Single Malts of India’s Neidhal 46%

Independent bottlers can be a great way to explore dimensions of distilleries that don’t necessarily follow their original bottling approach – those singular gems that stand out with the bottler. We’ve become huge fans of some terrific indie bottlers out of the UK and Europe however India? And some go a few steps further – buying the new make or younger whisky, taking on the responsibility for maturing the spirit.

Enter “Single Malts of India” by Amrut… maturing and bottling an undisclosed ‘coastal’ whisky… touted by Amrut’s head distiller Ashok Chokalingam as “the first independent bottling in India.

Let’s explore…

“Neidhal” Peated Indian Single Malt (18 Sep 2021) Batch 1, 46%

  • Nose – Hello peat! Loads of iodine… shifting to campfire and charcoal, heavy vegetal, smoked meats, salted black old fashioned licorice, becoming sweeter and sweeter the longer it remains in the glass
  • Palate – Quite salty, toast with buttery salted caramel or perhaps even coconut kaya toast, clear peat stamp with pepper too
  • Finish – Ash… and yet surprisingly light given the robust peat on the palate… fading  into a hint of hickory smoke
  • Water – Didn’t try

One of our tasting companions called this a “dirty” peat – heavy medicinal peat.

We all concluded this was clearly a ‘winter’ dram… something one would better enjoy coming in from the bracing cold. Whereas our sweltering April Mumbai heat didn’t quite match its personality.

Single Malts of India “Neidhal” Peated Indian Single Malt was matured and bottled by Amrut Distilleries, available only in Bangalore, retailing for INR 5,900.

What do the folks behind this bottle have to say?

Neidhal, presented by Amrut, is a single malt Eponymously sourced from a Neidhal or coastal region and exhibits traits that uniquely spring from the locale – notes of tropical fruits, vanilla, punctuated by soft phenols and above all sea salt on the nose. On the palate, it is fruit cocktail and mesmerising phenols with a touch of iodine. The middle ground is an essay in chewability and a finish that is phenolic with a touch of sweet vanilla.

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Remarkable Random Range of Whiskies

What does a Scottish blend from the 1950 / 60s made for a Hamburg distributor and a German malt that barely qualifies as whisky have in common? Or what does a peaty coastal single malt bottled by an Indian distillery have to do with a sophisticated complex Island dram from a much-coveted Indie bottler? And how about the price range from an affordable entry-level Island OB in GBP 20s vs another over 150?! Or sourced from an auction some 40 years after bottling vs direct from bottler within hours of going on sale, to Le Clos Dubai duty-free or available exclusively in Bangalore only… Frankly speaking, they have practically nothing in common beyond a random sweaty evening in Mumbai where they just so happened to be tasted together!

A Remarkable (Random) Range

What a remarkable – if random! – range for a brilliant evening… which was revisited another night in Mumbai with more malt experts!

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Kilchoman Tequila Finish 53.4%

It has been a while since I sat down and properly tasted a Kilchoman… in truth, I don’t think even once since meeting Kilchoman’s charming founder Anthony Willis in the Spirited Stories tent at The Vault Biennale. I will fully admit to a certain fondness for Kilchoman – in part as this Islay distillery is part of the ‘new generation’ of distilleries who have proven with an eye to quality and artistry, you don’t need to wait more than a decade to produce a fine dram.

So what did we think of Anthony’s experiment with Tequila? Did it need salt and lime to knock back as a shot? Or favour an extra anejo? Or reveal little to no influence of the agave finish at all?

Kilchoman 8 year (11 Dec 2012 / 15 Nov 2021) Bourbon Cask No 824/2012, Tequila Finish 53.4% (50 PPM) TWE Exclusive, Bottle 147 of 267

  • Nose – Ripe mushy bananas, a fruity sour mash, leafy and a bit vegetal, saline with light hint of smoke, we even speculated if there was a touch of black salt? However the more time it spent in the glass, the more it opened up… shifting into candied red apples, marshmallows, then more tropical fruits
  • Palate – Unmistakable peat and sweet, powerful yet exceedingly well balanced, chewy with a good mouthfeel, some pepper and sweet spices, perhaps a bit of that agave element subtly peaking through
  • Finish – Sweet red cinnamon candies, followed by a nice agave finish
  • Water – Not necessary but holds well with a splash, becoming more herbal

So…. does the tequila work? Yes… as it has only a subtle influence rather than being very pronounced unbalancing the other elements. And that was the success here – everything in perfect harmony – sweet and salt, peat and sweet, spice and herb – all working together.

What more do we know? As usual, Kilchoman peats to 50 PPM and in this case used an ex-Bourbon cask for 8 years before finishing for approx 8 months in an ex-Tequila cask. It reminded me why Kilchoman has made its mark – there is no dramatic heavy peat here – instead, the peat provides a lovely interplay with the other cask elements.

I noted down the official tasting notes from the bottle:

  • Nose – Malted hay and tropical fruit sweetness
  • Palate – Herbacsious with layers of fresh fruits and burst of agave
  • Finish – Waves of agave freshness with soft sweet peat

In large part, I would agree with the notes… however, personally found the peat more pronounced on the palate with the agave much more subtle.

Talisker, Kilchoman, Stauning

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Penderyn Dragon Range – Celt 41%

I really enjoy exploring expressions from a single distillery – it enables one to discern underlying commonalities whilst at the same time the variations that come from different elements – be it maturing in different casks, periods of time or use of peat.

Even better is when you have a trio packaged conveniently in 200ml bottles – perfect to share with a few folks without needing to host a party!

Celt was the last in our trio – the only one that used peat. What did we think?

Penderyn Celt 41%

  • Nose – Is that dried apricot? Then shifted quickly into briney sea salt (reminiscent of Talisker?), then apples and vanilla, with the smokiness also joining, sweet caramel, smoked bacon, sponge cake… delightfully evolving and shifting between different elements
  • Palate – Mmmmm…. buttery, smokey, well rounded whisky with that oily quality that properly coats the palate, nice warm fire
  • Finish – From sweet to bitter, lingering to leave a subtle smokey tail

This one caught our attention – most enjoyable and held up very well even after some time. For some – it was the clear favourite! Though the ex-bourbon matured Myth without peat was also a winner.

As we sat back and considered all three in the Dragon Range – Legend, Myth and this Celt – we recognized some common threads…. each had apples and vanilla on the nose and a nice bitterness on the palate. Interesting!

And what do the folks at Penderyn have to say?

Celt is a single malt whisky finished in ex-peated quarter casks, bottled at 41% abv. (43% in the USA). This whisky has a Kosher certificate.

  • Nose: Mild aromas of peat smoke, early morning at the rocky seaside and warm marmalade on toast all compete for our attention.
  • Palate: It begins with great sweetness before the smoky, slightly medicinal flavours descend.
  • Finish: Slight bitterness follows that leaves a long and lingering freshness in the mouth.

I bought this tasting set of 200 ml bottles for EUR 37. Then hand delivered samples to my tasting companions in Sweden and France.

Here is the convoluted tale of how we came to taste the Penderyn Dragon range:

What about our earlier Penderyn explorations?

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French Fancies – Rozelieures Tourbe 46%

Living in Europe means we have great access to an incredible range of European whiskies. Our latest venture was to France – with a duo from a small farm distillery in Lorraine – G Rozelieures.

After their rather delightful Subtil, we were curious what their peated expression would bring. And were not disappointed…

Rozelieures Tourbe 46%

  • Colour – Still light, but deeper gold than Subtil
  • Nose – Mmmm pine, sweet grass, caramelized smoked ham, getting smokier as it opened up, herbal, even fruity with a dash of cinamon
  • Palate – Initially the peat was quite subtle, shifting into pine, some warming spices of cinnamon and star anise, elegant and sophisticated,
  • Finish – Just carries through

Overall it was well balanced, with a nice continuity between what we enjoyed in the aromas, also in the palate and finish.

Happiness! We definitely will need to explore more from this distillery.

What do the folks at Rozelieures have to say?

This exceptional peated whisky is powerful and has a balanced structure. The Bourbon casks along with the French new oak casks from Lorraine bring fresh and delicate vegetal notes: a delightful taste.

  • Nose : flowered malted, spicy
  • Mouth : fruity, spicy, peated
  • Finish : smoked, spicy, pear

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The Whisky Warehouse No. 8 – Bunnahabhain 14 year 56.7%

Long back, a very talented multi instrumental, multi country music buddy encouraged “Bunna” explorations as his kind of Islay – not really peaty but having substance and character to spare. Over the years, I’ve had mixed experiences – some excellent, some so so and some that didn’t quite do it for me.

Bunnahabhain 14 year (24 Oct 2002 / 31 Oct 2016) Bourbon Hogshead No. 3048, 56.7% 307 Bottles

  • Nose – Initially greeted us with quite a distinctive coconut oil… which settled down into salt water taffy, candied guava, fresh bread, orange comfy or cointreau, even a bit of coffee candy, swirling about with a hint of smoke too – more like an echo or subtle embers than a live burn…overall leaving an impression of fruity
  • Palate – Silky smooth… some salted caramel, spicy desert, herbal, buttery… with a wee bit of even peanut butter, richly rolling around nicely on the tongue
  • Finish – Lovely and long, delicious
  • Water – No need… truly

I have to confess that this is without a doubt the best Bunnahabhain I’ve had in a long time. Even better as it sits in the glass, opening up more and more. While a different character, there was an element of the lightly salted ‘buttery’ quality that made us think of the insanely delicious Aveux Gourmands.

As for the folks at Whisky Warehouse No. 8? I’ve taken the liberty to ‘google translate’ my way through Julia’s terrific tasting notes:
Whiskeys from Bunnahabhain are always good for a surprise and this single barrel is no exception. Anyone who wants to deduce the taste from the nose impressions of this bottling will be amazed at how different the whiskey ultimately behaves on the palate. At least one can rely on the well-known attributes of most Bunnahabhain bottlings: hardly any wood, a little salt and a good balance of all aromas.
  • Nose: Soft and fully ripe fruit notes such as cherries, star fruit and lychees. Underneath there is a layer of salty peat that has a slightly medicinal effect, but also a damp campfire that was already burning the day before.
  • Taste: Spicy like in a hay barn, herbal notes like dried thyme and thistles, slightly nutty and almond-like, the fruit notes linger in the background, but they now appear much fresher and crisper. The peat and smoke notes also remain surprisingly restrained.
  • Finish: It is especially the herbal notes that stay on the palate for a long time and become dry towards the end. Very late, a pinch of fleur de sel tickles the taste buds.

What about other Bunnahabhain explorations?

My “Last Chance” set also contained:

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The Whisky Warehouse No. 8 – Glenturret 8 year 57.5%

This would be my 3rd Glenturret 8 year from an independent bottler! We were rather impressed by the North Star’s Glenturret – which was distilled the same month as this Warehouse cask and bottled within a month of each other. I’d also had the pleasure of trying Chorlton’s Ruadh Maor aka peated Glenturret.

So what about this one from The Whisky Warehouse No. 8?

Glenturret 8 year (Dec 2010 / Apr 2019) Bourbon Hogshead Cask No. W8 181, 57.5% 330 Bottles

  • Nose – Even before putting in the glass, we had a whiff of our wee bottle and went – Mmmm….sweet smoked bacon! And then into the glass it went and… huh? Where did the delicious aroma go? Instead we found a brine, hay… predominantly cereals like hot (slightly boring) porridge, wet fall leaves, rubber gum… is that gym shoe? Curious
  • Palate – Ah.. now here is the light peat smoke, bay leaves, cinnamon spice, a bit of ginger bread… not a heavy peat, more like peat ‘adjacent’
  • Finish – It does last…

Let’s be honest, we were a tad disappointed. I happened to have the North Star Glenturret bottle handy and pulled it out to compare, making my virtual tasting companions a wee bit jealous. Yup! There were all the fabulous elements we enjoyed about the Glenturret – a nuanced peat, tasty cereals, maple bacon… We dismissed the Glenturret and moved on to our other minis..

However a funny thing happened along the way… as it patiently sat there… an amazing alchemy with air took place. We returned for a revisit and we delighted to discover much that we enjoyed in the North Star was now present! Where had all those lovely qualities been hiding?

  • Nose – Gingerbread joined the light puff of smoke,
  • Palate – Some cheese, smoked meats chased by cinnamon spice
  • Finish – Remained dry and long

Even on the first go, we enjoyed the palate more than nose alone… however with the revisit it was clear this had all the makings of a rather enjoyable dram. Certainly one to wait for it…. wait for it… as it just might be “Legend… wait for it…. dary!

Curious about other Glenturret experiences?

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Peaty persuasion – Laphroaig, Spirit of Hven, High Coast

One of our fabulous Whisky Ladies is known for her “peaty persuasion”… a penchant for a smoky dram with a bit more substance…

While based in Mumbai, she hails from Sweden so this means over the years, through various trips to spend time with family, she has generously brought back quite an interesting array of whiskies from her homeland.

During these strange Corona times, her most recent journey was extended and enabled sparking the creation of our wee Whisky Ladies European Chapter. Coming back to India, she injected much needed new drams to perk up the palates of our Whisky Ladies of Mumbai at the close of 2020.

Alas I was still in Europe so missed the session, however she very kindly kept aside minis which I brought back with me from Mumbai to Nurnberg.

Why not try in India?

Truthfully, over the years unlike my friend, I’ve found myself shifting away from peaty whiskies. I don’t dislike them, just simply find I’ve enjoyed other profiles more. And yet a curious thing happened since moving to Europe… I’m starting to gravitate back to a smokier style.

Context is everything when it comes to whisky appreciation. When the ambient temperature hovers around 30’c or more, somehow a peaty whisky for me at least, isn’t quite right. Dial down the temperature, come in from the cold and voila! Suddenly that peat is perfection and just hits the spot!

Think of it like having a fireplace – for us in Canada, growing up with a fireplace is fairly common. We would spend a winter evening enjoying the ‘toasty’ aroma and warmth that comes from a happy crackling fire. For me, it is particularly associated with Christmas time in Winnipeg with family.

But would we light it in summer? Huh? Seriously?!

You get my drift…

And with that, I present the trio shared in December 2020 with the Whisky Ladies of Mumbai that made it back to Germany in February 2021:

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Vita Dulcis 24 – Sweden’s Mackmyra 5 year Rök 46.3%

Unbelievable but true! I have managed to taste all 24 minis within one month. Something I have never imagined I would accomplish. Now… admittedly, I wasn’t tasting every day. Nor was I even completing each mini. Instead I grouped them in trios and quartets, settling into  a sniff, swish and consideration… mostly on weekends. Curious to know more? You can read about all of the minis here.

As for my penultimate dram? Fittingly, it closed on Europe with a single cask of a Swedish peaty Mackmyra, bottled specifically for Vita Dulcis.

Sweden – Mackmyra 5 year Rök Oloroso Cask Finish 46.3% Exclusive single cask bottling for Vita Dulcis

  • Nose – A bit dusty, then smokey, a dash of honey, fresh and woodsy, a dash of caramel, cinnamon, then shifted into maple chased by vanilla, cured meats
  • Palate – OK now we have peat, delicious, peaking behind was fruits, then baked goods
  • Finish – Bitter sweetness, cinnamon, nicely lingers…

I must say, the more I sipped, the more I enjoyed it. Even after finishing the last drop, came back to my empty glass just to enjoy the aromas. A nice way to wind things up…

As a single cask, I wasn’t able to find specific tasting notes, however I checked out my previously experience with Svensk Rök 46.1%. I’d agree it is certainly in the same vein.

You may also find other encounters with Mackmyra of interest:

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Vita Dulcis 23 – Ireland’s Connemara Peated 40%

Over the years, Connemara just keeps popping up in various forums… including here with a guest post in 2016 and again later that year. However it has been a few years since I’ve sat down and given proper consideration to this lightly peated Irish dram.

Ireland – Connemara Original Peated 40%

  • Nose – Briney, sweet cereals, hint of smoke
  • Palate – Well… that’s a kick! Sweet, light peat with a cinnamon edge
  • Finish – That briney quality comes back

OK… I remember Connemara as being quite a light touch with peat. And it is true – this isn’t heavily peated. However it has much more kick than I remembered. Could it be there has been a shift in peat levels? A little more PPM earlier, then a few years with less and then back to a heavier hand? Or just mood and environment linked.. either way, this was certainly a sharper peat than I remembered on previous brushes.

Distillery official tasting notes?

An aroma of sweet barley with wafts of peaty smoke, kippers and well baked apple crumble. Tastes of lightly honey sweet, subdued clean rather than sooty smoke with peaty vegetal notes, sweet barley water, light spice and vanilla oak.

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