Sunday, 5 February 2017



Amrut Distilleries, Bangalore are known the world over for their popular single malts such as the Fusion, Naarangi, Herald, Amrut ‘Peated’ and Greedy Angels. Only the Fusion and Naarangi were available in India in December 2015, and will probably remain on the retailers’ shelves for some time. Sadly, antiquated Indian laws do not permit bottling above 42.8% ABV or 75 proof, so these 50-62.1% single malts have to be watered down to lower ABVs, taking the original sheen off these excellent 4-5 year old drams. Very popular abroad, Amrut has dreamt up a singularly complex 7-year old single malt, the ‘Spectrum 5-Wood’.

Amrut’s Spectrum ‘5-Wood’ (not to be confused with the golf club), the latest release from Amrut distillery, could technically be considered a six-wood no age statement (NAS) whisky. Unfortunately for us Indians, only 1,000 bottles have been produced at 50% ABV, and are available in Europe at a steep €140 per 700 ml bottle. In Canada, Australia, Taiwan and a few other countries, it costs US$155 per 750 ml bottle. It is not available in the USA. 

Let me digress a while.

Almost 20% of single malts today are double-wood whiskies. Barring India, all double-wood single malts are eight to 12-year (or more) creations, where the contents of a single malt barrel are decanted into another type of barrel for two to six months before release and after the requisite intermingling, bottled as double-wood single malts. Balvenie advertises this fact on its label, as do Dalwhinnie and Tomatin; Macallan does not. Macallan simply states that it was finished in a second type of barrel before bottling, detailing it as Sherry Fino, Oloroso, Pedro Ximenez, Moscatel or St Emilion. In every case, it’s the style of wood that gives the whisky its colour and the majority of its flavours and aromas. The age mentioned is the age of the youngest whisky in that Single Malt.  

Some of the most knowledgeable in wood finishing are distilleries such as Edradour, the smallest distillery in Scotland, and Isle of Arran. A lot of big names are doing wood finishes as well, including Dalmore, Glenfarclas, GlenDronach, Auchentoshan, Bowmore and Springbank. Springbank's 11 year ‘Madeira Wood’, for example, was matured entirely in ex-Madeira casks. They could not go to 12 years because traces of tannic acid, lignins and vanillins set in after 12 years, affecting both aroma and taste, a definite downer and not worth the risk. So far, at least 33 of the 100-odd active malt distilleries in Scotland have issued one or more wood-finished whiskies. 

Glenmorangie is another prominent double-wood single malt. Glenmorangie uses a number of different cask types, with all products being matured in white oak casks manufactured from trees growing in Glenmorangie's own forest in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, USA. These new casks are left to air for two years before being released to distillers Jack Daniel's and Heaven Hill for them to mature bourbon in for four years as a quid pro quo. All other Bourbons are matured in 190-litre casks for one to a maximum of two years and cannot be reused by law. The additional two years of maturing here is specifically at Glenmorangie’s behest. Glenmorangie then uses only these six-year old single fill barrels to mature their spirit. The Original range (10 years old) will mature entirely in these ex-bourbon casks, to be ultimately bottled from a 16 year old cask. The Extra Matured range of bottling (12 YO) are transferred into larger casks that were previously used to mature other products such as wine, port or sherry for finishing. Rum casks are also used in finishing.

Their base spirit, the Original, is ‘finished’ for two more years in liqueur or wine casks, to form Glenmorangie’s core expressions, e.g., Sauternes casks (Nectar D’OR), Port pipes (Quinta Ruban), Sherry Fino finish (NAS 'Lasanta') and the Glenmorangie Madeira Wood Finish. The 18 yr old Extremely Rare Glenmorangie Château Margaux is one notch lower than the Signet NAS which was Glenmorangie’s richest whisky in terms of quality in their range, along with a dozen other special releases like the Pedro Ximenez casks (Sonnalta), the Milsean, Dornoch, Duthac, et al. The 34 YO Glenmorangie Pride 1978 1L, 47.4% ABV or 83.6 proof release in November 2015 temporarily held that spot, priced at a staggering £3320.84, but sold out at most retailers. That’s because only 700 bottles were produced, from three casks in which only 225 litres remained per cask, after 28 years of evaporation. The ABV would have been a staggering 70-72%. Most buyers are LVMH freaks.

Macallan and Craigellachie buy the oak from which the 600-litre Fino, Pedro Ximenez, Oloroso, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Palo Costado, Crème Dulce or Moscatel Sherry casks are made. This wood (Quercus robar or European oak) costs 10 times as much as American oak (Quercus alba). Macallan and Craigellachie then give their 600-litre casks on nominal rent to Sherry manufacturers from Jerez, Spain and take them back after three years in Macallan’s case and one year in Craigellachie’s. Since Sherry is made in Soleras,or fractional distillation, extraction of these barrels midway make no difference.I’ll explain Solera, double and triple woods in another blog.

Coming back to Amrut’s Spectrum, the single malt was originally matured in Amrut’s Bangalore warehouse in Bourbon casks for three years. Then, in an experiment that could only be described as out-of-the-box, five separate finishing 600-litre casks were created at Dijon, France from heat-dried (for dessication) new American oak, new Spanish oak and new French oak, along with previously used Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso barrels which were deliberately not heated, to retain the Devil’s cut, i.e., the liquid absorbed by the wood. 

Sherry butts, or barrels have a capacity of 600 litres, but only 500 litres of alcohol are introduced, leaving a sixth of the butt’s space for the creation of ‘Flor’, so essential in most types of sherry. The disadvantage of large casks is less contact with the liquid inside, sq cm for sq cm. Bourbon becomes detergent if matured in a 5-600 litre cask! 

Casks are also known to secrete up to 10-12 litres of fluid-the Devil's Cut mentioned above- in recesses created while banding staves. A stave is a strip of oak used to create a barrel and they are banded together by hoops. Staves from each cask were then removed and replaced with staves from each of the other four casks to create five complete casks with five different types of wood in each one. The barrels were then taken to Bangalore, where the whisky was filled into them to mature for an additional three and a half years before bottling.

Counting the original Bourbon 190-litre cask as the first wood, the whisky is subjected to processing by six woods. Since there is no fixed duration of stay at one particular place for a fixed period of time and since the distillery wants to keep its secrets to itself, no specific age can be appended to its concoction, hence the NAS suffix. 

Moreover, Amrut does not state the age of its single malts on the bottles because the company fears that consumers who do not know about the brand or the faster maturation process in India, would mistake it for a young whisky, and not be willing to pay a higher price.

It is quite likely that the storage ramp or warehouse is at Ootacamund or Kodaikanal, two 7,000 feet AMSL hill stations close to  Bangalore, since the typical bottling period for other malt whiskies at Bangalore, which is at 3,000 feet AMSL, is between 3-5 years. This is because evaporation losses in Bangalore, called the Angel’s share, is 12% per year vis-à-vis 1.5-2.0% in Scotland and the quantity in the bottle reduces dramatically every year. The seven year estimation just does not jell. As with Amrut Fusion, the whisky is sold at 50% ABV. 

The final bottling at 50% ABV was taken to Sweden for release, where Malt Whisky Yearbook editor Ingvar Ronde and members of the Biskopen Gustavs Maltklubb whisky club wrote the distillery’s official tasting notes. In an Amrut news release, Ronde was quoted as calling it one of the most innovative whiskies he’s tried. “This is pushing boundaries and whisky making at its best and I love it!” he said.  The whisky was a Silver Medal winner at the Malt Maniacs Awards in December 2015.

Note: Amrut has matured other expressions for a period of time in Europe after initial maturation in Bangalore. However, in the case extant, Amrut has confirmed that the whisky was matured only in Bangalore.