India is one of the latest, and arguably greatest, countries to throw its hat in the ring where world-renowned whisky is concerned. This may come as a surprise for many reasons; for starters, the climate of Scotland versus that of India is brought to mind, but not the least of which is the fact that most of India’s whisky doesn’t count as whisky by worldwide standards. That has changed in the last decade, give or take, with the genesis of Indian Single Malt, with producers and products skipping right to the front of the “World’s Best” lines.
To “E” or Not to “E”
So that nobody’s eyes get crossed by multiple spellings in one article, note that both “whisky” and “whiskey” are correct spellings for the same thing. As an imperfect rule to remember by, a majority of the time if the country has an “e” in its name, so usually does its whisky. United States and Ireland therefore have “whiskey,” where Scotland, Canada, Japan, and India have “whisky.” Since this is about Indian whisky, we’ll drop the “e” out of respect, except when referenced in relation to a particular country.
What Is the Difference Between Whisky and Indian Whisky?
Whisky is, by definition, “a type of alcoholic beverage made from fermented grain mash.” India would, in fact, lay claim to eight of the 10 best-selling whiskies worldwide, were it not for the fact that what is generally called whisky in India doesn’t qualify elsewhere. A majority of India’s whiskies are made as blends between distillates made from fermented molasses (similar to rum) and a smaller portion of distillates made from grain.
When/Where Does Indian Single Malt Come In?
In 2004, Amrut, a longstanding producer of traditional Indian whisky based in Bangalore, released a single malt because of an excess of a barley malt distillate that had been aging longer than that which was traditionally used in the blend for typical Indian whisky. The resulting single malt, simply named “Amrut,” caught the attention of Jim Murray, publisher of the yearly Whisky Bible, who gave it a favorable score in 2005. While single malt was not a popular style in India itself, an opportunity to enter the premium market through export was identified, and Amrut continued to experiment with distillation and aging techniques to produce other styles of single malts, many of which have attracted attention on the world stage. A few other producers were soon to follow.
How Has Indian Single Malt Become So Distinctive?
Improbably, it is the very climate of India that has allowed its single malts to compete so quickly with more long-standing Scotch whiskies. It is estimated that 12 percent of the distillate for Indian Single Malt evaporates in the cask each year during aging, a rate six times higher than that in Scotland, due to India’s hot, dry climate. The results are single malts that drink like whiskies six times their age, for a taste akin to an 18-year Scotch whisky, with only a three-year-old Indian Single Malt price tag. The worldwide whisky and spirit ranking operations were quick to sit up straight and take note, with distinctions not only coming from Whisky Bible, but also Whisky Advocate, and the World Whiskies Awards.
So Where Can I Find Some?
Because a majority of India’s Single Malts are exported, you should be able to find samples wherever high end spirits are sold. Brands to look out for currently include Amrut, Paul John, and Rampur, with an expectation that other brands are soon to enter the market.
The Future of World Whisky
There was a time not that long ago when the average drinker could count on one hand the number of countries of the world who were well-known for whisky, with or without the “e.” Scotland, with its smoky, peaty selections; Ireland, with its smooth, thrice-distilled whiskies; the U.S., with its sweet bourbons and spicy ryes; and Canada, with really polite, friendly selections. The big four had a firm hold on the market for what seemed like basically forever, with no notion that that world was about to change. Now Japan holds the number three spot, and around 20 countries worldwide lay claim to whisky production: in addition to India, newcomers to note also include Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden. For connoisseurs of the bold, brown spirits, it’s a great time to be alive.
Related Video: Anthony Bourdain’s Rule for Drinking Whiskey with Ice
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