3 Whiskies You Need To Know For The Biggest Holiday In India Holi
Holi is one of the biggest holidays celebrated in India. It is also more popularly known as the Festival of Colors and you'll probably better recognise the festival from photos of vibrantly colored powders playfully tossed around to coat festival goers.
The significance of this festival originates from the celebration of the eternal and divine love of Radha Krishna, Hindu Gods who symbolise the combined forms of the feminine and msaculine. This has over time evolved to more broadly celebrate the triumph of good over evil, following the lore of Vishnu's defeat of a power-hungry king.
And because as people, we're always looking for reasons to celebrate and spread joy and hope, Holi has come to represent the wonderfulness of the arrival of spring, the end of winter, the blossoming of love and many other joyous events. It is a time to meet friends and family, to play and laugh, forget and forgive and to mend broken relationships.
To commemorate the season, let's take a look at three whiskies from India that you absolutely should know about.
Bangalore, the heart of the "Nectar of the Gods". (Image Source: Wallpaper Access)
The first single malt whisky from India, the pioneering Amrut has been distilling since the 1980s, and its name comes from the Sanskrit word "amrita" which means "nectar of the gods" or "nectar of life". The brand rose to fame with its core bottling, the Amrut Fusion - an East meets West combination of Indian barley and peated Scottish barley, to produce a rich harmonious whisky that has everything you could look for - fruit, smoke, maltiness, oak, spice and espresso!
The core Amrut Fusion - a classic. (Image Source: Hop Shop)
What is especially cool is that its barley is specially grown on the foothills of the Himalayas and the whisky is matured way up at 3,000 ft in the heart of the Indian heat, Bangalore. As you can imagine, this causes a whole lot of evaporation that leaves an intense, rich and fruity spirit.
A particularly experimental distillery, they have bottled whiskies in some very interesting casks such as the Naarangi expression which used casks that previously held orange peels, giving the whisky a zesty citrus note. Their Spectrum and Kadhambam expressions have also been of particular interest, the Spectrum having been matured in casks each made of a combination of four types of oak (that's right - each cask is made of a combination of staves of different woods!), while the Kadhambam was matured in three different casks - Bangalore Blue Brandy, Rum and Oloroso Sherry - wow!
The Spectrum is made of casks that are each made of individual staves from different woods. (Image Source: Malt Review)
You should know that Amrut is not out to be funky for the sake of it, these experiments have actually produced some incredibly vibrant whiskies that have been very popular. They ain't fooling around!
If you're looking to try some Amrut whisky, be sure to go for their peated whiskies - from their peated port pipe expressions to their Madeira and peated Bourbon expressions - they feature a wonderfully sublime smoked fruits character that is distinctive yet rich and intense. Their recently released triple distilled Triparva expression is also making its name as an incredibly fruit bomb!
Amrut Fusion, Amrut Peated Port Pipe and Amrut Spectrum
The Himalayas where Rampur Distillery hails from. (Image Source: Britannica)
The oldest distillery in India, Rampur Distillery (also known under their company Radico Khaitan) is located in Uttar Pradesh, at the base of the Himalayan mountain ranges, immersing the distillery and its whiskies in both the height of Indian summers and the depths of mountainous cold winters. As you can expect, this similarly rapid ages the whiskies giving them an intense, spicy edge. Yet the distillery opts to produce some incredibly fruity whiskies that often feature unique tropical fruity lychee and mango notes. For this, the distillery has sought to be the "Kohinoor of Single Malts", Kohinoor being one of the largest cut diamonds in the world, discovered in India, and is part of the British Crown Jewels.
Replica of the Kohinoor, one of the world's largest cut diamonds. (Image Source: Wikipedia)
Rampur's whiskies are known to be very smooth, fruity, and have a long finish. Given their credo, the distillery has a big focus on acing traditional methods well and producing classic whiskies that display the influence of the Himalayan climate. As such, you can find most of their whiskies undergo the traditional American Bourbon or Spanish Sherry styled maturation.
Here, you'll also get to taste the landscape as Rampur also uses Indian barley.
If you're looking for classic, familiar whiskies but with an Indian touch, Rampur is your go to whisky to start your foray into the realm of Indian whiskies. The distillery has sought to keep things traditional and that is not going anywhere anytime soon. That said, their whiskies have been nothing short of splendid.
If you're looking to get a taste of their uniquely fruity whiskies, you want to go for the Rampur Double Cask - you simply can't go wrong with it. The perfumery bouquet on the nose opens up a can of fruit cocktails with a confectionary flavor all around. Their line up also features the Asava, which has been matured in Indian Cabernet Sauvignon (although it should be noted that India is not known for their wines), and the PX, which has been matured in Spanish PX Sherry Butts.
Whichever expression you choose get ready for a fruit bomb of lychees, mangoes, apricots, plums and manuka honey.
Rampur Double Cask, Rampur Sherry PX Finish
The spectacular coasts of Goa. (Image Source: World Nomads)
Founded by Paul P. John, having released their first single malt bottling in 2012, the brand belongs to a portfolio of spirits under John Distilleries. Paul John himself was the son of a plantation and liquor baron in Karnataka and so followed the family business in producing spirits. The company started out with Original Choice blended whisky which still forms a cornerstone of India's whisky market. The decision to move into single malts was supported by the desire to showcase the Indian terrain - with Indian-made traditional copper stills with long necks, local Indian barley, matured in the tropical monsoon climate of Goa due to its proximity to the Arabian Sea, all of which plays a hand in creating the iconic Indian single malt.
Paul John distillery. (Image Source: Whizzky)
As you might expect, Paul John's whiskies are no less victim to the unrelenting Indian summers that accelerate the pace of maturation, creating intensely flavored whiskies. The distillery primary focuses on the use of American oak casks for maturation to create a sweeter, more rich, vanillic and baking spices, high notes-focused expression.
The latest Mithuna. (Image Source: DrinkHacker)
The company is also interesting in that it uses a less alcoholic wash set for distillation so that its whiskies can tend towards the high notes, as does the relatively longer neck stills also sought to create. This is later pushed up in alcoholic ABV content due to the intense maturation that reduces overall water content leaving the rich, full bodied distillate.
The company's success has not gone unnoticed and has since been acquired a majority stake in by famed America whisky distillers, the Sazerac Company, known for Bourbon distillery Buffalo Trace, which produces some of the most recognisable Bourbons Col. E. H. Taylor, Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Sazerac, Thomas H. Handy, W. L. Weller, Blanton's and George T. Stagg.
The classic, core Paul John Brilliance. If you can only try one, pick this. (Image Source: WhiskyBase)
So you know Paul John means business using some of the best American Oak casks. No wonder, the laser focus on 'em!
With Paul John, you can expect a whisky that tends closer towards Bourbon flavors (for obvious reasons!), with notes ranging from baking spices, fruit marmalades, chocolates, coconut, dry fruit, honey and vanilla. With the coastal Indian distillery, you also want to look out for their peated whiskies which add a whole other dimension of depth to its rich flavors.
The Paul John Bold. (Image Source: Whiskybase)
The distillery also adds a nice little touch by ushering in the festive spirit by releasing an an annual Christmas Edition that is also worth checking out.
Mithuna, Brilliance, Bold
The whisky scene in India is as vibrant as the Holi festival. (Image Source: Smithsonian)
Indian distilleries are hammering all the right beats in creating some unique and frankly, superb expressions. In our eyes, the scene is as vibrant as the festival of Holi, with distilleries like Amrut, Rampur and Paul John, each fantastic distilleries in their own right; each with a unique style and house DNA. Several Indian distilleries have also begun to make their way to the bar, with the likes of Neidhal and Kamet, breaking into the scene.
The new Kamet breaking into the whisky scene. (Image Source: High Road Spirits)
What is perhaps unfortunate is that Indian whisky regulations have failed to keep up with the great job these distilleries are doing, with little regulations to protect the reputation of whiskies originating from India, ensuring their quality and standards in the eyes of drinkers. This has made it difficult for them to shed an archaic image of the region producing low quality, cheap whiskies, much of which were barely considered whiskies and were mostly made with molasses and without any real malt.
On the bright side, this has made many of these spectacular whiskies highly underrated and still largely accessible for the most part. But don't sleep on 'em or you might just miss the wave.
Amrut's new brand. (Image Source: SMAC India)
If you're new to the category, we recommend starting with Paul John for something a little more familiar and who executes the basics well. For those venturing deeper into the category, go for Rampur, which follows whiskymaking traditions but certainly lends a unique perfumery tropical fruits character that will challenge your notions of whisky. For those well-versed, Amrut's your dram - not only do they feature some Indian whisky signature characteristics, but they take it a few leaps forward and put them through some really unique casks and whose house style, particularly the peated expressions, are simply spectacular.
India is home to an incredibly spectacular whisky scene, you don't want to miss out on this new wave. (Image Source: Easy Well Prints)
At the end of the day, India's whisky scene has much to offer, an incredible vibrancy and certainly worth celebrating - local barley, great casks, aged by the mountains of the Himalayas to the coasts of Goa, featuring intense flavors, lots of fruits, smooth, silky textures, try them or you'd be missing out.
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