We reviewed Solan Number One about a year ago, and it has consistently been one of our most popular reviews to date. For good reason — it’s delicious, inexpensive, and off the beaten path in terms of whisky regions. It opened my eyes a bit to the possibilities of Indian whisky and I wanted to explore what other gems might be hiding in that less traveled section of the liquor store.
The Amrut Distilleries Company was founded in 1948 by JN Radhakrishna Rao Jagdale in Bangalore, India. The second oldest operating commercial distillery in India (behind Solan), they took a great deal of inspiration for their processes and product from the British, who were still in power and overseeing the country as part of their empire at the time. Even the name traces its inspiration back to the Scots, mimicking the original translation of whiskey (“water of life”) but instead using the Sanskrit translation for “nectar of the gods” as their company name.
The company initially found success supplying cheap, locally produced spirits to the Canteen Stores Department in India (the rough equivalent of the Army & Air Force Exchange Service or PX found on American military bases, which act as the department store for the base).
Originally, the company produced their whiskey in the common local manner: forgoing the Scottish traditions and instead using a molasses-like base of liquid sugar, which was fermented and distilled to produce their spirits. But, in 1982, the company decided that it would differentiate itself by shifting to a more traditional Scottish approach which used malted barley. Also around that time, they stopped focusing on the mass produced spirits and in 1987 they built a new distillery to support the new focus on single malt. Their first product was aged for 18 months before being blended with some of the more typical local molasses-based spirits to produce their MaQintosh Premium Whisky.
Over the next few decades, the company would start experimenting with their whiskey production methods, coming to understand that the drastic temperature swings in India produced far more flavor during the aging process than the more temperate Scottish climate. In 2001, they started investigating the possibility of exporting their product overseas, and finally had their debut in Scotland in 2004. It would take six more years for the whiskey to finally arrive in the United States.
Amrut remains a family owned business to this day.
This particular bottle of whiskey was produced at the new Amrut distillery, which (as mentioned) opened its doors in 1987.
The whiskey starts as a fermented mash of malted barley, grown in the Haryana and Punjab regions of India. The mash is left to ferment for about six days and then it is batch distilled in copper pot stills. Once distilled, the whisky is placed into a mixture of newly produced barrels and previously used bourbon barrels (with charred oak interiors, imported from the United States) for a period of around four and a half years.
Typically, the aged whisky is then proofed down to the proper alcohol content using water from a farm that is owned by the Amrut company in a pesticide-free area of country and trucked into the factory — but for this specific bottling, the whiskey pretty much goes straight into the bottle.
The distillery has intentionally decided against a dependence on automation, believing that it is more important to provide jobs to the local economy, with a focus on providing well-paying jobs to locals in the bottling and packing areas.
Just like the production process for the whisky, there’s a significant Scottish influence on the branding and packaging.
The most obvious reference to scotch products is the packaging– the bottle comes in a small cylindrical container that keeps the bottle protected. But where most scotch bottles use a paper or cardboard sleeve, this one is made from metal instead.
The bottle within is a traditional scotch style as well, with a round body that tapers quickly to a medium length neck. There’s quite a bulge in the neck to make it easier to handle and pour, and the whole thing is topped off with a cork stopper.
The label is a little large for my taste, but generally well designed. It’s a deep blue color with white lettering, and some gold accents around the edge and red lettering for the specific variety of whisky that’s inside. I appreciate the prominent artwork of the Himalayas, too – it certainly adds a touch of India to a very Scottish-traditional bottle.
The look and feel of the label is mimicked on the outer sleeve.
As soon as you pour this into a glass, you can tell that there’s something a little richer than normal going on with this flavor profile. Even with the malted barley base for the mash, this is almost as rich and aromatic as an American bourbon — which makes sense, given that used bourbon barrels are part of the aging process and the ferocity of the Indian summers intensify the aging process. I get some great fruit notes coming off the glass, with fig, apricot, and cherry mixing with some of the brown sugar and honey notes from the bourbon barrels.
It smells like the fruit section of a charcuterie board… and I’m here for it.
Taking a sip, the whisky is surprisingly spicy. The apricot and cherry flavors are front and center as soon as the liquid hits your lips, followed by a good helping of caramel and vanilla. At this point, you’ll probably notice a good bit of alcohol burn on your lips, but it fades and in its place some baking spices take center stage and stay with you into the aftertaste.
Whenever ice is added to a spirit, we expect to see the more delicate flavors drop out of the mix, bolder flavors tone down more, and everything to generally mellow a bit. In this case, the whisky is quite standard and follows this pattern closely.
Those amazing fruit flavors have taken a back seat, allowing more of the traditional scotch whisky notes to shine through. What I get the most at this point is the impression of sweet caramel on toast with a dash of vanilla. Which, while disappointing compared to that amazing flavor profile we just experienced, is still very enjoyable.
This whisky is as big and bold as some of the best spirits from my home state of Texas, and for the same reason. The wild temperature swings, combined with the unique local grains used in the production process, make for a unique and bold flavor profile that is great when taken neat but (comparatively) disappointing with a bit of ice.
This spirit is just further proof that you can’t discount Indian whisky. Sure, some of it is pretty much just distilled sugar cane, but there are some absolute gems out there.
|Amrut Cask Strength Single Malt Indian Whisky
Produced By: AmrutProduction Location: India
Classification: Single Malt Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 61.8% ABV
Price: $73.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Don’t let the price tag scare you — it is worth the investment.