The internet seems divided on Solan #1, an Indian Whisky. Some people seem to think it’s a great drink, others are of the opinion that it’s swill. Naturally, I was intrigued and needed to figure this out for myself.
The Kasauli Brewery was founded in the Solan district of Himachal Pardesh, India in the 1820s by Edward Abraham Dyer. Dyer had identified a demand among the local population for Scotch whisky (influenced by the tastes of the English officials occupying the country) and saw a business opportunity meeting that demand with cheaper, locally-produced spirits. He picked a location buried deep in the Himalayan mountain range because of the natural spring water and climate most closely resembling the climate of his home country, which he hoped would be conducive to the production of something resembling the much desired Scotch.
The downside of selecting such a remote location (elevation: 6,000 feet) was that getting supplies into and out of the distillery was a challenge. Distilling and brewing equipment sourced from England and Scotland were brought up the Ganges river as far as possible and then shipped the remainder of the way to the distillery on ox carts.
When the town of Kasauli was established in 1842 the local inhabitants started consuming most of the water that the distillery needed for operation and as a result moved the entire facility to Solan down the road where it remains in operation today.
The company was officially incorporated in 1855 when the British East India Company established full control over the Punjab region of India. In 1949 a native Indian businessman named NM Mohan purchased the distillery and renamed it Mohan Meakin, which it remains to this day.
The most interesting result of this private ownership might be the steadfast resistance to any advertising whatsoever. There are no ads for any of the distillery’s products, instead relying on word of mouth recommendations to fuel their sales.
The vast and overwhelming majority of whiskey produced in India is produced using fermented molasses, a process closer to the production of rum than anything else. From there it is typically blended with some grain spirit or imported whiskey and shipped out again.
Solan doesn’t play that game.
The oldest distillery in India remains true to its roots, producing whiskey in the same way that the Scottish founder intended all those years ago. The distillery starts with 100% malted barley (prevalent in the northern regions of the country, local to the distillery), cooks it into a mash, and ferments it prior to distillation. The spirit is created and distilled using the same imported Scottish stills that were imported when the distillery was founded.
After production the whiskey is matured in oak barrels for an undisclosed period of time prior to bottling and shipment.
There’s really not much to write home about here.
The bottle design is a standard liquor bottle design. The body is round and cylindrical with rounded shoulders that taper into a medium length neck. The bottle is capped with a plastic screw-on top.
Inside the mouth of the bottle is an easy-pour spout which only allows a little of the spirit out at a time. This is typical for some of the older designs of bottle, but since bars started switching to interchangeable spouts for pouring, this design has become less and less popular. Which indicates to me that either the bottle design hasn’t been updated in a couple decades, or they don’t have a high volume of sales for restaurants and bars.
As for the label, it’s a relatively dated design. More like something I’d expect from the 1970’s than a modern bottle, but maybe they’re attempting a retro feel here. The label takes up the majority of the space on the bottle and sports a yellowed background, gold border, and black lettering with the brand name information.
The spirit is a golden amber color, much like the scotch whisky on which this was based. The liquid is light and doesn’t seem very viscous.
The first thing I smell is fruit. Very heavy on the orange for a whiskey, with maybe a bit of cinnamon spice in the background. Otherwise, there’s a bit of vanilla mixed in as well.
The very first thing I taste is caramel, strong and sweetly delicious. As the flavor develops there’s a bit of nutmeg that starts to kick in, and a small touch of licorice in the background that’s just peeking out of the corner and trying to get noticed. The overall effect is, quite frankly, novel and delicious.
Once the spirit is gone there’s a very strong orange aftertaste that accompanies a good level of alcohol burn which lingers on the lips. I found this strange, given that this is only a 42.8% ABV spirit.
This tastes exactly like a painkiller — the rum cocktail made with pineapple, spiced rum, and orange juice. But Solan tastes like one without the sickening sweetness of the juice.
It’s damn delicious, to be honest. I think there’s some pineapple joining the mix, but it could also be a bit of peach with something else blended in. Either way, the ice seems to be toning down the nutty flavors and letting some of the more fruity items in the spirit come through.
If you get this bottle for no other reason than to try it on ice, I guarantee it’ll be worth your time. Or at least it will be if you like stranger whiskey that’s a little off the beaten path.
I’m going to be honest, I came into this review with some preconceived notions about this whiskey. The worst whiskey I’ve ever had comes from India –unfortunately I was too drunk to remember the brand, and I thought I might have found it once again browsing the shelves of my local liquor store.
This wasn’t it.
What I got instead was a strange but delicious orange flavored whiskey that comes with an amazing and rich history. It’s a great product, I really wish they would invest at least a little bit of money into the packaging. But I now understand why this private distillery buried in the Himalayas has remained in business for literally centuries without paying for marketing.
Solan Number One
Owner: Mohan Meakin
Production: Solan, India
Classification: Single Malt Whiskey
Grain bill: 100% malted barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: XX% ABV
Price: $15.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
I’ll be sad to say Solan to this bottle! (Hah!)