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Sunday, 26 July 2015

Amrut Intermediate Sherry & Portonova Whisky Reviews!

Until recently, my experience of Amrut Indian whisky was quite limited, having only tried the standard 'single malt', the (very good) 'fusion', and the 'peated cask strength'. But after attending an Amrut tasting with the Dram Full (Brisbane) facebook group this week, that list is now a bit longer!

Presented by Ian from Alba Whisky, Amrut's Australian distributor, and graciously hosted by The Gresham, we tasted a total of seven expressions of Amrut whisky, including two rare Blackadder independent bottling's, generously supplied/sacrificed from the personal collection of Dram Full Brisbane's head honcho. Those two were actually my first Blackadder's, and they were both very impressive. Definitely an 'indie' to look out for.  

I've covered the particulars of Amrut distillery in more detail in this previous review, but they've been releasing some interesting whiskies recently, and thanks to Ian, I have samples of two of those to review, for your reading pleasure! Both of these use the same, quite unusual, maturation technique, albeit one in sherry casks, and the other in port casks (can you guess which is which?). There's actually a clue in the name of one of them: No, not 'sherry' or 'port', that would be too obvious. It's actually 'intermediate'!

Both of these whiskies start out in a mix of ex-bourbon and virgin (new) oak casks, are then transferred to fortified wine casks (sherry and port, respectively), and are then transferred back to ex-bourbon casks for finishing / marrying prior to bottling. Hence the sherry / port cask maturation is the 'intermediate' step in the maturation process. This last step is very unusual, and the thinking is that it allows a better integration of the different cask influences. Amrut is, to my knowledge at least, the only distillery to have used/tried this unusual technique.

Both are also NAS, and will be young by Scotch standards, but as we know, whisky matures faster in hotter climates, so that should not put you off. Amrut also do not chill filter, or any colouring to, their malts. Both of these are also made from Himalayan barley, which is different! I'm comparing these two back-to-back, since they use the same maturation technique with different casks, for science...
Amrut Intermediate Sherry, 57.1%, NAS. Bangalore, India.
Non-chill filtered, natural colour. Matured first in ex-bourbon and virgin oak, transferred to sherry casks, then back to ex-bourbon casks before bottling. Hence 'intermediate sherry'. 

Colour: Rusty red.

Nose: Definitely a sherry monster, with a different edge. Sultanas and currants, spices (cinnamon, clove, cardamom), mild honey sweetness. Roasted nuts, cherry cough syrup, vanilla pods. 

Texture: Syrupy, quite weighty. A little heat.

Taste: Very spicy - chilli, cumin, ginger, cardamom. Semi-dry sherry, cough syrup, strong tea. Quite intense and feisty, but not harsh or rough.

Finish: Short-medium, still spicy. Some vanilla, and slightly nutty oak.

Score: 4 out of 5.

Notes: Very nice. Quite a lot of spices, and not overly sweet, quite complex. Especially for the age. 
Amrut Portonova, 62.1%, NAS, Bangalore, India.
Non-chill filtered, natural colour. Matured fist in ex-bourbon and virgin oak, transferred to port pipes, then back to ex-bourbon casks before bottling. 

Colour: Slightly darker & redder.

Nose: Stewed berries, very jammy. Magic marker / nikko pen. A little spicy, but less so than the sherry. Sweeter, as well. 

Texture: Syrupy, a bit of heat. 

Taste: Strawberry and plum jam, spicy - chilli, pepper, hint of curry leaves? Dark caramel / molasses. More heat in this one, but it is 5% higher strength, so that's a given. Again not harsh or unpleasant, though.

Finish: Medium, dried fruits and oak. Becoming quite dry. Mild tannins. Raisins / sultanas at the end.

Score: 3 out of 5.

Notes: Still a decent dram, but not as good as the intermediate sherry, for me. Although I'm starting to wonder if I'm not a big fan of port cask matured whisky without peat. 

And the winner is: The intermediate sherry, clearly. Feels a little more integrated and polished, for me. Maybe the smaller sherry casks are working a bit harder than the larger port pipes? The portonova seemed more popular at the tasting, but this is only my opinion, after all. I'd have no problem lining up either of these against a Scotch, for something a bit different. In fact they remind me a little of Kavalan whiskies in character or 'spirit' (pun intended). In a good, and refreshingly different, way.

However, price must also come in to the equation. Both of these are around $160-170 in Australia, which is a substantial amount, especially when compared to Scotch. But you generally are getting more ABV for your buck with the Amrut. My pick of the range, though, is still the fusion. At around $90-100 it's pretty great value, is still bottled at 50%, non-chill filtered and natural colour, and has that little bit of peat from the Scottish barley component, being made from 25% peated Scottish, and 75% un-peated Himalayan, barley. 

What I would like to see is a peated Amrut, matured in this 'intermediate' style. In fact, I would like to see, and taste, an Amrut made from peated Himalayan barley. Currently, all of their peated barley is shipped from Scotland, ready-made, if you will. Yes, it would be more costly, because they'd have to source the peat, and malt & peat the barley locally. But it would be more Indian, and perhaps more authentic.

Thanks to Ian McKinlay from Alba Whisky for the samples, and for coming up to Brisbane for the tasting. Likewise to Mr. Dram Full Brisbane, Othmar, for organising the whole thing, and giving up his whisky.

Cheers!