It’s possible that India could be the next great producer of whisky.
Meanwhile, an invisible team of old-guard McLeans have collected around and are taking cheap shots at the thought of such blasphemy—but with the right people, tools, and regulations could it be?
It might even become a necessary reinforcement as Scotch continues in its upward trend. In 2017, as reported by Forbes, and according to the Scotch Whisky Association, with a sales growth of 14 percent in the single malt category nearly 1.2 billion bottles were sold overseas. Still, why India? Why not Japan— the country that has already effectively taken the ball, run with it, and done what they do best: meticulously perfect.
Because India has the ability to time travel.
Dr. Bill Lumsden, master distiller for Glenmorangie and regarded worldwide as having one of the best minds and palates, was asked to comment on the issue at a private tasting hosted by Bosscat Kitchen & Libations last Sunday.
“I’ve actually tasted whiskys from some of these experiments where they’re using ultra-fast aging, and it gives a product with lots of wood extractives, but it doesn’t have anything like the complexity of a fully aged whisky has. To me it’s a shortcut, and it’s not good for the industry. We’re not allowed to do that in Scotland, happily, it has to be properly matured in a barrel in the warehouse. I respect the science behind it, but personally I don’t like the end result, I don’t think it’s a good taste.”
Surinder Kumar, master blender for Amrut Distilleries who released the first Indian single malt in 2004, has found that one-year barrel aging in the southern Indian climate is equivalent to three in Scotland— some sources even claim one to six. Fifteen years later finds Amrut now armed with a catalogue of lauded expressions proving it can be done well—and quickly. A handful of other distillers have followed suit, Paul John being another one to check out, revealing a bright future indeed for Indian single malts.
Back up, back up to what, by law, constitutes single malt scotch whisky. A single malt scotch must be made from:
A. Malted barley using
B. Pot stills in one
C.“Single” distillery. It must also be aged in
D. Oak barrels for at least three years and one day.
Grown in the northern regions of Punjab and Rajasthan, local barley is procured and then transported via truck 40 hours south. Amrut Distilleries also imports peated barley from Scotland—the both of which create a winning combination in Amrut Fusion, rated third best whisky in the world by the Whisky Bible in 2010. In the mash and distillation small batches are key in capturing as much malt aroma as possible. Around four years of careful aging in a combination of new American oak and ex-bourbon barrels is needed before finishing off the spirit in different casks, like sherry.
When Amrut Indian Single Malt first entered the market in Scotland it was far from a slip-n-slide. A ballsy, or perhaps brilliant move to set up shop among peers and in a market far from home—a land that lives and breathes the stuff. Thanks to a few blind tastings Amrut was able to earn street cred with the Speyside bunch though many distributors would continue to laugh them off. A single malt coming from a country known for mass producing cheap, go-to-hell, molasses-based whiskey wasn’t exactly an easy sell.
A few years prior to the release of Amrut Fusion the father and son team found themselves on the ledge of whether or not to pull the plug. It’s safe to say now they are doing the how do you like me now dance.
Since barrel aging in India is the equivalent of hitting lightspeed, a bucket list bottle to try from Amrut Distilleries is the Greedy Angels Chairman’s Reserve 12 year, which is named after what’s known as “the angels' share,” the loss percentage calculated every year due to evaporation. You know those Angels in India be lit up like fireflies.
A pour of Amrut Indian Single Malt at Kiran’s is $14, and as it just so happened to be enjoyed alongside a mid-afternoon snack of seared foie, “WTF, put that in your mouth at the same time.” Eye-opening really how much the liver popped in harmony with the elegant spirit served neat, a few cubes. Highly recommend.