With its combination of Scottish and Indian barley, Amrut Fusion is a single malt whisky in a category all its own.
If you find yourself talking with someone about the world’s great whiskey-producing regions, Scotland and Kentucky are likely at the forefront of the conversation. Japan certainly belongs in the discussion. Perhaps Ireland, as well.
India probably doesn’t come up. Which is a little ironic, given that the country produces something in the vicinity of 300 million cases of whisky every year. (The U.S., by comparison, produces about 37 million cases.)
As staggering as that figure may seem, it comes with a caveat – the vast majority of Indian whisky is made from fermented molasses (making it more like a rum), so it doesn’t meet the European definition of whisky.
But a few Indian whiskies do meet that standard. And leading the way – while defying expectations, stunning long-time scotch drinkers, and racking up a slew of prestigious international awards – is Amrut.
Indian Single Malt
Amrut Distilleries has been making liquor since 1948. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that the distillery began tinkering with its recipes with the aim of creating a premium whisky in a more traditional European style, with malted barley.
Years of experimentation and discovery followed, with the distillery eventually importing barley and peat from Scotland and combining it with barley grown in northern India.
By the early 2000s, Amrut had itself a fine single malt whisky that was unlikely to gain a foothold in the Indian market and had no reputation to speak of anywhere else in the world. So in an effort to establish their name and gain some serious credibility, Amrut made the most audacious of gambles – bringing their single malt to Scotland and persuading a renowned whisky bar to serve it to customers in a blind taste test.
As the story goes, the customers were enamored of the unknown whisky and assumed it was a product of the Speyside region. They were shocked to discover its true origin. A little later, in 2004, India’s first single malt whisky was officially launched – in Glasgow, Scotland.
I recently had the opportunity to get acquainted with Amrut’s product line during a master class at the Whisky Extravaganza in Boston. Assistant distiller Ashok Chokalingam was on hand to talk about Amrut’s fascinating history, including the unique conditions under which it’s made. The country’s hot, dry climate accelerates the whisky’s aging process; a whisky that spends three years in an oak barrel in southern India tends to take on the flavor profile of a 12-year old scotch.
The company’s flagship, Amrut Fusion, has garnered a number of accolades, including being named the third finest whisky in the world in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in 2010, the same year it entered the U.S. market.
On the Nose: The aroma is robust, with notes of citrus and spice along with chocolate, butterscotch, and oak.
On the Palate: Fruity and spicy. The oak becomes more pronounced, and there’s some moderate peatiness. A splash of water opens it up a bit, bringing out notes of toffee and caramel.
Finish: Smooth and round, with a hint of baking spices.
I’m instinctively leery of using single malt whiskies in cocktails; I find that most of them, especially a high-quality single malt like Amrut Fusion, are best on their own. But I opted for a simple, whisky-forward cocktail that would accentuate the flavors in the Amrut, then tried it in a more supportive role in my second drink.
The Bobby Burns is a smoky, sweet, slow-sipping cocktail. Bénédictine and sweet vermouth play well with the Amrut’s fruity and spicy notes. (Numerous variations of this recipe can be found online; mine combines elements of several.)
2 ounces Amrut Fusion
¾ ounce Carpano Antica sweet vermouth
¼ ounce Bénédictine
1 dash Angostura bitters
Stir all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice. Strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.
Mr. Howell is a smoky, cool-weather sort of daiquiri. Amrut adds a soft, peaty finish that doesn’t overwhelm the cocktail. This version is based on one by my good friend Fred Yarm, with a few modifications.
1½ ounce aged rum (I used Havana Club 7-year)
¾ ounce lime juice
½ ounce maple syrup
½ ounce Amrut Fusion
Shake all ingredients with ice, strain into a coupe glass.
Amrut Fusion is an exceptional single malt whisky. It’s best to drink it neat or with a little water, taking time to both contemplate the whisky’s rich flavors and appreciate its compelling story. It works well in scotch cocktails, if that’s your thing, but I think it’s best on its own.
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