Spectrum batch 0001 is a dark, brooding, terrific hot mess. The best kind of hot mess. Later batch numbers are a little more settled, youthful, and zestier. Still, batch 0001 will likely be the collector’s favourite because you’re not going to get flavours like this anywhere else. The distillery (located in Bangalore) is the master of hot climate new world whiskies.Read More
Amrut Distillery makes complex and punchy flavor-forward whisky. The grain of choice is malted barley, and the peated releases use smoked barley from Scotland. The key to Amrut, though, is the barrel maturation.Read More
My piece for Eater on the hot climate whiskies to try:
Wine aficionados have long debated hot climate versus cold climate wines. And this same dispute is emerging in the whisky world as distilleries from warmer zones like Australia, India, Taiwan and South Africa continue to rack up awards, challenging the old guard of the whisky world. Most of these new producers are mirroring Scotland, with a focus on malted barley as a primary grain. But bottles made in warmer weather take on specific terroir that yields unique flavors. Hot climate whiskies, often aged in previously used oak—as is true for scotch—display richer oaky notes (caramel, vanilla, spicy), but are not as flavor-forward as bourbons, which rest in new oak.
A well balanced whisky show is unlike any other conference. It’s a gathering of some of the best whisky makers in the world coming to one place, competing for the attention of attendees by serving some of their best whisky. A well established whisky show is an excellent way to try new products and talk to the people behind the whisky.
A few months ago, I attended The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show in London, England. The event featured over 500 different whiskies. This gave those attending an excellent representation of today’s whisky scene with whiskies from around the world.
1. Buffalo Trace gutsy play
When competing for the attention of London’s whisky connoisseurs, Buffalo Trace wasn't shy about their whisky. I stood by the booth for twenty minutes across the span of the event watching the interaction between exhibitors and guests. Buffalo Trace employees unapologetically noted how cheap their entry-level whisky is. This is a gutsy play when almost everyone was pouring drinks three or more times the cost of the standard Buffalo Trace bottling. It worked with the audience. Going from Buffalo Trace to Eagle Rare, the tastings I observed were a success. Beyond entry level whisky, they also had Eagle Rare 17 and Stagg Jr. The energy at this booth and the wide variety of whisky available was a key to their success. The fact that they started with their cheapest drink to the delight of those attending was a big score.
2. I couldn't find a bad example of Japanese whisky
I keep having a single thought when drinking Japanese whisky--it's scotch whisky elevated. The balance of flavour is there, but the intensity is amped up. Both Nikka and Suntory were at the show, and they both poured whisky I've not had previously. The Coffey series from Nikka is excellent. Suntory's Hibiki continues to be one of my favourites. The Hakushu Single Malt 25 Year Old was one of my favourite whiskies of the show. Japanese whisky continues to make news, and there’s reason for it.
3. Redbreast gets better with age
While Redbreast 12 Year Old is generally available, the other whiskies from this range are a rare find. At the show the 15 and 21 year old were being poured. For the added time spent in oak, neither drink was overly oaky, and instead the focus was on Redbreast's balance of flavours. The 15 year old is my personal sweet-spot for age and flavour. The cask strength 12 Year Old was also quite excellent!
4. Indian whisky is the next wave
Whisky from India is going to be big. Already, Officer's Choice whisky is the number one selling blended whisky in the world having topped Johnnie Walker in 2013. As far as single malts, Amrut Distillery enjoys world recognition after Amrut Fusion won the respect of many whisky critics. I had the opportunity to taste whisky from a third player--John Distillery and its Paul John brand three styles of whisky. These are beautiful whiskies that are only sold in the UK for now, with plans of world distribution. The cask strength is my favourite of the group, and I expect these to be a hit as they get released into new markets.
5. Balvenie stole the show with their booth
As a whisky writer, one of my favourite experiences is doing barrel tastings. Drinking untouched whisky directly from the barrel is a memorable experience. While Balvenie couldn't quite give this experience at the Whisky Show (there's some legal reason why they could not), they did bring two barrels filled with bottle-poured whisky. One was filled with Balvenie 17 DoubleWood and the other with the Balvenie 21 Year Old. As you asked for either of these, they were served out of the barrels. It was an impressive showing that kept people around at the booth. I enjoyed both whiskies!
6. Scotch has competition, but they were still among my favourites.
This isn't a new statement, but it is worth repeating. My whisky drinking started with single malt scotch, and I own more whisky from Scotland than any other country. However, Scotch definitely enjoys a loyal following based on the prestige the brand 'single malt' brings to the conversation. Saying that, some of my favourite drinks were from Scotland. Bruichladdich’s 1970 35yo 125 Anniversary drink was incredibly, and despite its age, bravely finished in sherry casks giving this scotch an added element of flavour. Scotch blender Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend was marvellous. The Glenmorangie line continues continues to win big numbers. Balvenie’s TUN 1509 has has an intense level of spice that dares your taste-buds.
Scotch might be out-of-favour, but it’s not for the lack of incredible drinks.
I could barely finish the generous pour of Amrut Portonova I first poured. This isn't an everyday drink. The thick oaky texture was on par with Icewine. Instead, it's a drink for special occasions with flavour you won't quite experience anywhere else.
Amrut Distillery is located in Bangalore, India. The distillery has a long history of distilling various spirits, but it wasn't until the last few decades that they started to focus on producing whisky. The first whisky from the distillery to get international notice was the Amrut Fusion–one quarter peated barley from Scotland, the rest Indian barley–fully aged in Bangladore. I covered it back in 2011.
The hot Indian weather changes the formula for whisky barrel maturation. Winters in Scotland and Kentucky slow down the chemical process during colder months. In India, maturation never slows, and this makes age statements irrelevant. While molecules are more excitable at higher temperatures, the humid weather means less water evaporates compared to alcohol. The results make for a different type of whisky.
While I'm simplifying the challenges of whisky making in warm climates, Amrut fully understands this complexity. Instead of producing whisky that tastes familiar to scotch drinkers, they make excellent whisky with their own character.
The distillery has the luxury of using different types of barrels over the maturation of the whisky. Amrut Portonova took a journey back and fourth between new oak barrels and barrels that were previously held in bourbon. This back-and-forth process was done to taste. The whisky was then transferred into 40 year old sherry pipes for 9 months before the whisky finally went back to the bourbon barrels again to balance out the flavours.
When tasting Amrut Portonova, one needs to acclimate with cautious nosing and small sips. The nose is surprisingly light considering the flavour, though there's plenty happening. You'll get forward dried fruits and distant burnt orange citrus, along with spice. There's a lot of new oak to this drink, such as with a well aged bourbon, and that'll become apparent on the nose. The palate accelerates in flavour. The taste starts sharp with caramel sweetness that's nearly entirely masked by the heat and spice of this drink. You'll get the expected vanilla and caramel, sure, but the peppery spice is out of this world. The sweetness evaporates off the tongue toward the middle of a taste. The finish is long, spicy, with some dried fruit.
Amrut Distillery managed to create something new with this one. This is a no-age statement whisky, and a really great example of how little age matters in the high-end whisky world.
Originally published on Spotlight Toronto
I've been wanting to feature the Amrut Fusion on the Whisky Cabinet since I first had a taste last year, but it just kept selling out far too quickly from the LCBO shelves.
This shouldn’t be tooo surprising: Amrut Fusion was rated the number 3 whisky worldwide by Bill Murray (author of the annual Whisky Bible, not to be confused with Ghostbuster/Zombie Bill Murray). What is surprising is the distillery location: Bangalore, India.Read More