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Could the Angels take more than their fair share of Indian whisky?

Could the Angels take more than their fair share of Indian whisky?

‘Ding ding – round 10’

Round ten of the UK-India FTA was concluded on 9th June 2023 and it appears the battle is set to continue.  And it would seem that one of the many contentious points still being debated is the Angel’s share. Confused?

Let us explain.  For those not in the know, the Angel’s share does not refer to winged beings and cherubs fluttering down for a midnight knees up at the distilleries expense, (although that does conjure up a rather intriguing image!) No, instead it refers to the quantity of alcohol, which naturally evaporates into the atmosphere through the cask during whisky maturation.

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, as amusing as our metaphor may be, it is potentially a pretty big deal.

In the UK, the quantity of the Angel’s Share is approximately 2% of the liquid in the cask. Now some of the most popular casks for maturing whisky would be American white oak, which hold 200 litres and Hogshead, which hold between 230 and 250 litres.  So, the Angel’s Share with these, would be roughly between 4 and 5 litres respectively, that’s equates to between 5.5 and 7 x 70cl bottles per cask.

To qualify as Scotch Whisky, the liquid must, by law be distilled and matured in Scotland in oak casks for at least three years. Therefore, the UK is requesting that, as part of the UK-India FTA, India abide by the same rules for their whisky, in that it spends three years in the barrel maturing.  And this is where we hit the stumbling block, because India is arguing that due to their climatic conditions, their whisky takes only 9 months to mature to the same stage as our 3 year matured whisky.  However, those same conditions also result in a greater loss to the Angel’s Share, calculated to be around 10-12% per year.  If India are forced to continue to mature their whisky for the full three years, they would be looking at a loss to the Angels of around 35%, which equates to a staggering 70 and 87.5 litres or 100 and 125 70 cl bottles per cask!  In India’s defence, it’s no wonder the issue is being contested.

Image courtesy of The Guardian

Vinod Giri, Director General of the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage companies (CIABC) expressed his concerns to The Times, of India:

This is a big loss and will also harm the quality of our whisky.  The conditions being dictated by the UK are unacceptable and unaffordable.  We are importing to the US, South America and Africa without any such unfair condtions.”

The CIABC are so concerned about the consequences of such a restriction that they have even offered their whisky to UK laboratories so that they can be quality tested to ensure full maturation after nine months.

Of course, the Angel’s share is not the only bone of contention where whisky is concerned in the FTA, the UK are wanting a faster reduction in the import duty imposed, dropping immediately from 150% to 75% and finally 30% across a three year period, whereas India are pushing for a more gradual reduction to 50% over five years.

Let’s hope round 11 next month, proves to be more fruitful.

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