As the festive season kicks off, the capital city of Delhi finds itself in a parched state, with restaurants and bars struggling to quench the thirst of their patrons. The ongoing turmoil stemming from Delhi’s controversial excise policy, combined with an extension that expires on September 30, has left many establishments with inadequate liquor stocks, particularly premium brands. This shortage is expected to persist into the upcoming weekend, casting a sobering shadow over celebrations.

At the heart of the issue is the 2020-21 excise policy, which was set to expire on September 30. While the government did grant a notification allowing licensees to apply for a six-month extension, certain categories, including wholesalers, required fresh licenses. The process of obtaining these licenses involves substantial documentation and, under ideal circumstances, takes about a week to complete. Compounding the problem was the government’s notification, issued on September 29, just a day before the policy’s expiration, and falling on a long weekend.

This sequence of events left many restaurants, bars, and pubs with insufficient stocks, particularly of premium brands that they typically store in smaller quantities. Wholesalers informed these establishments that dispatches would take an additional 3-4 days to resume, further exacerbating the situation.

Manpreet Singh, a restaurateur and treasurer of the National Restaurants Association of India (NRAI), highlighted the policy’s impact, stating, “The excise policy was earlier extended for three months, and now the government has extended the policy for six months. It has resulted in policy stability and supply disruptions.”

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While acknowledging a limited shortage, excise department officials emphasized that there was no crisis of liquor supply in Delhi. They noted that by October 12, 104 wholesale licenses and 90 hotel, club, and restaurant licenses had been renewed, allowing them to continue their operations.

Nonetheless, the shortage affected several premium brands more severely than others. As per Sandeep Anand Goyal, owner of ESSEX Farm restaurant and Delhi’s NRAI chapter head, shortages of brands like Black Label, Gold Label, Corona beer, and Hendrick’s gin lasted for approximately a week in early October, while Jack Daniel’s, Kingfishers, Bira beers, Gordon’s Gin, and others remained in short supply.

Additionally, the rejection of sale license applications for certain brands, including Pernod Ricard, Indospirits, and Brindco, due to ongoing investigations into the 2021-22 excise policy, further exacerbated the issue. The formulation of a new excise policy, initially due for completion by September 2022, is yet to be finalized.

Despite these challenges, the Indian whisky sector is showing robust growth, with Indian single malts expanding at an impressive annual rate of nearly 30 percent. Nevertheless, the capital’s liquor establishments are grappling with supply disruptions, prompting patrons to explore alternatives or await the replenishment of their preferred beverages.

As the policy uncertainty continues, and with the existing policy extended multiple times, Delhi’s denizens may have to endure a few more weekends of dry spells before clarity and stability return to the liquor market.