India’s famous single malt

Rakshit Jagdale

A whisky made in a Bangalore distillery earns accolades and appreciation abroad

A couple of years ago, Amrut Distilleries, a rather ambivalent block of buildings just outside Bangalore, shot to international fame when a single malt distilled and matured here was judged the world's third finest whisky. Leading whisky expert Jim Murray, who compiled the list, hailed it for its "mystical complexity" and "improbably high standards" — not something you hear about Indian whisky, usually a molasses-blended spirit saddled with an image problem. Launched in Glasgow in 2007 and in Bangalore in 2009, Amrut Fusion, a whisky full of character to the point of idiosyncrasy, bucked tradition and strode fearlessly into the formidable world of single malts. Hot and oaky, with wafts of smoke that, in time, slam the palate with a vanilla custard flavour, here was a whisky to silence purists, entice connoisseurs, and initiate new single malt drinkers into the fold. And it came not from the windswept glens of Scotland or the wooded creeks of America, but from hot, dusty India.

Amrut Distilleries, a part of the 64-year-old NR Jagdale Group, aggregates Rs 200 crore in sales every year from over 40 lakh cases of liquor, most of which are consumed in India. At just 7,000-8,000 cases a year, single malts are a miniscule part — an indulgence, really — of this business. "It's like producing an Olympic athlete. You cannot churn them out by the dozen," says Neelakanta Rao R Jagdale, managing director of Amrut Distilleries, at his office in Rajajinagar, Bangalore.

"We are targeting 25,000-30,000 cases in the next couple of years and we are extremely happy at the reception our single malts have got in the world market," says his son and executive director Rakshit Jagdale, the man behind the group's foray into single malts in 2004. Pursuing an MBA in marketing from the UK, Rakshit surveyed the single malt market as part of his thesis and returned home with an encouraging report. "We had set aside some of our whisky by the early 2000s and with this, we decided to launch Amrut Indian Single Malt, with 40 per cent alcohol, in England," says Rao. "No one had heard of Indian whisky, so initially, we were contemplating foreign names for our single malt brand. But thankfully, we decided against it. Amrut was an old brand of ours and it means 'elixir', which we thought was quite apt for an Indian single malt. If the product is good, it will sell, no matter what." The British press and single malt snobs said cheers to this unlikely whisky from India and Amrut took this first sniff of success seriously enough to craft increasingly complex whiskies.

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