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DGCA tells Supreme Court, left to Airlines how much Liquor to Serve

The horrific incident of an inebriated passenger urinating on a fellow passenger on an Air India flight from New York to Delhi in late 2022 has become a reference point on passenger behaviour on flights. The drunken passenger – Shankar Mishra – was arrested after enormous media pressure, and the airline was pulled up by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

Later, the 72-year-old woman passenger filed a petition in the Supreme Court, demanding urgent formulation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) to deal with intoxicated passengers. The DGCA in an affidavit filed before the Supreme Court said it was left to the discretion of every airline, as per Clause 4.3 of Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR), to formulate a policy so as to not leave passengers inebriated which increase the risk of them committing nuisance.

The DGCA said that Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) are in place to deal with “handling of unruly passengers”. In her petition, the woman had requested SC to direct DGCA to frame a ‘zero tolerance’ SOP and rules to strictly deal with onboard unruly/disruptive behaviour and its implementation in letter and spirit by all airlines.

She pointed out that the Air India crew faltered in handling the sensitive issue in a very casual manner causing immense damage to her dignity. Stating that the airline first served excess liquor to the accused co-passenger and then forced her to enter into a settlement with him while failing in their duty to report the incident to the police, she called upon the DGCA to consider “drunkenness” as unruly or disruptive behaviour on an aircraft.

Air India had a policy on serving liquor on international flights as per which a passenger can’t be served more than two drinks on a flight that is less than four hours. However, the amount of alcohol served differs from business, first and economy classes with the last mentioned just getting one drink.  

Air India’s apology for not handling the incident properly and for being insensitive to the woman passenger, came a bit late and with the Air India Chief Executive Officer, Campbell Wilson adding that it would review the ‘policy on service of alcohol in flight’.

Not a one-off incident

This was not just one incident. On December 6, 2022 on a Paris-New Delhi flight, a drunk passenger was caught smoking in the lavatory, ignoring the crew’s admonition. And another passenger allegedly relieved himself on a vacant seat and blanket of a fellow female passenger when she had gone to the lavatory. Disgusting, to say the least.

IATA says offenses often go unpunished

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said that there is growing concern from airlines, governments and passengers at the increasing frequency and severity of these incidents that involve violence against crew and other passengers, harassment and failure to comply with safety and public health instructions.

27% alcohol use, 24% smoking violations

IATA said that incidents involving unruly behaviour in airlines are on the rise. Alcohol use is involved in 27% of these cases while 24% cases related to noncompliance with smoking regulations. IATA said the solution seems obvious. “If too many airline passengers are abusing alcohol and acting violently, airlines can limit alcohol sale to solve the problem. However, airlines are looking for a regulatory fix, showing their reluctance to lose the alcohol sales profit despite the harm alcohol is causing.

In the US, federal law prohibits flight crews from allowing “obviously intoxicated passengers” to board aircraft, and it doesn’t allow flight attendants to serve alcohol to anyone who appear intoxicated. 

IATA core principles on dealing with unruly passengers

In June 2014, at the 70th annual general meeting of IATA, the industry unanimously adopted a set of core principles for dealing with the issue of unruly passenger behaviour.  To support these principles, IATA has published a document “Even safer and more enjoyable air travel for all – A strategy for reducing the problem of unruly and disruptive passenger incidents”, that uses examples of good practice to illustrate the practical steps that must be taken to significantly reduce the problem of unruly and disruptive passengers including urging governments to:

  • Communicate the types of prohibited conduct onboard aircraft and the legal and other consequences of such conduct as per the Standards and Recommended Practices in Annex 9 – Facilitation of the Chicago Convention
  • To ratify MP14, thereby removing barriers to prosecution/enforcement action
  • To review the types of enforcement measures that are in place, consistent with the severity of the incident, including civil and administrative penalties such as fines that can be issued to ensure there are consequences to such behaviour as per ICAO Doc.10117
  • To support the work of airlines and other industry stakeholders to prevent unruly and disruptive passenger incidents
  • To assist member airlines in prevention and management of unruly passenger incidents, IATA has developed extensive guidance and training, for example in de-escalation techniques and the responsible service of alcohol during flights

No liquor on domestic Indian flights

On Indian domestic flights, no alcohol is served, but on international flights airlines do. This rule was implemented in 1994 after the Ministry of Civil Aviation received several complaints of flyers getting inebriated and misbehaving with the airline staff and other passengers.

Many airlines don’t serve alcohol

These are some of the airlines which do not serve liquor on flights – Air Arabia; Egyptair; Iran Air; Iraqi Airways, Kuwait Airways; Pakistan International Airlines; Royal Brunei Airlines; and Saudia. Not all Middle Eastern airlines prohibit sale and consumption and the best example of service is Emirates Airline which has a lounge on board with the most exotic cocktails to be had at 40,000 feet.

One black sheep such as Shankar Mishra can mess up the entire inflight experience. Stricter punishments may be deterrent. Nevertheless, it is for the cabin crew to be trained, first in serving alcohol to passengers and secondly on dealing with unruly passengers, irrespective of whether the passenger is inebriated or not. 

Pilot too drunk, suspended

While these incidents are passenger related, recently Air India took action against a female pilot by suspending her for three months after she failed the pre-flight breath analyser test. The pilot, serving as a first officer on a Boeing 787 aircraft, reportedly did not pass the test just before she was scheduled to operate a flight from Delhi to Hyderabad.

The DGCA has laid down norms for pilots and other crew members, all of them are mandated to undergo pre-flight breath analyser examinations prior to their first departure during a flight duty period. If any crew member tests positive, strict penalties are imposed. In the case of a first-time failure, suspension from flying duties for a duration of three months is the prescribed punishment.

Last year, DGCA revised the norms regarding the medical examination of aircraft personnel with regards to alcohol consumption. The regulations prohibit the consumption of any substance containing alcohol, including mouthwash or tooth gel, which could potentially result in a positive breath analyser test. “No crew member shall consume any drug/formulation or use any substance such as mouthwash/ tooth gel or any such product which has alcoholic content. This may result into positive breath analyser test. Any crew member who is undergoing such medication shall consult the company doctor before undertaking flying assignment.”  Additionally, crew members undergoing medication are advised to consult the company doctor before undertaking any flying duties.

– R. Chandrakanth

Diageo India and SCPwD Join Forces to Educate Disabled Students Through ‘Learning for Life’ Program

In a recent collaboration aimed at enhancing the employability of persons with disabilities (PwDs), the Skill Council for Persons with Disability (SCPwD) has partnered with Diageo India to provide vocational training to 300 students. This initiative falls under Diageo India’s “Learning for Life” program, aiming to address the skill gaps in the Business and Hospitality sectors.

The training, focusing on Food and Beverage Services, will be conducted in various SCPwD-affiliated centres across India. Certified trainers and assessors will oversee the residential programs, offering students a curriculum tailored to their needs. This partnership signifies a step towards inclusivity and diversity in the workforce, aligning with Diageo’s broader societal goals for 2030. The announcement was made in a ceremony attended by representatives from the National Association for the Blind (NAB) Karnataka, along with other industry stakeholders.

Hina Nagarajan, MD & CEO, Diageo India said, “Driven by the common objective of creating a vibrant and diverse workforce, we are delighted to expand our partnership with the Skill Council for Persons with Disability. Last year, we began this initiative by extending the scope of our ‘Learning for Life’ programme, to include the PwD community to help them overcome employment barriers. We strengthen our commitment this year to promote sustainable growth by scaling up this programme to provide equal access to the right resources, skills, and employment opportunities across India.”

Ravindra Singh, CEO, Skill Council for Persons with Disability (SCPwD) said, “We are delighted to partner with Diageo India whose commitment to inclusion and diversity is exemplary. Last year, we trained 100 Persons with Disabilities as part of Diageo India’s ‘Learning for Life’ programme. The success of this programme encourages us to expand this specially curated programme which focuses on providing hands-on training in hospitality skills and enhance employment opportunities.”

The initiative reflects a growing recognition of the need for accessible education and training programs that equip PwDs with the skills necessary to enter and succeed in the workforce, thereby promoting sustainable growth and diversity.

Radico Khaitan launches Spirit of Victory Pure Malt Whisky

Whisky is a tribute to the valour displayed by our Armed Forces during pivotal moments in history; company’s commits to contribute part of the revenue from every bottle to the welfare fund of the Indian Armed Forces.

Radico Khaitan Ltd. uncorked the Spirit of Victory, beginning with the Premium XXX Rum in 2017. In 2022 the Lemon Dash Rum was added to the flavoured white rum portfolio. Following these launches in the Rum category, the company has launched its latest Spirit of Victory 1999 Pure Malt Whisky.

Amar Sinha, COO, Radico Khaitan Ltd.

The Spirit of Victory whisky is a tribute to the valour displayed by our Armed Forces during pivotal moments in history. This special collection pays homage to the bravery and sacrifices made by our soldiers in the 1965, 1971, and the poignant Kargil War of 1999. What makes this launch special is the company’s commitment to contributing a part of the revenue from every bottle sold to the welfare fund of the Indian Armed Forces. At the helm of this spirited journey is Amar Sinha, the Chief Operating Officer of Radico Khaitan, steering the company beyond being a beverage provider.

The Spirit of Victory 1999 Pure Malt Whisky involves blending different single malts, sourced globally, and expertly mixed with Radico’s Indian single malt to create a drink that is not only outstanding, but carries deep meaning. The story of the such an endevour begins in 2017 with the launch of the 1965 Spirit of Victory Premium XXX Rum.

By 2022-23, it achieved a significant milestone by selling over 1 million cases, receiving Gold Quality Awards for six consecutive years (2018-2023) at the Global Monde Selection Awards. The Spirit of Victory Lemon Dash Rum, introduced in 2022, expanded the line, entering the flavoured white rum territory. Both variants have become favourites, marking the 7th brand of the company to achieve the million- case club in March 2023.

The company is looking at reaching into the hearts and minds of consumers. From the ‘1971 War Chronicles’ animated series to the ‘Battlefield Dossier’ series on the “Spirit of Victory” YouTube channel, these efforts aim to educate the younger generation about patriotism and preserve the inspiring stories of our armed forces.

With the alcohol industry leaning towards premiumisation, the success of the 1965 Spirit of Victory Rum positions Radico Khaitan at the forefront of the premium category, challenging stereotypes and reshaping the industry.

Amrut launches limited editions Bagheera and Portonova in India

• Jim Murray adds zing to whisky tasting event
• Plan to up exports to 100 countries from 57

As whisky enthusiasts gathered at The Oberoi, Gurugram, on March 3rd for the Amrut Distilleries’ whisky tasting event featuring Jim Murray, a distinguished whisky writer and critic renowned for his unparallel mastery of the spirit, it was evident that this was no ordinary experience. The event provided a platform for enthusiasts to engage, learn, and connect. The day culminated in the unveiling of Bagheera and Portonova, marking their debut in the Indian market.

Rakshit N. Jagdale, MD, Amrut Distilleries Private Limited

New products offerings, same class and elegance

Rakshit N. Jagdale, Managing Director, Amrut Distilleries Private Limited said, “We challenge ourselves at every step to craft new Amrut Malt variants. Take Amrut Portonova, for instance, an un-peated single malt whisky, that undergoes a unique maturation process. Initially aged in a blend of new American oak and ex-bourbon barrels, it is then transferred to once-used port pipes imported from Portugal before returning to ex-bourbon casks.”

The name “Portonova” pays homage to the town of Parangipettai in Tamil Nadu. Jagdale describes its flavour profile as offering an exotic and vibrant experience with notes of raisins, vanilla, cherry liqueur, and spices, maintaining extraordinary smoothness despite its full cask strength. Tasting notes reveal a rich nose with fruity hints, toffee sweetness, tropical spices, coconut, and cracked black pepper, while the palate delights with homemade red berry jam, caramel sweetness, tropical fruits, banana fritters, and a subtle saltiness, leading to an exceptionally long and fruity finish with traces of raspberries and cranberries lingering on the palate.

Commenting on Amrut Bagheera, he said, “This single malt is one to cherish. It exudes a sensory journey that is both complex and rewarding, making it a cherished addition to any whisky enthusiast’s collection.”

Bagheera’s profile boasts vibrant fruity notes, with hints of dried fruits and peach, accompanied by subtle undertones of mild orangey citrus, vanilla, and toffee. Upon nosing, one is greeted with the enticing aroma of salted caramel intertwined with dark chocolate, alongside a medley of fruity notes, possibly dried fruits, with a subtle oak presence and a touch of sandalwood that gradually evolves into a floral bouquet. The taste is a delightful fusion of fruity flavours accented by floral nuances, with a velvety, oily texture. The creamy middle is enhanced by hints of sandalwood and wood phenols, expertly balanced by a gentle peat undertone. The finish is both sweet and dry, leaving a lingering essence of peat.

Limited to 300 bottles allocated for sale in Haryana, Bagheera proves to be a highly sought-after and competitive endeavour, given its status as a truly premium and versatile whisky offering. Jagdale noted, “Since the market release is limited to Haryana and considering their distinctive richness and special status, the MRP for Portonova is approximately ₹15,000, while Bagheera is marked at ₹23,000 per bottle.”

Murray endorses

Jim Murray, Whisky Writer, Critic & Author of The Whiskey Bible

The tasting event gave an opportunity to whisky lovers to get a peek into the world of Amrut. Murray said, “I’ve known Rakshit [Jagdale] for an extended period. He embodies humility, gentleness, and authenticity, much like his father – a fact I find truly honourable. His expertise is on par with their master distiller and blender, Ashok Chokalingam. Together, they possess an acute understanding of the essence and nuances of their whiskies. I have a genuine appreciation for their creations. While I offered some minor input in guiding their direction, my primary inclination is to assist others naturally. When they released Amrut Fusion, I was thoroughly impressed. It stood out as a pinnacle of quality and innovation. In fact, I ranked it as the third-best whisky I tasted in 2010 due to its exceptional balance. The growing demand for their products prompted them to double their capacity. The recent additions, Bagheera and Portonova, hold immense promise. The dedication of the entire team is apparent in the exceptional quality of their products.”

Future plans and projections

Raju Vazirani, Head of Business Development & Adviser

Talking about future plans, Raju Vaziraney, Head of Business Development & Adviser, said the goal for Amrut is to remain a trusted brand in India and a place to find innovation and freedom. This means further experimentation into the soul of single malt distillation. “We will be taking our products to 100 countries around the world by 2030. Additionally, we have plans to introduce several special edition releases exclusively for the Indian market in the upcoming years. Furthermore, we intend to distribute limited batches of Portonova and Bagheera to regions beyond Haryana, but it’s important to move with the aspirational trend among Indian customers, emphasising the cautious approach in opening new markets without sufficient stock.” Amrut is presently exporting to 57 countries.

Amrut Team L-R (Mr. Gurmeet S. Johal, MD – GD Group – Mr. Ashok Chokalingam, Master Distiller of Amrut Distilleries, Mr. Rakshit Jagdale, MD, Amrut Distilleries and Mr V. Ravindran, Head of Marketing, Amrut Distilleries

Gurmeet S. Johal, MD of GD Group, the official distributor for Amrut, added, “We handle a few states for them in North India, including Punjab, Delhi, Chandigarh, and Haryana. Our belief in Amrut’s quality is solid, and their commendable passion for their products has been a driving force for us. Over the past six to eight months, we’ve been in discussions with Amrut to bring in some of their exported malts, even in small quantities, to ensure that local consumers can savour the best offerings from Amrut. We strategically selected Haryana due to its premier status as a high-end alcohol market and with a duty-free environment.”

Johal elaborated, “After months of discussions and tastings, involving Jim Murray in the process, we finalised Bagheera and Portonova. These limited quantities were brought into the market. Looking ahead, our plan is to introduce one or perhaps two limited editions annually. Importantly, these limited editions will not be repeated. With Amrut currently offering around 45-46 different expressions of single malt, even if we request one or two each year, it will be 20 years before we consider repeating something. I want the market to understand this about Amrut: we are not merely a one or two-expression single malt company like the rest.”

– Pritisha Borthakur

Tamil Nadu Increases Liquor Prices

The Tamil Nadu government has increased excise duty on alcohol. Accordingly, the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) has increased liquor prices from February 1, 2024. The corporation said the price of 180 ml of regular and medium-quality liquor has been increased by ₹10; premium quality liquor by ₹20 and 650ml beer by ₹10.

Tamil Nadu has been earning sizable revenues from liquor sales. In the previous financial year (2022- 23) the revenues were ₹44,098.56 crore, up from ₹36,050 crore in 2021-22. During 2022-2023, the revenue earned by the government through special fee on imported foreign liquor was ₹44.79 crore and the revenue earned by TASMAC from service charge alone was ₹12.23 lakh.

Planning to shut 500 shops

The previous Tamil Nadu Minister for Prohibition and Excise V Senthil Balaji, during the demands for grants for his department in the Assembly last year said that of the total 5,329 retail liquor shops run by TASMAC, the government has decided to shut down 500 shops this year.

Dysfunctional automatic vending machines

While wanting to shut some shops, TASMAC last year introduced automatic liquor dispensing machines in five places in Chennai, to help curb some TASMAC outlets overcharging customers. Automatic vending machines were introduced on a pilot basis, charging as per MRP. However, tipplers in Chennai were dejected as the machines either were empty or dysfunctional. In April last, vending machines were installed in imported liquor shops located in five malls in the city – VR Mall in Anna Nagar, Phoenix Market City in Velachery, Forum Vijaya Mall in Vadapalani, Express Avenue in Royapettah, Ampa Skywalk in Aminjikarai.

Exploring 90ml tetra packs

Similarly, the government is exploring the possibility of opening TASMAC outlets early after requests from workers who wanted them open between 7 am and 9 pm. The current timings are from noon to 10 pm. The Minister for Excise and Prohibition, S. Muthusamy has mentioned that TASMAC is also exploring introducing 90 ml tetra packs. The Minister said the decision to sell liquor in cartons as opposed to glass bottles was being taken because glass bottles are thrown on streets and farmlands, causing an inconvenience. He said that “to prevent this, the government is planning to introduce 90 ml tetra packs as they can be used just once. We studied how it is done in other states.”

Tasmac is a state-run company, which oversees wholesale and retail sales of alcoholic beverages in Tamil Nadu. It was established in 1983 by the then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister late M.G. Ramachandran. It is incorporated under the Companies Act, 1956 on May 23, 1983.

TASMAC is vested with the exclusive privilege of wholesale supply of IMFL for the whole State of Tamil Nadu as per Section 17 (C) (1-A) (a) of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act, 1937 (Tamil Nadu Act X of 1937). It has taken over the wholesale distribution of Indian Made Foreign Liquor from the Private Sector in the whole state of Tamil Nadu during May 1983. The exclusive privilege of Retail Vending of IMFS was granted to TASMAC under Sec.17 (C) (1-B) of the Tamil Nadu Prohibition Act, 1937. TASMAC is doing the retail business also successfully with effect from 29.11.2003.

TASMAC procures IMFS and beer stocks locally from 11 IMFS manufacturers and 7 Beer manufacturers in the State. It also procures wine locally from one manufacturer. It also procures Scotch, whisky and few wine brands from other states. TASMAC also engages in retail sale of Foreign Liquor.

Distribution of IMFS and beer items to the licensees are being done through the 43 depots of TASMAC located throughout the State. The distilleries are – Enrica Enterprises, Chennai; Mohan Breweries & Distilleries, Chennai; Shiva Distilleries, Coimbatore; Empee Distilleries, Kancheepuram; Southern Agrifurane industries, Villupuram; Midas Golden Distilleries, Kancheepuram; Accord Breweries and Distilleries, Kancheepuram; SNJ Distilleries, Madurantagam; Kals Distilleries, Pudukottai; Golden Vats, Tiruvarur; and Kals Beverages, Coimbatore.

The breweries supplying are – United Breweries, Thiruvallur; Mohan Breweries, Chennai; United Breweries, Thiruvallur; SNJ Breweries, Madurantagam; Kals Breweries, Pudukkottai; Apollo Distilleries, Thiruvallur; and Accord Breweries, Kancheepuram.

– R. Chandrakanth

Supreme Court observation on Blenders Pride vs London Pride Whisky on Trademark Infringement

The Apex Court in an observation on January 22 has asked respondents Indore-based JK Enterprises if they are willing to change the trade dress of the brand London Pride whisky in a trademark infringement case filed by Pernod Ricard India Pvt Ltd., makers of Blenders Pride and Imperial Blue whiskies. A bench of the Chief Justice of India, D.Y. Chandrachud, Justices J.B. Pardiwala and Manoj Misra adjourned the case by two weeks while asking the respondents – JK Enterprises to get instructions in this regard.

The Supreme Court in two recent hearings saw the petitioners – Pernod Ricard India Pvt Ltd and ANR – presenting their case by bringing bottles of whisky of the two contending brands to highlight trademark infringement. Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi representing the petitioners had taken permission to display the bottles in the Court to point out the similarities in the name ‘Pride’, trade dress and the bottle shape. The trade dress between London Pride and Pernod Ricard’s another brand ‘Imperial Blue’ has similarities.

Pernod Ricard said, “The respondent has copied the trademark Blender Pride by adoption and use of London Pride and further copied the colour combination, get-up and trade dress of Imperial Blue of petitioners including use of bottles with embossing of Seagram, the house mark of the petitioner.”

Pride is a generic word, CJI

Presenting the bottles to the Court, advocate Rohatgi said, “In this case the name is not the copy. In this case the trade dress, and even the bottle is identical. And something worse, bottle is absolutely identical.” Rohtagi showed “London Pride” to the bench, however, the bench said the bottle had a different shape. Chief Justice Chandrachud said that the term “Pride” is a generic word. Rohatgi went on to argue on the ‘deceptive similarity’ by recalling similarities in name such as Royal Stag-Indian Stag, Blenders Pride-Casino Pride, Amritdhara- Lakshmandhara, Imperial Blue-Imperial Gold, Golden Deer-Double Deer, Johnny Walker-Captain Walker, Lal Kila-Hara Kila, Field Marshal-Sona Marshal, Officer’s Choice-Green Choice etc. It may be mentioned here that the Supreme Court had in September last year refused to grant interim relief to Pernod Ricard India in its trademark infringement plea against United Spirits which manufactures whisky under the name ‘Royal Challengers American Pride’.

D.Y. Chandrachud, Chief Justice of India

Misuse of embossed bottles

Rohatgi further pointed out how the respondent had misused ‘Seagram’ embossed on the bottles. “Seagram is also mine, which they are using. They are either getting manufactured from somewhere else or getting from Kabadi. Because they can’t get Seagram.” The CJI then asked the petitioners to point out where the bottle was embossed with the word ‘Seagram’. The bench in lighter vein asked the petitioners not to hand over the bottle but to indicate from their place where the embossed word was.

The CJI on seeing the bottles remarked “Why have you (London Pride makers) but adopted the same trade dress and colour and all? Get instructions on whether you will change. We will keep it on Friday week. Ask yourselves, why you suddenly chose to use ‘Pride’?”

Price difference pointed out by respondents

The apex court witnessed interesting exchanges between the two parties. When Senior Advocate Dr. S. Muralidhar, appearing for the respondent, said that affluent customers can easily discern between London Pride and Blenders Pride, the latter being a premium product. Countering this argument, Abhimanyu Bhandari, representing JK Enterprises, submitted that London pride was much cheaper. He argued that while Blenders Pride was priced around ₹1,650, London Pride cost about ₹600. Therefore, someone willing to buy a Blenders Pride would never buy a bottle of London Pride, he contended.

The apex court bench pointed out that the question whether ‘London Pride’ name is deceptively similar to ‘Blenders Pride’ requires arguments from both sides. The petitioners had alleged that the Indore-firm was hurting Pernod’s ₹4,400 crore annual turnover.

The Chief Justice of India observed there was no absolute similarity with regard to the names of Blenders Pride and London Pride. “You used the word ‘Blender’, they use the word ‘London’, and the bottles are also different. They are also saying 42 other manufacturers also use the word. Blender and London are two completely different words.” The CJI asked an open-ended question “Will a person walking into a store to buy Blenders Pride only say give me ‘Pride’ or ‘Blenders’?”

Appearing for Pernod Ricard, Senior Advocate Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued that the makers of London Pride were riding piggy-back on Blenders Pride. Pernod Ricard was also represented by advocates Hemant Singh, Mamta Jha, Mohit D Ram, Rajul Shrivastav, Monisha Handa, Sambhav Jain, Reha Mohan and Anubhav Sharma.

Appeal against Madhya Pradesh High Court order

Pernod Ricard India had approached the Supreme Court following the order of the Madhya Pradesh High Court of November 3, 2023, which had rejected their petition to stop the sale of London Pride whisky on grounds of trademark infringement. The Madhya Pradesh High Court had found no visual, phonetic or structural similarities between the two whisky brands.

The High Court in its judgment had held “…The first word of the trade mark of plaintiffs is ‘Blenders’ whereas that of the defendant is ‘London’. There is absolutely no similarity in them leave aside any dissimilarity. ‘Pride’ being a generic, common place and laudatory expression in ‘Blenders Pride’ mark, the common man would certainly treat ‘Blenders’ part of plaintiff’s mark as the dominant part. The question of comparison of the words ‘Imperial Blue’ and ‘London Pride’ does not even arise…”.

Court contends that consumers can distinguish between two brands

The High Court went on to conclude that “It can be safely presumed with a sufficient deal of certainty that the consumers of such products would be mostly literate and having reasonable intelligence to distinguish between the bottles of Blenders Pride/Imperial Blue and that of London Pride. Even if they are of average intelligence with imperfect recollection, they would be able to differentiate between the rival competing brands… Liquor consumers of scotch whisky are educated and discerning type. They are literate persons belonging to the affluent class of society.” During the conclusion of the day’s hearing in the Supreme Court, the CJI remarked in lighter vein that Dr. Muralidhar had spoken with “much authority” on the whisky products, to which the latter replied “I am the only sober one here.”

– R. Chandrakanth

Karnataka increases beer prices again within six months, to fund freebies

On July 7, 2023, the Congress (I) government in Karnataka gave a jolt to the alcobev sector by hiking existing rates of excise duty on Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) by 20% and on beer from 175% to 185%. And within six months, the government has announced yet another increase to the beer industry. A draft notification of the government mentions that additional excise duty on bottled beer manufactured in Karnataka or imported into the state will be increased by 10 percentage points from 185% to 195%.

As per the notification, the hike would result in every 650 ml bottle to cost an extra ₹8 to ₹10. The government has proposed the hike in a draft notification to amend the Karnataka Excise (Excise Duties and Fees) Rules, 1968. The new rules allowing the hike are likely to be finalised this month or early February as the department is seeing ‘a big growth in strong beer sales’, even as summer is approaching.

Government desperate to raise revenues

Siddaramaiah, CM, Karnataka

The Congress (I) government is desperate to raise resources as it is not able to fund the freebies it offered to the electorate just before elections. The Congress party came to power on the five election guarantees (read as freebies) it offered to the people – free electricity up to 200 units; free bus travel for women; 10 kg rice for every member of a below poverty line (BPL) household; ₹3,000 every month for unemployed graduate youth and ₹1,500 for unemployed diploma holders; and ₹2,000 for every woman head of a family.

Five guarantees draining exchequer

These five guarantees are going to cost the newly elected Congress government headed by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, a whopping ₹52,000 crores. Excise revenue is crucial for the state government. In the 2023-24 fiscal, Karnataka has set a target of earning ₹36,000 crore from excise.

Excise revenue registers 13.43 growth in 2022-23

As per the annual report for 2022-23 of the Karnataka Excise Department, the excise revenue has been steadily increasing from ₹7.11 crores in 1967-68 to ₹26,377.68 crores in 2021-22. In 2022-23 the excise revenue collected was ₹29,920.37 crores, an increase of ₹3,542.69 crores when compared to the previous year, registering 13.43 growth. It said that the department’s salary and other expenses was ₹247.88 crores which is 0.83% of the total excise revenue.

Source2020-212021-222022-23
IML20,217.8022,889.1024,663.85
Beer2,438.162,757.304,460.60
License Fee643.87684.10745.84
Others 32.2737.1850.08
Total23,332.1026,377.6829,920.37


Source wise excise revenue in Karnataka

Excise revenue from liquor sales in Karnataka has seen a 65% jump over the last five years, increasing from ₹17,948.5 crores in 2017-18 to 29,920 crores in 2022-23. The revenue is estimated to double by March 2024, given the budgetary target of ₹36,000 crores from liquor sales, as enumerated in CM Siddaramaiah’s budget proposal.

Expenditure is just 0.83%

Of the total revenues realised the expenditure of the department is just 0.83% and that expenditure is also seeing a downward trend.

Particulars2020-212021-222022-23
Revenue23,332.1026,377.6829,920.37
Expenditure222.87234.43247.88
Percentage of expenditure0.960.890.83

The department also reported growth in sales of both IML and beer (in lakh carton boxes). It can be seen from the statistics that beer has seen a quantum jump from 2021-22 to 2022-23 from 22.40 lakh carton boxes a month to 32.5 lakh carton boxes a month respectively, indicating the growing trend for beer, particularly strong beer.

Liquor type2020-212021-222022-23
IML583.23660.16698.46
Average per month48.6055.0158.21
Beer237.82268.83390.66
Average per month19.8222.4032.5

For the excise year 2022-23, the renewed licenses were 32 distilleries, 12 breweries; 23 wineries; and 68 microbreweries. The number of trade licenses (12 categories) has gone up from 11,457 in 2021-22 to 12,454 in 2022-23.

In an earlier article, Ambrosia had raised this issue as to how the government would fund these guarantees. One is through increased borrowings and two through hike in excise duty and other taxable methods. Immediately, after coming to power the Congress government increased electricity tariff by ₹2.89 per unit and several industries are up in arms, stating that it will render many units economically unviable due to high cost of production. Then came the hike on IMFL and beer. The Chief Minister who holds the finance portfolio had levied 20% on all 18 slabs of excise.

However, draught beer has remained untouched which is currently at 150% of declared price. For microbrewery it remains unchanged at 50% of the annual installed capacity at the rate of ₹25 per bulk litre. The Chief Minister had then said “Even after the increase in excise rates, the price of liquor in our state would be lower when compared to the neighbouring states.”

Karnataka among highly taxed, industry

However, the liquor industry states that Karnataka is among the highest in excise duty rates. The Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC) in a statement had then said the hike in the additional excise duty (AED) may not increase the revenue for the state exchequer. “Consumer prices in Karnataka are already very high. I think further increase, that too to that extent, is going to hit sales in a big way,” said CIABC Director General Vinod Giri.

Vinod Giri, Director General, CIABC

CIABC said that there is enough empirical data to show that the liquor demand turns quite elastic after 8-10% increase in price. “We may also see consumers downgrade to cheaper products. Considering that we fear that this tax increase may actually not lead to more tax collection as expected by the government, but will turn out to be counterproductive as many such increases in the past in other states have been. If that happens then all major stakeholders, i.e, the Government, the industry and the consumer will come out poorer.”

Nita Kapoor, CEO, International Spirits and Wines Association of India (ISWAI)

Similarly, the CEO of International Spirits and Wines Association of India (ISWAI) Nita Kapoor had urged the state to rationalise AED, reduce the MRP of premium brands in line with its neighbouring states. But the government has its own plans, considering that it has to keep its election promises. The government cannot falter at this moment as the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner and it can’t be seen faulting on its promises. The axe has to fall on alcobev sector which continues to be an easy target.

– R. Chandrakanth

Brand Extensions: To Advertise or Not to Advertise

  • Central Consumer Protection Authority monitoring surrogate advertising, brand extensions
  • 17th edition of IPL, big ticket event begins, liquor companies looking at eyeballs
  • Advertising Standards Council of India too tracking

The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA) has issued a directive to liquor companies to ensure that there is no violation of advertising norms and has sought a list of brand extension products sold under the same name as alcohol products in the last three years. Some examples of brand extension products include mineral water, soda, music CDs, playing cards etc.

The CCPA gave this directive on March 19 after it observed that some liquor brands had been violating regulations of surrogate advertising. Hence, it has sought details of revenue, turnover data related to the sale of alcobev as well as the brand extension products. It directed companies to provide details of expenses incurred in event sponsorship, payments to celebrities and influencers and television advertisements during the last three years, in its bid to correlate between actual sales of the brand extension product and the money spent on event promotion / advertising etc.

The CCPA Chief Commissioner, Rohit Kumar Singh said “This assessment is critical for determining whether promoting of brand extension products authentically represents the extended product or functions as a surrogate for alcoholic beverages under the same brand.”

He further said “The industry is advised to ensure that all brand extensions follow the broad principles of advertising only genuine extensions (that is, turnover and distribution in proportion to advertising spends), and ensure that advertisements contain no cues of restricted category such as tag lines and layouts and do not unduly suppress the category name and extension being advertised.”

Last edition of IPL fetches Rs. 10,120 crore from advertising

The CCPA order comes ahead of the 17th edition of Indian Premier League (IPL) which kicks off on March 22. It may be mentioned here that the 16th season of IPL saw the tournament pocketing a whopping Rs 10,120 crore from all forms of advertising revenue, a significant growth as per market research and analysis firm Redseer Strategy Consultants.

Cricket gets the maximum eyeballs in India and advertising during matches have helped in brand development. During the last ICC World Cup cricket held in the Indian sub-continent, brands spent about $240 million in advertisement spots on streaming platforms. A 10-second advertising slot during matches costs up to 3 million rupees, a 40% increase compared to the last World Cup.

One of the big sponsors is Bira91, fast growing craft beer brand, had entered into a major five-year deal with the International Cricket Council, becoming its Official Partner for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2023, ICC T20 World Cup, ICC World Test Championship, ICC U19 Cricket World Cup and the ICC Women’s Championship. This is Bira91’s first foray into sports and as an official partner, it integrates the partnership across broadcast and digital platforms, and in-venue activations at all ICC events through their range of products. And now in the IPL, Bira91 is also one of the sponsors for Royal Challengers Bengaluru and Sunrisers Hyderabad and Kolkata Knight Riders.

Laws in place

The Cable Television Network Act, 1995 envisages that, unless such advertising is in conformity with the advertising code prescribed in the Cable Television Networks (Amendment) Rules, 2006- no person shall send or transmit any Advertisement through a cable service. The above provision, however, does not apply to foreign satellite channel programs that can be received without any specialized gadgets or decoders being used.

With regard to alcohol (Beer, Wine, and Spirits), the law says “any advertising directly or indirectly promoting the manufacture, sale, or consumption of alcohol, liquor, or other intoxicants is prohibited by the Cable Television Network Regulations, 1994, the Advertising Codes of Doordarshan, and the All-India Radio and Guidelines for Journalist Conduct published by the Press Council of India. Some states, however, allow ads, albeit subject to several limitations, through billboards, signboards, etc.”

In June 2022, the CCPA banned surrogate advertising with the introduction of a new set of guidelines to curb misleading advertisements. Violators stand to face a penalty of Rs 10 lakh for the first offence and a Rs 50 lakh fine for subsequent offences. That is the stated position, but we need to see what action has been taken.

Well-defined guidelines for brand extension: ASCI

The CEO and Secretary General of the Advertising Standards Council of India, Manisha Kapoor, asked ahead of the World Cup had said “The Advertising Standards Council of India’s (ASCI) code clearly mentions that products whose advertising is restricted or prohibited by law or by the ASCI code must not circumvent such restrictions by posing to be advertisements of other products whose advertising is not prohibited by law or the code. To differentiate between surrogate ads and legitimate brand extensions ASCI has well defined guidelines for Brand Extension products with set criteria for brands to qualify as a valid extension of a liquor brand/brand whose advertising is prohibited. The ICC World Cup is one of the most popular sporting events in the world and garners record-breaking viewership numbers. Given the scale of the event and sponsorships involved, we are mindful that the issue of surrogate advertising could arise, hence we have intensified our monitoring efforts during the ICC World Cup 2023. At ASCI, we have shifted our monitoring from weekly to daily feeds for this period.”

To a question on whether people were aware of brand extensions or these brand extensions were just an excuse, Ms. Kapoor replied “It is true that under the CTNR, advertising of brand extensions of liquor and tobacco products is allowed, as long as the product being sold under the brand extension makes no direct or indirect references to the prohibited product. Since consumers do miss out on the nuances, ASCI clearly defines in its guidelines the criteria for what qualifies as a brand extension and what does not.”

She also clarified that “At ASCI, our chief concern is about the content of the advertising rather than monitoring the availability of products in the market. However, when it comes to brand extensions in order to verify that the advertised product is indeed a legitimate extension and not a surrogate, ASCI does ask for third party verified sales data of the advertised product from the advertiser. Our brand extension guidelines have a clear criterion for both old and new products in the market to qualify as a valid extension. Instances where advertisers fail to satisfy the criteria are treated as surrogate ads.”

However, the CCPA guidelines states that in case of any ambiguity or dispute in interpretation of the guidelines, the decision of the CCPA shall be final. Sure enough, there are going to be claims and counter-claims.

Top Products and People honoured at Ambrosia Awards 2024

The 16th edition of the prestigious Ambrosia Awards 2024, organized by Ambrosia Magazine – the Wine and Spirits Magazine, celebrated the finest achievements in the Alcobev industry at a gala event. Recognizing excellence in products, packaging, and individual categories, the awards showcased the industry’s best and brightest talents.

Ambrosia magazine, now in its 32 nd year, continues to be a hallmark of excellence in the industry. With a focus on blind tastings for the product category, the awards ensure a fair and unbiased selection process, akin to top international standards.

Trilok Desai, MD and Publisher of SAP MEDIA WORLWIDE LTD, remarked, “The Ambrosia Awards stand for excellence, and our international jury ensures that only the best are honored. Each year, we witness remarkable advancements in product quality, packaging, and technology, setting global benchmarks.

Vijay Rekhi launching Cheers 3rd Edition Coffee Table Book with authors Trilok Desai & Bhavya Desai

Another highlight of the evening was the launch of the 3rd Edition of Cheers – Coffee Table Book, authored by Trilok and Bhavya Desai. The book, inaugurated by Vijay Rekhi, CMD of Vizanar Advisors, and Former President and MD of United Spirits Ltd (USL), commemorates the industry’s journey and milestones.

Shiv Kumar Reddy, MD, Seven Seas Distillery Private Limited accepting the Award
Amar Sinha, COO, Radico Khaitan accepting the Award
Abhishek Khaitan, MD, Radico Khaitan Limited acceppting the Award on behalf of Dr. Lalit Khaitan
Vijay Rekhi and Mr. Gandhi’s family member accepting the Award

Among the individuals recognized, Shiv Kumar Reddy, Managing Director of Seven Seas Distillery Private Limited, was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year. Amar Sinha, COO of Radico Khaitan Ltd, was named Business Leader of the Year. Dr. Lalit Khaitan, Chairman and MD of Radico Khaitan Ltd, received the Ambrosia’s Paramount Achievement Award for his outstanding contributions, achieving the status of India’s newest billionaire. The Lifetime Achievement Award (Posthumous) was presented to Mr. S.S Gandhi, Former President of United Spirits Ltd, honouring his significant impact and achievements in the industry.

This Product Jury included:  

Jury Members at the Tasting Session
  • Bernhard Schafer – A Whisky Expert, Spirit Consulting and A Master of Quaich
  • Stephen Beal – Senior Master of Whisky, Chairman of The Council of Whisky Master 2024
  • Dr. Binod. K. Maitin (PhD) – Technical Expert & Former SVP and Head of Technical Centre USL
  • Eddie Nara – CSE & Spirits Expert
  • Ajoy Shaw – DipWSET Winemaker, Consultant and International Wine & Spirits Judge
  • Julie Lee – Industry Expert and Entrepreneur

This Packaging Jury included:

Jury Members at the Packaging Session

Amrut launches limited editions Bagheera and Portonova in India

  • Jim Murray adds zing to whisky tasting event
  • Plan to up exports to 100 countries from 57

As whisky enthusiasts gathered at The Oberoi, Gurugram, on March 3rd for the Amrut Distilleries’ whisky tasting event featuring Jim Murray, a distinguished whisky writer and critic renowned for his unparallel mastery of the spirit, it was evident that this was no ordinary experience. The event provided a platform for enthusiasts to engage, learn, and connect. The day culminated in the unveiling of Bagheera and Portonova, marking their debut in the Indian market.

Amrut Team L to R: Gurmeet S. Johal, MD – GD Group; Ashok Chokalingam, Master Distiller of Amrut Distilleries; Rakshit Jagdale, MD, Amrut Distilleries and V. Ravindran, Head of Marketing, Amrut Distilleries

Rakshit N. Jagdale, MD, Amrut Distilleries Private Limited

New products offerings, same class and elegance

Rakshit N. Jagdale, Managing Director, Amrut Distilleries Private Limited said, “We challenge ourselves at every step to craft new Amrut Malt variants. Take Amrut Portonova, for instance, an un-peated single malt whisky, that undergoes a unique maturation process. Initially aged in a blend of new American oak and ex-bourbon barrels, it is then transferred to once-used port pipes imported from Portugal before returning to ex-bourbon casks.”

The name “Portonova” pays homage to the town of Parangipettai in Tamil Nadu. Jagdale describes its flavour profile as offering an exotic and vibrant experience with notes of raisins, vanilla, cherry liqueur, and spices, maintaining extraordinary smoothness despite its full cask strength. Tasting notes reveal a rich nose with fruity hints, toffee sweetness, tropical spices, coconut, and cracked black pepper, while the palate delights with homemade red berry jam, caramel sweetness, tropical fruits, banana fritters, and a subtle saltiness, leading to an exceptionally long and fruity finish with traces of raspberries and cranberries lingering on the palate.

The name “Portonova” pays homage to the town of Parangipettai in Tamil Nadu. Jagdale describes its flavour profile as offering an exotic and vibrant experience with notes of raisins, vanilla, cherry liqueur, and spices, maintaining extraordinary smoothness despite its full cask strength. Tasting notes reveal a rich nose with fruity hints, toffee sweetness, tropical spices, coconut, and cracked black pepper, while the palate delights with homemade red berry jam, caramel sweetness, tropical fruits, banana fritters, and a subtle saltiness, leading to an exceptionally long and fruity finish with traces of raspberries and cranberries lingering on the palate.

Commenting on Amrut Bagheera, he said, “This single malt is one to cherish. It exudes a sensory journey that is both complex and rewarding, making it a cherished addition to any whisky enthusiast’s collection.”

Bagheera’s profile boasts vibrant fruity notes, with hints of dried fruits and peach, accompanied by subtle undertones of mild orangey citrus, vanilla, and toffee. Upon nosing, one is greeted with the enticing aroma of salted caramel intertwined with dark chocolate, alongside a medley of fruity notes, possibly dried fruits, with a subtle oak presence and a touch of sandalwood that gradually evolves into a floral bouquet. The taste is a delightful fusion of fruity flavours accented by floral nuances, with a velvety, oily texture. The creamy middle is enhanced by hints of sandalwood and wood phenols, expertly balanced by a gentle peat undertone. The finish is both sweet and dry, leaving a lingering essence of peat.

Limited to 300 bottles allocated for sale in Haryana, Bagheera proves to be a highly sought-after and competitive endeavour, given its status as a truly premium and versatile whisky offering. Jagdale noted, “Since the market release is limited to Haryana and considering their distinctive richness and special status, the MRP for Portonova is approximately ₹15,000, while Bagheera is marked at ₹23,000 per bottle.”

Murray endorses

The tasting event gave an opportunity to whisky lovers to get a peek into the world of Amrut. Murray said, “I’ve known Rakshit [Jagdale] for an extended period. He embodies humility, gentleness, and authenticity, much like his father – a fact I find truly honourable. His expertise is on par with their master distiller and blender, Ashok Chokalingam. Together, they possess an acute understanding of the essence and nuances of their whiskies. I have a genuine appreciation for their creations. While I offered some minor input in guiding their direction, my primary inclination is to assist others naturally. When they released Amrut Fusion, I was thoroughly impressed. It stood out as a pinnacle of quality and innovation. In fact, I ranked it as the third-best whisky I tasted in 2010 due to its exceptional balance. The growing demand for their products prompted them to double their capacity. The recent additions, Bagheera and Portonova, hold immense promise. The dedication of the entire team is apparent in the exceptional quality of their products.”

Jim Murray at the launch of Amrut Bagheera and Portonova

Future plans and projections

Talking about future plans, Raju Vaziraney, Head of Business Development & Adviser, said the goal for Amrut is to remain a trusted brand in India and a place to find innovation and freedom. This means further experimentation into the soul of single malt distillation. “We will be taking our products to 100 countries around the world by 2030. Additionally, we have plans to introduce several special edition releases exclusively for the Indian market in the upcoming years. Furthermore, we intend to distribute limited batches of Portonova and Bagheera to regions beyond Haryana, but it’s important to move with the aspirational trend among Indian customers, emphasising the cautious approach in opening new markets without sufficient stock.” Amrut is presently exporting to 57 countries.

Raju Vazirani, Head of Business Development & Adviser

Gurmeet S. Johal, MD of GD Group, the official distributor for Amrut, added, “We handle a few states for them in North India, including Punjab, Delhi, Chandigarh, and Haryana. Our belief in Amrut’s quality is solid, and their commendable passion for their products has been a driving force for us. Over the past six to eight months, we’ve been in discussions with Amrut to bring in some of their exported malts, even in small quantities, to ensure that local consumers can savour the best offerings from Amrut. We strategically selected Haryana due to its premier status as a high-end alcohol market and with a duty-free environment.”

Johal elaborated, “After months of discussions and tastings, involving Jim Murray in the process, we finalised Bagheera and Portonova. These limited quantities were brought into the market. Looking ahead, our plan is to introduce one or perhaps two limited editions annually. Importantly, these limited editions will not be repeated. With Amrut currently offering around 45-46 different expressions of single malt, even if we request one or two each year, it will be 20 years before we consider repeating something. I want the market to understand this about Amrut: we are not merely a one or two-expression single malt company like the rest.”