BANGALORE: Amrut is an unlikely name for an alcohol brand, but then an Indian whisky being considered one of the finest in the world is equally unheard of. Amrut single malt whiskies, distilled in Bangalore but virtually unknown to whisky drinkers in the country till it found a mention in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2010, is finally making its debut in India.
The whisky, perhaps the only Indian whisky served in the world’s whisky capital Scotland, will soon enter the US as well, thanks to the global recognition and success in the Europe where it is expected to sell 6,000-7,000 cases this year.
When Neelakanta Rao R Jagdale, CEO of Amrut Distilleries, a regular supplier of cheap liquor to military canteens, came up with the idea of shipping single malt in Europe, people might have thought he’s out of his mind.
After all, India’s distilleries are notorious for turning out inferior ‘whisky’ blends made from all manner of grains as well as molasses as whisky expert David Kiley says. Also, the climate in India hardly lends itself to gentle aging, he says.
But Amrut was different. Right in the 1980s, when the company founded in 1948 decided to distil whisky, it started procuring barley from farmers in Punjab and Rajasthan, apart from molasses. This helped it understanding the nature of barleys and, after 20 years of trial and error, the first single malt was shipped out in 2004.
“Teams from Amrut visited Scottish distilleries, engaged with Tatlock and Thomson, a Scottish consultancy specialising in spirits, and there was plenty of hard work,” says Jagdale. Amrut Single Malt debuted in The Pot Still, a popular bar in Glasgow and then slowly into other European markets like England and the Netherlands, riding on word-of-mouth publicity. The level of acceptance it got in the European markets surprised Jagdale
Then last year, Amrut created Fusion Single Malt, combining barley grown in Punjab with imported Scottish peated barley. It is this international
fusion that became Murray’s favourite and the renowned taster rated it as the third finest whisky in his Whisky Bible 2010. The brand’s uniqueness and adherence to quality is not lost on experts. “The Fusion creates a complexity of fruit and smoke that I have never tasted in a Scotch whisky,” says Kiley. It is this sudden spurt in fame plus the slowly rising demand for single malt in the country that has inspired Amrut to offer its whiskies in the country finally.
Amrut Fusion Single Malt and Amrut Single Malt are now available in select liquor shops in Bangalore for Rs 2,000 and Rs 1,500, respectively. The brands will soon make their debut in some Mumbai shops as well as five-star hotels in select cities.
In the US, the initial foray will be in New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut and Massachusetts with a shipment of 900 cases. By the end of the year, Amrut expects to have 3,000 cases circulating in the US as it gets into Florida, Texas and California.
But increasing production while retaining its high standards can be tricky. “Their standard is so high. They now have to somehow try and increase the production as global and local demand increases, yet maintain their high standards. That is a tough order for any distillery,” says Jim Murray. “However, with Fusion they have shown that they have a firm grasp of what their malt is capable of.”
Jagdale knows it’s a big challenge but believes his 62-year-old company is up to it. The Rs 150-crore makers of Maqintosh premium whisky and Old Port XXX rum has already made an Indian whisky brand popular abroad even though the Scotch Whisky Association (the Edinburgh-based trade association) has never recognised Indian whiskies because they are made of molasses. It can definitely scale new highs.