February 15, 2010 --


Indian Whiskey Amrut Hits US Stores in March

To a serious whisky drinker, the idea that India could produce a world class whisky has been a fanciful idea. Until now, that is.

Amrut whiskies from Bangalore-based Amrut Distilleries will finally hit U.S. liquor retailers in March after five years of distributing single-malts in the European Union countries, Canada and South Africa. Talk about bursting on the scene: Just prior to its U.S. entry, noted whisky writer Jim Murray rated Amrut Fusion" third best whisky in the world in his 2010 "Whisky Bible," rating it 97. The rating stunned the whisky establishment, especially in Scotland.

Amrut will be introducing all five of its whisky expressions at once: Amrut Single-Malt; Amrut Single-Malt Cask Strength; Amrut Single-Malt Peated; Amrut Single-Malt Peated Cask Strength; Amrut Fusion. Prices range from $45.00 for the Single-Malt to $72.00 for the Peated Cask Strength.

India is well known for its consumption and appreciation of whisky. And it's distilleries have long turned out mostly inferior "whisky" blends made from all manner of grains as well as molasses. Additionally, the climate in India hardly lends itself to gentle aging.

The altitude and temperatures of India, in fact, make Amrut's aging very short compared with whiskies from Scotland, Ireland and Canada, and even Japan. None of the Amrut products will carry an age statement. It may not be a problem. Scottish distillery Ardbeg, for example, has created a near cult following for its whiskies with very few age-statement products.

Despite inhospitable aging conditions in India, Amrut has clearly cracked the code. Fusion, for example, gets its name from the fact that it is derived from two barleys: Indian and Scottish. The Scottish barley is peated. Amrut's barley comes from the Punjab region. Distillation takes place in Bangalore at 3,000 ft. above sea level. The spirits are matured separately in oak, for less than 4 years! After each reaches peak, the two are married in Bourbon casks in proportions only Amrut blenders know.

The result is a complexity of fruit and smoke that I have never tasted in a Scotch whisky. Since it is Winter Olympics time, I'll use a handy analogy. Drinking Fusion is like watching a skater who breaks all the rules and combines quad and triple jumps in a totally unexpected way, and saves big jumps until the last quarter of the routine when most skaters are too tired to attempt the big jumps. You keep expecting the skater's routine to fall apart, and he never does. And neither does Amrut. Murray's unexpected high rating for Amrut has made the brand one of the biggest curiosities of the year among whiskey drinkers who have not tried it abroad.

Fusion, 100-proof, has a sweetness vaguely reminiscent of Grand Marnier, though not cloying at all. I find dried orange peels, rich caramel, vanilla, dates, and the smokiness seems almost floral. The complexity stirs a lot of conversation around the bottle. The peated Amruts are not over-powering, or even overly strong. I get the idea that the decision to have both peated and un-peated in the U.S. at the start is to give something to everyone.

Amrut's distributor says the initial foray will be New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Connecticut and Massachusetts. Park Ave. Liquor and Astor Wines & Spirits are among the retailers taking pre-orders. In Boston, it's Federal Wine & Spirits. In Chicago, it's Binny's. The initial shipment will be 900 cases. But by the end of the year, Amrut expects to have 3000 cases circulating. It will go into Florida, Texas and California by year-end.

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