From a 52yo Scotch Whisky, to a young (NAS) Indian Whisky!
Situated in Bangalore, India, Amrut is a relatively new player in Australia (debuting in 2009), but the company has actually been producing alcohol since 1948. Diversifying into malt whisky in the 1980's, they began producing a blended malt, made from un-malted and malted barley, and molasses, and blended with sugar cane alcohol. A little different from Scotch whisky, then!
They began producing single malt whisky in the early 2000's, launching in Europe in 2004, and after a difficult start are now widely recognised as a serious player in the whisky world. Amrut whiskies are NAS whiskies, and are of course young by Scotch standards, they are generally thought to be matured for 6 years and under. However, the climate and conditions in India (and other hotter and more humid climates, including Australia) results in the spirit maturing much faster than it would in Europe. Incidentally, these conditions also mean that the amount of liquid lost to evaporation during maturation ('the angel's share') is considerably higher than it would be in cooler climates. It's also worth noting that more water is lost to evaporation in these hotter climates, whereas in Scotland more alcohol is lost to the angel's share.
This Amrut 'peated cask strength' release is one I've wanted to try for some time, and although the peated barley is sourced from Scotland (there aren't many peat bogs in India!), it was distilled and matured in India, in oak casks. I grabbed a sample from SM Whisky, for quite a reasonable price. It's young, at around 4 years, it's peated to around 25ppm, and it's high strength at 62.8%. Sounding a bit like an Indian take on Kilchoman, perhaps? I doubt it, but let's find out!
Limited release, distilled from Scottish peated malted barley. Matured in oak casks for around 4 years.
Colour: Yellow gold
Nose: Are you sure this isn't an Islay? Very reminiscent of a slightly weird Ardbeg on the nose. So much so that I briefly considered the sample I had was mislabelled. But no, that's not the case. The peat is definitely from Islay though. Spicy & hot on the nose, the peat is medicinal and slightly sour, and quite dominant. Some leafy herbs, and salted butter.
Texture: Very aggressive and a little rough. Hot & spicy syrup.
Taste: Salted caramel, then a massive wave of chilli heat (think habanero), then backs off a bit to let the peat come through a little. Very spicy, and slightly oaky, as in bitterness rather than sweetness. Quite savoury actually. Certainly not an Ardbeg! Tried adding a little water to see what it would do, and it didn't do much.
Finish: Still spicy! Very long, but not much happening. The spices dominate the peat influence. Salted butter and more spice now, hot & savoury curry spices.
Score: 3 out of 5.
Notes: It's very interesting, but it just doesn't do it for me. Seems to be trying too hard to be an Islay whisky, and falls short. Compared to, for example, an Octomore, bottled at similar age and strength, there is no comparison! But that speaks more to the quality of the distillation and maturation of the Octomore, than it does to the failings of this Amrut.
I'd still recommend trying it if you're curious, there are plenty of bottles out there, and it's priced quite reasonably. But don't expect a great deal of complexity or balance here. It's interesting to taste such a spicy whisky, I just wish there was more to it. The alcohol heat will also turn many people away, this one isn't for amateurs! If you think you're getting a cold, this Amrut Peated Cask Strength will clear it right up. Unfortunately the distillation in particular seems quite rough and rushed on this one. I'd be curious to try the 46% version, just to see how much calmer it is.
There are definitely better Amrut's out there. I have no hesitation in recommending the 'fusion' bottling, which is distilled from a mix of Scottish and Indian malted barley, with a little peat influence. It's also the most widely awarded Amrut, as it happens. Keep an eye out for that one at a whisky show or bar, it's well worth tasting (and buying).
Amrut seem to be getting into a little experimentation as well, there are port- and sherry-cask matured Amrut's, and they've recently released a new whisky called 'Naarangi', which is the Hindi word for 'Orange'. Yes, a whisky with a lot of orange influence.
Adding oranges to the maturing whisky would be against the rules, and it couldn't be called malt whisky if they did, so Amrut came up with a very clever method to get around that. They've matured this 'Naarangi' whisky in casks which previously contained a concoction of Oloroso sherry and orange peel. Very clever, and very innovative. I don't think I'll be buying that one though...