It’s been almost three years since my last review of an Amrut. The distillery’s strong reputation among single malt whisky drinkers endures, even if they’re not quite as exciting a prospect as they were a few years ago. Their lineup hasn’t changed very much either, and in the US we mostly see the Fusion and the regular and cask strength editions of their standard and peated releases. As far as I know, we have still not begun to get the single casks that go to the UK and EU and even to Canada. If true, I’m not sure why that is—is the market for Amrut in the US not strong enough to sustain that? I’d imagine that those paying >$100 for the Intermediate Sherry and Portonova releases would be fine shelling out for the occasional single cask as well.
Anyway, I’ve reviewed the Amrut Peated CS before—that was Batch 4, released in January 2010. This is Batch 9 and was released only a few months later. I assume by now they’re on to Batch 50 or so. I liked that previous bottle a lot and when I opened this one recently for one of my local group’s tastings, I liked it a lot too (as did the others: it was our top whisky on the night, beating out the Lagavulin 12 CS, 2016 release). Here now are my formal notes. Continue reading
Rampur is the latest Indian malt whisky to hit the market, following Paul John and the more established Amrut. Unlike those, Rampur is based in North India. The distillery was established in 1943, before India gained its independence, but it wasn’t until the early 1990s that they started distilling malt whisky—until very recently most of this went into their own blends. The distillery is owned by Radico-Khaitan and produces a mind-boggling volume of neutral spirit from molasses and grain, and also produces and sells a large range of whisky, rum, brandy and vodka (feast your eyes on the company’s romantic website). Most of these are for the Indian market—unlike the Rampur Select, which is only for the international market. This market now includes the United States. This release showed up here earlier this year and is going for anywhere between $60 and $75. Presumably, a large part of this is going to recoup the cost of the ludicrous packaging (each bottle is inside a silk pouch inside a round tin) and whoever they paid to come up with the purple prose of the marketing materials. Among other things, we are told that Rampur is the Kohinoor of single malts—I guess that means that the company will shortly be illegally taken over by the British crown. On the tin we’re also told that the princely state of Rampur rated a 15 gun salute—they’re going to feel really silly when some distillery located in an ex-princely state that rated a 21 gun salute puts their whisky on the market. Continue reading
Here is the second Malts of Scotland Paul John cask. I was very pleasantly surprised by the unpeated cask I reviewed on Monday. That one was distilled in 2011 and I wondered if that marked an improvement in production processes at the distillery. Well, this one was distilled in 2009; if it too is better than its official peated sibling (see here) that hypothesis will be discounted. If you read that earlier review you’ll remember that while I liked it fine I thought the peat there merely covered up the flaws of the unpeated official Select Cask; in particular, masking the strong notes of raw wood present in the Select Cask. What will be the story here with (presumably) a couple more years of maturation? Keep in mind that a couple more years in India is not the same as a couple of years in Scotland or Japan in terms of evaporation etc. By the way, if anyone knows what the source of Paul John’s peated barley is, please let me know. I assume it comes from Scotland but some verification would be nice. Continue reading
Paul John, as you may know, is the new(ish) Indian single malt distillery (there’s one even newer actually but let’s leave that for another time). I reviewed two of their official releases in early May—one an ongoing distillery release (the Select Cask Classic) and one an official bottling for Bresser & Timmer, the Dutch bottlers (the peated Cask 739). I was not overly impressed by either of those. Both were drinkable enough but the Select Cask had a little too much raw wood and the peated single cask masked those flaws with smoke but didn’t do much else. Neither suggested to me that Amrut were in danger of being trumped by their countrymen. As such I was not in a big hurry to taste the two independent releases I had also purchased samples of. Both of these were released by the German bottlers, Malts of Scotland: both are bourbon matured; this one, like the Select Cask, is unpeated; the other (which will be reviewed on Wednesday) is peated. I don’t have my hopes too high: let’s see how it goes. Continue reading
Most people associate Goa with Russian drug dealers but there’s also a distillery there. It’s apparently been around since 1992, which makes it far younger than Amrut. They’re also more recent to the single malt game but this doesn’t stop them from labeling their product “The Great Indian Single Malt”. Oh, in case you’re wondering about the name, the company is named for its chairman, Paul John, a man who the company’s website informs us is “[G]uided by his singular passion, tomes of wisdom and the extraordinary skill of his Master Distiller”. This Master Distiller is one Michael John—presumably a relation. It’s not clear from the website, however, where he acquired his experience—homegrown? abroad? Their barley is homegrown—give or take a couple of thousand kilometres (it’s Himalayan)—but the casks they mature their spirit in are made of American white oak, and I *think* these are all ex-bourbon. The equipment was set up by “experts from the UK” who must also have conveyed the importance of empty marketing blather: nosing and tasting their malts will apparently “bring alive the many facets of Goa”, “will truly transport you to Goa”, enable you to “[S]avour Goa by taking the tiniest of sips” and so forth. They may be new but in some ways they already seem very familiar. Continue reading
This is the last of the four Amruts I opened for a special Amrut tasting for some members of my local tasting group back in May. I’ve already reviewed the two other single casks we drank that night (one from a bourbon cask and one from a PX sherry cask). Those were both distilled from unpeated Indian barley. This one, from a port pipe, was distilled from peated barley (the provenance of the barley is not mentioned on the label; I assume it was Scottish). We drank this one alongside the Portonova, which was our consensus favourite on the night (and I liked it the most then too). However, in the last couple of weeks I’ve really been enjoying this peated version a lot more than I did that night and am looking forward to taking some formal notes.
This was bottled exclusively for the European market, by the way, and the cask saw a whopping 43% evaporation loss during maturation. Continue reading
I’m a big fan of Amrut and a big fan of high quality, intensely sherried whisky (and, unlike some whisky geeks, I quite like PX sherry cask whiskies as well). And the only other sherried Amrut I’ve had (the Intermediate Sherry) I like a lot. So this purchase was a bit of a no-brainer when I came across it. I did not, of course, come across it in the US. For some reason we don’t get these single cask Amruts here—maybe this will change? Those who keep company with brand ambassadors may know if it will or the reasons why it won’t.
I was particularly curious to see how this full-term matured (though, of course, not a very long full term given the climate issues) sherry cask Amrut would compare to the more complicatedly made Intermediate Sherry which only spends a portion of its maturation period in sherry casks (what type? I don’t know). I opened it for an Amrut vertical I hosted for some friends a month or so ago. We all liked it but I have to admit that, given the high strengths of all the whiskies we drank, they ran together in my mind not very long after the tasting concluded—and I’ve not gone back to it yet since. And so I’m interested to see what I make of it tonight when I have more time to give to it.
In my review of Amrut’s Portonova on Wednesday I mentioned that I’d opened it for an Amrut tasting that also featured three single casks of different kinds. This was the one we started with. Whisky made from unpeated barley, matured for just over 4 years in a single bourbon cask—this was a EU release. I’m not sure why we don’t get these single cask Amruts in the US (unless, of course, we do and I’m just misinformed as usual). I saw one on sale in Montreal when I was there in March. Is this yet more evidence of the relatively immature market for single malt whisky in the US? Or are we poised to get some too soon?
As per the label this cask lost a staggering 42% of its volume during that brief maturation. I think we have to forgive Amrut the fact that they charge higher amounts than we would in the abstract like to see asked for young whisky. Anyway, let’s get right to it.
This first batch of Amrut’s Portonova was released in 2011 and I purchased my bottle in early 2012. I have no idea why I’ve waited so long to open it. Well, open it I finally have and it was on the occasion of a vertical tasting of a number of Amrut I held for a few friends in town earlier this month. We drank three single casks along with it: a bourbon cask, a sherry cask and a peated port cask. The Portonova was third in the sequence but I think it was the consensus, and perhaps even the unanimous favourite on the night. I’m not always a fan of port cask whisky, and generally the ones I’ve liked most have been peated in the bargain, but on the night I really liked it. Indeed, I thought this might have been the best port cask whisky I’ve had to date—I certainly liked it more than the peated single cask. Let’s see if I like it as much tonight when I have more time to give to it for a formal review.
This is not full-term matured in port casks/pipes, by the way. It’s made the same way as their Intermediate Sherry. It starts out in bourbon casks then goes into port casks for a brief while and then goes back into bourbon casks for a final marrying. Portonova is a better name than Intermediate Port, I guess.
Following my review of the Amrut CS, Batch 2, here is the Amrut Peated CS, Batch 4, which was also released in January 2010. It is an even higher octane whisky, coming in at a whopping 62.8% abv. I believe Indian barley is used in the regular Amruts (46% and CS) whereas peated Scottish barley is used in peated Amruts. I could well be wrong though so please do not take this as gospel. And if you know for sure one way or the other please chime in below.
Amrut Peated, CS, Batch 4 (62.8%; from a reference sample saved from my own bottle)
Nose: Mild, farmy peat and a big hit of brine too. Some milk chocolate and some malty sweetness below this as well. Just when I was about to say that this is reminiscent of this lightly peated Bladnoch the peat expands and becomes more phenolic. It also gets more farmy/”dirty”. With more time there’s a note somewhere between raisins and toffee. With a drop of water that toffee thing expands and there’s also a touch of lime now; and then there’s a lot of lime. Continue reading
Amrut is now so identified with all their one-off or otherwise limited edition whiskies that their core line-up seems to get lost in the shuffle. Well, maybe that’s not true of the Fusion, but the basic 46% releases and even the rather good cask strength releases certainly don’t seem to get talked about much these days. That’s a shame as the cask strength versions, at least, are rather good. I’m as guilty as anyone else as all my Amrut reviews so far have been of the more exotic/hard to get bottles. While I don’t have any of the 46% bottles at hand I do have large reference samples left from my bottles of the regular and peated CS releases from a couple of years ago. This review is of Batch 2 of the regular CS (unpeated) and will be followed soon by a review of Batch 4 of the peated CS. This was bottled in January 2010–I have no idea what batch number they’re up to now.
Amrut CS, Batch 2 (61.8%; from a reference sample saved from my own bottle)
This is another of Amrut’s gimmicks, I mean experiments. Some of their normal peated whisky, which is matured in bourbon barrels was matured for an additional year in custom made 100 litre virgin oak casks. It was then bottled at British 100 proof (57.1%) and 100 bottles (at 100 cl rather than the usual 70 or 75 cl) each were originally released in five different countries. As the US was not on that list I am not sure if we are only the sixth market to receive the Amrut 100 or if this batch was bottled for a whole new list of countries. At any rate this is bottle 38 of 100 for the US.
Amrut 100 (57.1%; peated; from my own bottle)
Nose: Quite expressive at 57.1%. Much more peat than I remember in the regular Amrut Peated CS. The peat is quite farmy and there’s some lime mixed in with it as well. There’s some vanilla as well, and the powdered ginger I always get in Amrut (would I get it blind or if I didn’t know this was young and part matured in virgin oak?). The farmy/organic peat notes get stronger with time and there’s a little bit of rubber too. With a lot more time there’s some honey and caramel under the farmy peat and more salt too. Water pushes the peat back and lets the caramel emerge along with more of the lime. Continue reading
The Intermediate Sherry, which came/comes in a truly monstrous box (in terms of size and aesthetics), was one of Amrut’s very first complicatedly matured whiskies (I think the even more complicated Kadhambam was released around the same time–though it took longer to come to the US). As per the press release the spirit was matured first in ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks then in sherry casks and then finished once again in bourbon casks. It’s not clear how long each stage lasted. (As an aside, four of the six people whose approval is cited in the press release are/were putative amateurs; more evidence of how important amateurs are to the industry’s marketing.) It was a very successful release and paved the way for the Portonova which was matured in a similarly complicated way.
I quite liked it when the bottle was on the go (which is when this large reserve sample was put away) but didn’t feel it was so very different from more conventional sherried whiskies or that the quality quite justified the price (it hit the ground in the US at $119.99 or thereabouts). Of course, since then non-cs (but age stated) whiskies like the Yamazaki 18 have become even more expensive and even the Highland Park 18 is above $100 in most US markets (to name only two of my favourite sherried whiskies). Let’s see what I make of it tonight. Continue reading
This somewhat gimmicky Amrut was a big hit at our local group’s most recent tasting. I call it gimmicky because it is: it’s matured in a combination of sherry, rum and brandy casks (Kadhambam means “combination” in Tamil, I believe). But, as an enemy of gimmickry, I am disappointed to say it works rather well. At some point though–and I hope it will be before someone has the idea of putting cashew feni into a cask for a year and then maturing some Amrut in it–they’re going to run out of these ideas. At that point I hope they’ll make the Kadhambam a part of their regular rotation.
(As an aside, I want to also applaud Amrut for their improved packaging. Gone is the massive and ugly shoebox of the Intermediate Sherry; the innovative boxes of the Portonova and Kadhambam are really nice, and the labels are done well too.) Continue reading
Amrut, as I’ve noted before, engage in all kinds of experiments with casks and maturation; but so do a lot of Scotch distilleries. But as Amrut is not bound by the regulations of the Scotch Whisky Association–which governs the production and marketing of all Scotch whisky–they are also free to run some experiments forbidden by the SWA: in this case, to mature their spirit not just in India but in other places as well (Scotch whisky, by law, has to be matured only in Scotland). The Two Continents is one of at least two whiskies released by the distillery (the Herald is the other that I know of) that is made with spirit matured partly in India and partly in Europe. The idea, I guess, is to marry the effects of “quick” maturation in a hot and humid climate with the effects of maturation in a cooler European climate (the label does not disclose the location). I am not sure how much time it spends in each location, but assuming neither is trivial the effects should be palpable. Continue reading
Amrut is an Indian distillery that became very prominent a few years ago when Jim Murray awarded a very high score to their Fusion bottling. Their whisky is quite different from the vast majority of Indian whisky in that it is actually malt whisky–made from malted barley, and not a blend of spirit made from molasses and grain/malt whisky. There is, of course, all kinds of controversy over the labeling of that vast majority of Indian whisky as whisky and it’s not all academic either. European regulations will not allow for this spirit to be sold in that market as whisky on account of its molasses based/dominant origins. And at the same time the Indian government will not relax its high import tariffs on liquor, which more or less closes the lucrative Indian market (the largest market for whisky, or “whisky” in the world) to the conglomerates that own most Scottish distilleries. Both sides insist these things are unrelated, but who knows (see here for a sense of how charged all this was a while ago).
At any rate, even though I am not a fan of the non-malt/grain Indian whisky–and believe me, I consumed a fair amount of it in my late teens and early twenties–it doesn’t really bother me so very much if Indians want to have a more expansive definition of whisky. God knows, we’ve put up with all kinds of culinary abominations being called “curry” in the West. And frankly, most of these whiskies are not so very much worse than the bog standard blends that are the cornerstone of the scotch whisky industry.