Revisiting Johnnie Walker’s Green Label, Kavalan Solist Sherry, Kilchoman

One of the things I really appreciate about our original Mumbai tasting club is that our default is to sample blind. What the means is even something we thought we knew, we have an opportunity to rediscover.

Which was exactly our hosts theme – to revisit whiskies we all know – or at least we thought we did!

Here is what we tried:

With a bonus of Amrut’s Fever Club Con-Fusion Batch No 1, 46%

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Whisky Lady – March 2018

It is time for a malty monthly round-up! Where all the sessions marched in order, one after the other wish a special bonus evening with Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula.

So where did we begin?

The Whisky Ladies took a “Trans Tasman Trip” to New Zealand and Tasmania, Australia with:

  • Willowbank 10 year Doublewood 40%*
  • Willowbank 22 year (1989) Barrel No 58 52.8%*
  • Hellyer’s Road Pinot Noire 46.2%*
  • Sullivan’s Cove Double Cask (2008/2015) 40%*
  • Crazy Uncle Moonshine 43%*
  • Plus a bonus birthday dram of Bowmore 1989 “BBQ Mango Salsa” 46% (Wymess)*

Followed the very next evening by the Bombay Malt & Cigar gents exploring whiskies from Japan:

  • Hibiki Japanese Harmony “Master’s Select” NAS 43%*
  • Nikka All Malt 40%*
  • Miyagikyo NAS 45%*
  • Hakushu “Distiller’s Reserve” NAS 43%*

Our original club did a revisit with:

  • Johnnie Walker Green Label 15 year 43%
  • Kavalan Solist Sherry S090608029A 58.6%
  • Kilchoman Machir Bay Cask Strength 60%
  • Plus a bonus of Amrut’s Fever Club Con-Fusion 46%

Evenings with Krishna Nakula, India’s Malt Maniac are always a pleasure. This time we ambled through…

March also was a month to catch-up on a few earlier tasting experiences… beginning with our Bombay Malt & Cigar gents  Compass Box Quartet!

And more fleeting impressions from Whisky Live Singapore 2017:

*Tasting notes coming soon…

Curious to know more? Check out recent Whisky Lady’s monthly missives:

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Whisky Live 2017 – Amrut Kadhambam + Portonova

Just before heading out from Whisky Live Singapore 2017, I popped back to say “ciao!” to the folks at the Paul John booth… Right next to them was Amrut with the gents from the distillery, quite a refreshing contrast from the previous year.

And what did I briefly sample?

Amrut Kadhambam 50% 

  • Nose – Nice and fruity – apricots?
  • Palate – Spice, more fruit, woody, light tobacco
  • Finish – More of the lightly smokey spice

The USP for Kadhambam is that it is both peated and unpeated whisky matured in 3 different casks – Oloroso Sherry Butts, and Amrut’s Brandy and Rum casks.

Amrut Portonova 62.1%

  • Nose – Rich sherry berry like with a Port twist! Almost chocolaty
  • Palate – Dry spice, more dark fruits
  • Finish – Long, sweet, berry concentrate
  • Water – From my quick check, generous dollops of water is a must!

So there you have it! A short, sweet and surface level synopsis of two more Amrut whiskies.

And other Amrut‘s sampled over the years?
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Sinful Samples – Bunnahabhan, Tullibardine, Millstone, Glendronach, Wolfburn

Tis the season to be jolly… and all that jazz! Yet before all the mad social rounds of the season kicked off, we snuck in a completely chilled out informal sampling of samples…

Call it a “Pajama Drams” night, it had no formality just a few folks, more than a few samples to put side by side to provoke some interesting tasting experiences…

What did we try?

It may seem like a prodigious amount for one sitting but we were a disciplined lot… some sniffing, swishing and spitting went on plus a few swallows, discarding the balance. Sacralige to some but sensible for us.

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Sherry Element – Amrut Intermediate Sherry 57.1%

Next up in our Sherry Elements evening was a complete surprise – An Amrut Intermediate Sherry, part of their core line-up purchased by our host around 7 years earlier.

We sampled it completely blind, with the reveal shared only after sampling all whiskies in the evening.

Amrut Intermediate Sherry 57.1%

  • Colour – It initially struck us incredible – a deep ruby, exceptionally dark. Could it be real? It seemed impossible, til we started to really get into the whisky and then it didn’t seem so improbable after all
  • Nose – Initial sniff was sharp, medicinal dispensary, came across as having high alcohol, homeopathic sulfur, then began to open up… banana, tropical fruits, caramel, a children’s sweet chewable multi-vitamin, lemon hint, the aromas just kept dancing around… needing time to settle…. then prunes, gave a sense of being oily, perhaps some spice… going through several cycles, including tobacco, burnt matches, cocoa, juicy plums, opening up more to reveal different dimensions. After sipping, the aromas revealed clear sherry, peppers
  • Palate – At first quite intense, bitter, sour then Wow! Raisins, cocoa, a clear stamp of “Now this is a whisky!” Sharp, bitter but balanced. Then shifted into orange and chilli chocolate. With a lovely mouthfeel, fabulous balance.
  • Finish – Long, starts like bitter chocolate and ends with sweet
  • Water – We decided this one could have a few generous drops of water…So smooth! The Diwali explosion  of flavours were softened yet retained its full character. Became even sweeter, almost floral, a crisp dosa smell, then more like crepes with the orange really popping out.

It was in many ways a complete chameleon… Hard to pin down, needed time to open up. We thought it could make a marvellous cigar malt – holding its own and pairing well. The nose and  palate were beautifully matched. It was clearly an interesting whisky, complex, the kind where a little goes a long way. A few in the room pronounced it “Stunning.”

And when it was revealed? Amazement. To put it mildly, what we had otherwise sampled of its core line available in India… let’s just say we’d be underwhelmed. Whereas this was a fabulous dram. Leading talk to frustration with the inconsistency of our Amrut experiences. This one was without a doubt a ‘keeper’…

What do the folks over at Amrut have to say?

  • Nose : Instead of the usual biscuit aroma, we now get moist cake. And my word: is it fruity and spicy!! Love the freshly waxed oak floor, too. Brain-explodingly complex and multi-layered with one of the most intriguing sherry-style-bourbon-style marriages on the market
  • Taste : Cracking delivery and entirely unique in form. The structure is decidedly oak-based, but acts as no more than a skeleton from which the juicy sultana and spices drape. Salivating, too, as the barley kicks in powerfully. But the liquorice-orangey-honeycomb bourbon theme quietly shapes the flavour profile; the spices pulse and glow
  • Finish : Quite a chunk of natural caramel quietens the more exuberant characteristics; long and elegant

What did we sample in our “Sherry Elements” evening?

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Sherry Elements – Oban, Amrut, Kilkerran

As a whisky tasting group, we’ve sampled many a sherry matured cask over the years.. however we have not had an evening dedicated to different elements of sherry… until one fine evening in November 2017.

What did we sample?

And what made each of these distinctive?

1st off the Oban was not your standard familiar friend – the 14 year – no siree! It was instead a 15 year limited edition initially matured in an ex-bourcon cask then a Montilla Fino Cask.

Next up was an Amrut Intermediate Sherry purchased some 7 odd years ago and carefully kept. Again a combination of bourbon and sherry… with quite a complex and different character than the Oban.

And the Kilkerran? The Campbeltown offering was again Sherry wood… with a peaty element too.

None were full force sherry, each had a unique dimension, making our evening a most enjoyable exploration. All had been carefully collected over years by our host… none can be readily obtained today… of if you do, likely not quite the same as what we sampled.

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Whisky Live Singapore – Amrut

Whisky Live Singapore had many wonderful highlights! Some terrific discoveries, great opportunities to revisit familiar whiskies in a distillery progression, chance to meet some wonderful new folks part of the whisky fabric, passionate about the art and craft of producing quality whiskies for our enjoyment.

However there were some disappointments. Alas Amrut was one.

Let me be clear – I’m delighted Amrut have grabbed global attention and put India on the whisky map. Heck this blogs all time top ‘hits’ whisky post is about – believe it or not – Amrut’s MaQintosh whisky!

However my direct personal experiences have largely been wanting.

The evening with Jim Murray was rather mixed.

The lack of access in India to their niche releases garnering international attention is frustrating.

Only in Singapore did I have a chance to try the Fusion 50% and admit – yes it is better than what we’ve tried in India. Even the unique Spectrum which, while very interesting, isn’t my kind of whisky.

Only recently courtesy of Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula did I finally meet an Amrut whisky that I genuinely was impressed with… and it was a sample from a limited edition, only for the Taiwan market whisky.

Seeing Amrut was part of Whisky Live Singapore, I hoped for something special to make its way to the event. A chance to finally properly see more of what is getting the whisky world excited.

Nope.

The standards.

And worse?

2016-11-13-amrut

The entire two days of the event their booth was mostly empty, the people staffing it seemed completely bored and totally disinterested in being there.

One had to wonder – really – what a missed opportunity!

Let me re-iterate, I want to be a well wisher. Yet not with this experience…

Other Amrut experiences:

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Finally… an Amrut that made me go “Wow!”

It is one of those ironies that the best whiskies produced in India are not available in India. The complexities of getting permissions for each state, distribution challenges, restrictions on alcohol percentages by state for Indian made spirits, and locally acceptable price points are all barriers to bringing quality locally produced whiskies to the locals.

However it is a shame that much of what has made the world of whisky pay attention to Amrut is simply not available in India.

This sample shared by Malt Maniac Krishna Nakula was no exception. Made purely for distribution in Taiwan, the only reason it made it back into the country was as part of the Malt Maniac global independent award tasting competition.

Photo: Whisky Auctioneer

Photo: Whisky Auctioneer

Amrut 5 year (May 2010/Jun 2015) 56.5% Cask No 3823 Olorosso Sherry for Taiwan Bottle 1/600

  • Nose – Musty, sweet, very vibrant, the dusty quality is actually what makes it interesting, there are many layers – spices like cinnamon, cloves then sterile notes, pickles, dried currents, some oils, a dash of salt, the ‘khatta‘ quality of tamarind
  • Palate – Big thick raisins, spice kick, sugar-coated chillies, marshmellows
  • Finish – Sweet liquorice

The beautiful thing about this is the layers, sherry but not too much sherry… there is a brightness to it that contrasts with the heavy rich flavours. Even re-reading through my notes, it doesn’t sound like it should work but it does.

I hope more such Amrut’s wander their way to me.. this is certainly one I would have liked to spend more time enjoying.

Other Amrut’s sampled include:

Other whiskies sampled that evening with Krishna included:

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Amrut Bourbon 62.8% (LMdW)

Last in our Bombay Malt & Cigar club’s blind tasting surprise evening was an unusual dram. Clearly cask strength, clearly different… it was definitely an interesting close to the tasting portion of our evening.. to then shift gears to desi street food snacks and fine cigars.

amrut-bourbon

Amrut Bourbon 62.8%

(circa 2016 via La Maison du Whisky, Singapore)

Here is what we discovered:

  • Nose – Initially lots of phenols, quite ‘chewy’ seeming, woody, then as it began to open up a dark mocha chocolate, shifting between bitter chocolate and espresso coffee, hint of sweet grass smoke. With more time, dried bitter dark berries, some currents, vanilla joined by wheat
  • Palate – Flat…thud. Sweet, clearly cask strength. Did we mention sweet? Some spice, cereal, sugar sweet. Did we mention flat and sweet? Think diet coke opened for days…
  • Finish – Nothing much, a tingle, with a malty chaser

The nose was really quite promising but the palate was simply flat and disappointing. Like pricking a balloon letting all the air out… just simply didn’t even come close to matching the aroma.

We gave it more time. Wet rag, malt and more raisins joined the aromas. The palate? Still lacklustre.

We added water. Sugar sweet.

We waited some more. Sigh…

This was a difficult dram. Definitely different however not an easy one to get to know.

Our efforts to speculate what it could be fell as flat as the palate. We just couldn’t figure it out. Though perhaps someone tossed Amrut out simply as our whisky curator is an Amrut fan.

With the reveal… surprise. Particularly at the strength! “Can a whisky even have an alcohol strength like 62.8%??” Leading to discussion of another of our curators favourites – Aberlour with their cask strength A’bunadh sometimes coming above 60%.

Now here is the challenge. I want to like Amrut’s offerings. I want to be proud of what this Indian distillery is offering and what is exciting the world too! Somehow I struggle…

With the Old Pulteney, we had a clear classic. A terrific start and clearly a whisky to simply enjoy.

With the Westland, you could picture curling up with a warm fire or lighting up a cigar and whiling away the evening, chatting with friends, sharing a laugh or two or three!

However with the Amrut, I simply couldn’t picture a context I would reach out for it. Instead, it fell neatly into the academic category of “I’m glad I tried it once.”

This Amrut Bourbon forms part of a trilogy exploring different effects of peat – all at cask strength.

Here is what the folks at La Maison du Whisky have to say:

Unpredictable and surprising, this unpeated Amrut draws on both malted barley and a perfectly integrated woodiness to express every facet of its personality with great lyricism. With an exotic character overflowing with freshness, it also shows itself to be particularly spicy and vanilla-tinged. Alongside its two peated “sisters” released in our 2016 Collection, they form a trilogy that will mark a milestone in history of the Bangalore distillery.

Tasting notes:

  • Appearance : Burnished gold tinged with orange.
  • Nose : Full-bodied, firm. Majestic malted barley takes centre stage in the aromatic palette. It is accompanied by vanilla, nuts (walnut), strong spices (curry), flowers (lily, iris, lavender) and exotic fruit (pineapple, banana). Gradually, noble wood essences bring out the exceptional quality of its woody character.
  • Palate : Dense, complex. The palate counterbalances the rigour of the nose with a remarkably liberal style. It offers numerous gustatory paths, each as intense as the next. Vanilla acts as a base for fresh and exotic fruits, aromatic plants (vervain, camomile), spices (turmeric, star anise) and white spring flowers (lily of the valley, lilac).
  • Overall : Long, almost never-ending. Without losing any of its exotic character, the finish develops with aromas of liquorice and cocoa powder. The spices become increasingly hot and the fruit bursts with sweetness. Like the nose, it has a phenomenal, superb woodiness. Thirst-quenching retro-nasal olfaction fills the taste buds with the delicious juice of blood oranges. The empty glass leaves a noble spiciness (saffron).

Other whiskies featured in our BMC Blind Surprise tasting:

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BMC go ‘blind’ – Old Pulteney 17 year, Westland Sherry, Amrut Bourbon

Til date, our Bombay Malt & Cigar (BMC) gents have proudly shown off their bottles. And who wouldn’t? We’ve had some rare treats like the Balblair 38 year or whiskies all filled by hand.

However sometimes half the fun of a whisky tasting evening is to have a surprise – discover something new about a distillery you thought you could readily spot or have your notions challenged by something completely different than expected!

Our most recent BMC night adopted a ‘blind tasting’ approach, with our whisky curator carefully covering each bottle. He was rather excited to see what we thought before the unveiling… prompting us to try to guess the region, if not distillery.

old-pulteney-westland-amrut

What did we sample? And what did we guess?

Gleefully the whiskies were uncovered to show that while we guessed the right region for the Old Pulteney and the distillery was named at one point, it didn’t have the clear maritime stamp we now associate with Old Pulteney…

As for Westland? Wow! I will confess to shouting out my delight as it proves once again the folks there know exactly what they are doing!

And Amrut? The verdict is still out…

If we were betting, the house clearly would have won this round!

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