India now buys more Scotch whisky than any other country, according to the Scotch Whisky Association, toppling France to become the biggest buyer by volume.

You might assume that when it comes to spirits, brandy is all the rage in France. It’s wine country, after all, and home to Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, and more. Yet, whisky is imported in huge quantities, with Scotch whisky being the most popular style. For years, France was buying so much Scotch that it was the country’s best customer. But it’s been ousted at the top of the table.

Scotch whisky

India now buys more Scotch whisky than anyone else

India loves its Scotch whisky

India has overtaken France to become the UK’s largest market of Scotch whisky in terms of volume with a 60% hike in imports in 2022 over the previous year, according to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), Scotland’s leading industry body. The SWA released new findings last weekend that showed that India imported 219 million 70cl bottles of Scotch compared to France’s 205 million last year, representing a growth in the Indian Scotch market of more than 200% in the past decade. 

The 2022 trend also saw the Asia-Pacific region overtake the European Union (EU) as the industry’s largest regional market, with a remarkable post-pandemic growth of 50% compared to 2021, pulling in £1.82bn and comprising 29% of global exports alone. India was a huge contributor to this, although while it was the biggest buyer by volume, the biggest by value was the USA, increasing 33% on its 2021 tally of £790 milllion to a whopping £1.53bn (US billion), with France in second with Singapore and Taiwan in third and fourth. India ranked fifth by value.

The stats really make for incredible reading for Scotch whisky fans. The SWA now reports that on average the equivalent of 53 bottles of Scotch whisky is exported every second. That’s up from 44 per second in 2021, with blends accounting for 59% and single malt 32% of all Scotch whisky exports by value. The former is cheaper, typically more widely available, and hugely popular in India where it’s been the preferred choice for millions of Indian consumers. But demand for more expensive single malts has been growing too, which the SWA says is due to cultural shifts and a rise in Indians’ spending power.

Scotch whisky sales table

The figures released by the SWA

Potential for more

The thing about these dizzying numbers is that they’re only the tip of the iceberg for Scotch in India depending on how free trade agreement (FTA) talks between the UK and India progress. These are now in their seventh round of negotiations, with high tariffs on Scotch whisky one of the issues on the agenda. 

Even with the huge hike in volume in 2022, Scotch whisky still only comprises 2% of the Indian whisky market. Think about that for a moment. India bought 219 million bottles of Scotch whisky last year. Which accounted for 2% of its whisky market. The potential is mindblowing.

“SWA analysis shows that a UK-India FTA deal which eases the 150% tariff burden on Scotch whisky in India could boost market access for Scotland’s whisky companies, allowing for an additional GBP 1 billion of growth over the next five years,” the SWA noted.

SWA chief executive Mark Kent

SWA chief executive Mark Kent

The power of whisky

Amidst internal conversations in Scotland about limiting the marketability of alcohol, it’s worth considering the scale of the economical contribution Scotch whisky makes. One of the UK’s biggest exports, the value of Scotch whisky was up 37% to GBP £6.2bn in 2022.

UK Trade Minister Nigel Huddleston describes Scotch whisky as “one of the UK’s great exporting success stories”, noting its contributions to the economy and how vital it is to support thousands of jobs, with 11,000 people employed directly in Scotland and a further 42,000 jobs across the UK enabled by this success. Huddleston has also set his sights on £1 trillion in exports by 2030.

This is the first time it’s broke £6bn and has done so in the post-COVID climate. The SWA pointed to post-pandemic restocking, the return of global travel retail, and premiumisation trends as key contributors to the growth in volume and value for Scotch whisky.

“During a year of significant economic headwinds and global supply chain disruption, the Scotch Whisky industry continued to be an anchor of growth, supporting investment and job creation across Scotland and the UK,” said SWA chief executive Mark Kent. “By reducing tariffs through the UK-India free trade agreement, continuing the duty freeze in the March budget, and ensuring the industry’s continued ability to advertise our world-class product in our home market, the Scottish and UK governments can count on the Scotch whisky industry to reinvest its success across the UK.”