The Columbian Exchange – Ever Heard of it?

One of the most important events in history

The Columbian Exchange (sometimes called the Grand Exchange) was the exchange of goods and ideas from Europe, Africa, and Asia with goods and ideas from the Americas. An historian named Alfred Crosby was said to have coined the phrase in 1972, describing the exchange of crops and livestock between the New World and the Old World.

From the Savory Spice Shop blog.
From the Savory Spice Shop blog.

For example, the New World received such staples of our diet as citrus, apples, bananas, onions, coffee, wheat and rice. In exchange, the Old World received such plants as maize, tomato, vanilla, cacao and potato.

In terms of influence consider this:

Before Columbus discovered the Americas, there were no potatoes in Ireland. By the 1840s, the Irish Potato Famine caused deaths and massive emigration. Tomatoes came to Spain from the New World and from there to Italy and forever changed the culinary style of the country.

More than just food

So far as livestock is concerned, most of the exchange went from the Old World to the New World, including horses, pigs, cattle, chickens, large dogs and cats. Not many animals went the other way, with the notable exception of the turkey. Oh, and let’s not forget that when it comes to diseases, the Old World sent far more than it received – from measles to malaria.

What does this have to do with booze?

Ah, glad you asked.

A few weeks ago, a reader of this blog named Desmond Nazareth, who lives in India, contacted me to tell me about his company – Agave India Industries Ltd. Turns out that Mr. Nazareth is an entrepreneur, a graduate from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology, Madras and is producing authentic artisanal spirit made from Agave Americana. If you look at the list of New World to Old World exchanges, the agave plant is right up there.

Desmond Nazareth and an Indian Agave plant.
Desmond Nazareth and an Indian Agave plant.

He can’t call it tequila or even mescal due to appellation requirements but if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, swims like a duck – you get the idea – it must be a duck.

Mr. Nazareth is arranging for me to see and taste his product and I’ll get back to you. I’ll also tell you how the agave plant got to India and about his extraordinary spirits enterprise.

So stay tuned.

 

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Spirits Ads on TV

I write a monthly column for Spiritz magazine in India, which is the most widely read alcohol-related magazine in the country. My column is called Booze Abroad and the March issue contained a story on how the broadcast advertising (voluntary) ban for spirits was ended in the US.

While TV advertising for spirits has become widespread, it came about through the leadership of Seagram, but not without some ups and downs along the way.

The article is available on this blog with the permission of Bishan Kumar the publisher of Spiritz. To read it, simply click on the words, “Spirits Ads on TV” at the top of the column on the right.

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India

“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!”

Mark Twain

Last month I was contacted by Mr. Bishan Kumar the Group Editor of an Indian magazine focusing on the liquor trade called Spiritz. Mr. Kumar is my type of editor/publisher, someone with a passion for his publication and his readers. We hit it off from the outset and the next thing you know, I’m writing a monthly column called Booze Abroad.

It made me think how little most Americans know about India. From an alcohol industry perspective, India is the subject of many misperceptions and, until recently, you could have included me in that criticism.

Things you might want to know about India and why I’m thrilled to have an audience there  –

Their spirits business is the 3rd largest in the world (236 million cases) and ahead of the US, which is # 4. The industry is dominated by brown spirits and growing at the rate of 18 to 20% per year.

United Spirits Limited (USL) run by Dr. Vijay Mallya, is the major company in the market. It’s the second largest spirits company in the world…and growing. Lookout Diageo.

The dominant factor in the market is Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) and all the major global players have a presence in the country. In fact, the # 2 player in the market is Pernod Ricard India Ltd, which had an 8% volume share of spirits in 2010. (By the way, that company was previously Seagram India Ltd. Enough said.)

The future outlook for spirits is quite good based on a number of factors — rising income levels and a growing middle class; a youthful population; international travel and exposure to premium products. All that is fueling a demand for imported products like tequila/mezcal and bourbon/other US whiskies. Currently, whisky, vodka and rum dominate the market.

Oh, and it’s not just about liquor. Beer is flying off the shelves and the wine business, while still small, is growing.

All in all, it’s a fascinating country with a robust and interesting booze industry. With all my international travel, I’m sorry to say I’ve never been to India – a situation I hope will soon change.

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