and other alcoholic drinks aimed at the young. Alcopops are accused of cleverly disguising their alcohol content with sugar and, in some cases, caffeine. The colourful appearance of the products has been blamed for encouragement of over indulgence, or binge drinking, particularly by young women. Parents and concerned groups have repeatedly called for them to be banned, although their fears have been largely ignored. A spokesman for The Scottish Licensed Trade Association said: “We have seen a lot of problems with alcopop-style drinks in recent years and a huge variety of new products have appeared. It becomes a problem when they are deliberately marketed at young people and it’s extremely important that the right balance is struck where these things are concerned.” The Scotch Malt Whisky Society, an organisation with affiliations worldwide, refused to make any comment.
The colourful Vijay Mallya inherited his father, Vittal’s successful Indian business empire in 1983 aged twenty-seven and proceeded to build it into a conglomerate of international importance. He is probably best known for founding the Kingfisher brand. With businesses spanning brewing to airlines, Mallya has earned the nickname The Branson of Bangalore and for his lavish parties The King of Good Times. He controls about sixty percent of the Indian whisky market and his United Breweries Group became the world’s second largest whisky company when it purchased Whyte & Mackay last year. He was recently named chairman of Indian budget airline, Deccan Aviation Ltd. He owns forty-two homes worldwide, including a Scottish castle – Keillour, Perthshire – a stable of 200 horses, the Formula One racing team, Force India (formally Spyker) and the 331 foot Indian Empress yacht, once owned by Elizabeth Taylor. He is estimated to be worth between £1 billion and £2.5 billion.
Mr Mallya did not become a billionaire by kowtowing to four hundred year-old rules and regulations, so we should expect to see Bolly Scotch alcopops on sale soon.