When you imagine sipping a good single malt whisky, chances are more than unlikely that you think of the heavenly potion originating in India. It doesn’t take a whisky connoisseur to know that a good whisky and all its key ingredients require a set of climatic conditions to make the process of delivering quality purposeful. And, hence, the mainly tropical expanses of India are hardly expected to churn out whiskies of global repute.
Amrut Distilleries, under the tutelage of JNR Rao Jagdale, and later Neelakanta R Jagdale, set out to create an environment and not just an enterprise that would go on to spring a surprise on whisky lovers around the world. Amrut, which loosely translates to ‘elixir of life’, proudly welcomes you to its website by proclaiming, “The journey of single malts began here”.
Rolling out in 1948, Amrut set base in Bangalore and focussed on producing and distributing their various drinks, primarily brandy, within India. Notably, Amrut drinks were made easily available to Indian military. But, Amrut faced challenges in keeping pace with India’s rapidly evolving economy and society. The company stagnated in the 1970s and 1980s, mainly due to lack of infrastructure and efficient distilling methods. As India’s economy opened up to liberalisation, Amrut got a fresh lease of life. Neelakanta seized the opportunity and concentrated on marketing his single malt whiskies, which he believed were as good as their European contemporaries.
The dawn of the new millennium saw Amrut add impetus to producing and distributing fine single malt whiskies around the world. Random surveys showed Europeans not being able to distinguish these Indian whiskies from Speyside single malts, sometimes even finding Amrut’s offerings better. With renewed vigour, the company started distribution of Amrut Single Malt Whisky in Europe in 2004, but was met with strong apprehensions. Slowly but steadily the company consolidated its niche appeal and spread across all of Europe. 2010 saw Amrut debut in India and North America.
Amrut’s distilleries are spread across India’s southern states of Karnataka and Kerala. The malt is grown in Himalayan foothills and the glacial water from the mountains plays an important role in the distillation and finally the taste of the whiskies produced by Amrut. Another notable decision by the company was that of not using computers and automation in its distilleries in order to generate more employment for people, most whom are women.
004: Packing a Punch Like No Other
Since 2010, Amrut has introduced various brands that have gone on to create legions of fans at home and abroad. Amrut Fusion went on to be ranked third best in class by the famed whisky reviewer, Jim Murray. This was a shot in the arm for Amrut, and strengthened the company’s resolve of delivering the absolute best. Amrut has since released various brands of single malt whisky, which have gone on to strengthen Amrut’s position in the market, especially abroad.
One of Amrut’s popular brands is Spectrum 004. It was the successor of Spectrum that was produced in limited quantity and enjoyed positive responses from patrons. Spectrum 004 retained the best of its predecessor and developed the brew further. The signature statement of Spectrum 004 is the use of four different oaks for the barrels in the distillation process, which gives the drink a distinctive taste and texture. After initially maturing the nascent spirit in ex-bourbon casks, it is transferred to custom barrels that are purpose-built with four types of staves. These staves are procured from new American oak, lightly toasted new French oak, ex-Oloroso staves and ex-Pedro Ximenez Sherry staves. Understandably, these custom barrels create a unique environ for the spirit to mature in, giving the whisky a nose, palate and finish unlike any other. Spectrum 004 is Amrut’s tribute to the ‘liquid gold’ that we call whisky.
The colour of Spectrum 004 is a radiant pink-maroon. The nose has distinct notes of fig, raisin, marzipan, cigar box, orange, lemon and chocolate. It goes from being light to gently complex. On palate, there are notes of generous amounts of rum and raisin, which are accompanied by caramelised banana, chili chocolate, cinnamon and nutmeg, with a slightly woody aftertaste. The finish is long and vivid. The potpourri finish has strong notes of dried fruits and spices. There is a distinctive bitterness to the finish that comes from the complex barrelling process, but with a hint of water, Spectrum 004 goes down smooth and sweet.
An Excellent, Exclusive Whisky
Only 1,800 bottles of Spectrum 004 was manufactured by Amrut in 2017 and distributed in mainly European, American and Asia Pacific markets. Hence, it might be a little difficult to find this beaut, but when found it is worth preserving for an occasion. Spectrum 004, like its predecessor, is highly rated by critics and whisky lovers. If you are fond of complex single malt whiskies and are game to being surprised by an offering from India, Spectrum will quench your thirst for ‘spiritual’ enrichment.