Amrut Intermediate Sherry Single Malt Whisky – Établissements français dans l’Inde

WW-I-Amrut-sherry+caseThis is an odd one. Like a muggy day at the spice processing factory in a tense 18th Century French outpost in India.

But allow me to contradict myself…

The Amrut Distillery is located on the west coast of India, in Bangalore, outside the limits of French influence and far from the 18th Century French settlements on the east coast.

Still, I can imagine this titanic libation as the product of a rutty-red, mad Scot alchemist employed by the French East India Company to make novel use of new spices.

Wha?

All of which amounts to exactly nil.

So… Moving on… Jim Murray gives this fiery libation a 96.5, but I wouldn’t rate it nearly that high.

Or would I?

I’d certainly give it a very high rating as an experience, but not, I think, as a single malt whiskey.

Or would I?

You may know this, you may not: This powerful whiskey is first aged in virgin or ex-bourbon oak, then sent to Spain and put into used Sherry butts before being shipped back to India, where it is later removed and put into ex-bourbon casks to complete it’s maturation (which is a shorter period in India than in most countries because of the heat – a 12 year old Indian single malt would very likely be over the hill).

“In our belief,” says Ashok Chokalingam of Amrut Distilleries, “it is not all about the influence of sherry in the whisky. It is about the balanced profile of the whisky, to see how the sherry butts can complement the whisky rather than dominating it.”

All the same, the color is classic sherry bomb: Ruby dark amber, close to the color of a Macallan Sherry Cast whiskey – the 12, if I remember aright.

It’s strong stuff at 57.1% and the sherry is prominent on the nose and on the palate. As is maraschino cherry.

Also there: A sense that one has stuck one’s head into a vat of furniture polish.

As the nose dips back into the glass, there is a notable swell of stewed fruits and raisins. Slighter wafts of cherry, unripe banana, the syrup from chocolate-covered cherries, some brown sugar, a bit of leafiness and maybe even a hint of mint.

So, despite my reluctance to over-praise the overall package here, this whiskey is indubitably and impressively complex.

It’s most immediate impression, however, is one of sherry mixed with a bourbon that has a high percentage of rye in the mash, drunk in a room full of a cake-maker’s spices and jars of spilled maraschino cherries.

The underlying core malt here is – to my palate, in any case – reminiscent of Benromach 10, but on the palate this core is almost smothered in sherry, spice and a dry alcoholic burn.

This is very strong and powerful stuff. In terms of impact, especially in the mouth, it reminds me a bit of Booker’s bourbon. Not in its complex of aromas or taste profile, but in that rocket fuel level of gustatory impact. All the same, there is the sense of a smoother core in there, reminiscent of, perhaps, Glenfarclas 105?

Again, its complexity makes description a challenge.

A bit of water brings out more oak, some sweetness and smooth, cool custard, but it remains dry, powerful and almost fiery until the long, burning oak-sherry finish.

Something tells me that, despite its peculiar impact on this drinker of scotches from Scotland, the distiller has accomplished with this single malt pretty muchy what he set out to accomplish.

An odd one, as I said – unlike anything I’ve had before. Highly recommended for the more adventurous among you. For the rest: It may bite you, but it certainly won’t hurt you. It has thoroughly piqued my interest, and not only will I go back to this particular bottle – I am already trying to decide what my next Amrut single malt will be.

Check out the distillery here: http://www.amrutdistilleries.com/validated/pages/index.html

Wasmund’s Single Malt Whisky – Jazz in a Bottle, Theatre for the Nose

20080602-wasmundsMore fully: Wasmund’s Rappahannock Pot Stilled non-chill-filtered Single Malt Whisky, Batch #78, aged 11 months, 96 proof.

For more details on this whisky and the distillery that makes it, go here: http://www.copperfox.biz

To begin… Reviewing this whisky from Copper Fox Distillery is becoming a full-blown project for me. This is my third attempt to parse the experience this unfolding rose of a whisky offers, and this time I’m determined to get it right – because I truly savor this alchemical stuff…

And yet, Wasmund’s is a very different animal from my favorite Scotch whiskies, Kentucky bourbons and Virginia ryes. Though it describes itself as single malt whisky – and that, technically, is what it is – it is nonetheless, in terms of aroma complex and flavor profile, its own category, and it may be this solitary, sui generis character that keeps calling me back. It’s as American as any other great example of American culture – it’s a 750ml bottle of jazz, a bottle of be-boppers stretching out on a hoary ballad in several time signatures at once.

Don’t like jazz? Think Chris Thile and The Punch Brothers without the frenetic pacing, but at 96 proof.

When I first opened the bottle, about two weeks ago now, its appeal was, so to speak, its unsavory first impression. There was a sense of something being almost wrong – and yet, at the same time, a promise of many unfolding, intriguing layers to come.

Like the appeal of a woman both bashful and bumptious, seductively dressed but standing aloof, the aromatic layers in this stuff didn’t want to give themselves up too easily.

This is where I start to question my sanity. The push-pull, fight or flight, cognitively dissonant seduction here, especially in the nosing, is not rational – so why do I nose it again and again? Really! Smell that! Is that embalming fluid?

But, wait: I have no idea what embalming fluid smells like!

And still, like a slave to love, the nose goes back to its steadfast labors – again, and again…

This is a truly Gordian libation!

Fortunately, after five or so minutes in the glencairn glass, that scent of something ‘wrong’ that rose up at first nosing dissipates completely and unfolds itself rather as somewhat overripe fruit – overripe apple, definitely, but also pear and maybe even a touch of apricot. Overripe, over-cooked, earthy, organic.

And yet, as the nose continues its assiduous probing, even that overripe fruitiness opens up like the roof of an observatory to reveal not just chocolate, but a chocolate factory. It’s all here, from Quik and dark cocoa powder to creamy white chocolate.

And now the tempo of unfolding scents accelerates and the pages of this book-length whisky turn faster…

In fact, what is next reveled is time of day: Evidently, it is lunchtime at this chocolate factory, and what’s served for lunch here is apple pie. There is definitely a good, tasty, old-fashioned slice of apple pie in my glass. With a bit of cinnamon on it, but very little sugar, if any. This is good, but not sweet, homemade apple pie.

Tilting my nose back out of the glass, I think I discern a wisp of cherry – fresh cherries – or am I just imagining that because I know cherry wood was used in the very hands-on process behind the making of this whisky?

No, it’s real. Returning to this whisky on subsequent evenings, I am assured that the aroma of fresh cherries is most definitely there. It is even more prominent as the open bottle blooms.

And what’s that now? A malty pecan nuttiness develops.

Ay, caramba! – Oh me oh my! – the aroma complex of this whisky is so deliciously broad and intricate! And now that I’ve discerned all of these edibles in the aromas rising from the glass, other aromas begin to reveal themselves: Fine leather, polished wood, and maybe just a bit of – charcoal? Yes, fruit wood charcoal.

I’m beginning to imagine a very complex, earthy scotch – Highland Park, say, or maybe Springbank, aged in cognac barrels. But I don’t know if such a whisky exists, and this Wasmund’s single malt wouldn’t really fit that description anyway…

Without question, this is the most time I have ever spent nosing a whisky made in America. Eyes closed, you will never mistake this for an American bourbon or rye whisky. None that I’ve tasted, at any rate. This is something different. As complex as a great single malt scotch – but, as I suggest above, it doesn’t really resemble scotch, either. Let it suffice to say that this is more scotch-like than bourbon-like or rye-like.

Though it has no aroma of peat, I’m beginning to think I would put this in the category of the deliciously odd with such wonderful “acquired taste” single malts as Ledaig 10, Longrow 7 Gaja Barolo and a few others. But maybe the word “odd” isn’t quite fair. Unique is a better word for these whiskeys.

Finally raising the sparkling mahogany-gold fluid to my lips, I find the palate this whisky brings forth is not quite as complex as the nose (how could it be?). It does not, however, disappoint. On the tongue, we finally get our first suggestions of sweetness. Though there was indeed a somewhat cloying sense of sweet in the overripe fructose nose, this is a dry sweetness, a very malty sweetness. There is a little bit of black raison paste in there, and fruit – pear and cherry and apple – a slight but interesting bitterness, and generous amounts of oaky spice. And a tiny smidgen of nutmeg and cinnamon.

The finish is fairly long and spicy. And it has a pleasant warm burn that fills the mouth and gets down in the throat but does not make it to the chest. I really like it when a whisky carries that warm burn right down to my chest, all around my heart, but this one stops pretty much just below the Adam’s apple.

Which, really, is just the tiniest quibble. Don’t let it stop you from seeking out and savoring this great whisky. If you’ve read this far, you know it took me on quite a journey, as enjoyable as any I’ve been on with drink.

And, to think, all this complexity, flavor and succulence cost me less than $40 at my local whisky emporium – Andy’s Market in Taunton, MA. I name the place because I am in awe of the place and it’s owner. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside – despite its location on the outskirts of a sooty old mill city in southeastern Massachusetts – there is a measured expanse of pure heaven for the whisky drinker. Just sayin’…

Glenkinchie Distillers Edition 1991 – Sumptuous Integration

Glenkjnchi 1991This is only the second Lowland whiskey I’ve drunk, the first being the Auchentoshan Three Wood I reviewed a few days ago here in Maltfreak.

Neither the Auchentoshan nor this Glenkinchie (distilled 1991, bottled 2005, release G/279-7-D) was as light, thin and flowery as I expected from reading pro whiskey reviewers’ descriptions of the Lowland style (the only whisky I’ve drunk that meets those criteria, more or less, is the Glenmorangie 10 year old Original from the Highlands, which is wonderful with roast chicken and brown rice).

The Auchentoshan Three Wood had a more robust palate than I expected and this Glenkinchie does, too. In the end, I had the impression that the Auchentoshan wasn’t quite finished, but in parts had been overdone, or rather that the resulting whiskey in my glass was not exactly the intended result the distillers were after – there was just too much of a confectionary sweetness to it. Not bad whisky, far from it, but nothing I would go back to very often when there are still hundreds of great whiskeys out there beckoning my nose and tongue to turn in their direction…

This Glenkinchie DE, however, is rich, sophisticated and wonderful.

And the color of liquid amber.

The nose is opulent as can be with white raisons, dried apricots and honeydew melon all driven by sails filled with a sherry breeze and floating around in a not-too-sweet fruit cocktail sugar syrup with just the slightest hints of vanilla and a dry almond nuttiness and, way, way off in the background, the slightest waftings of hot mustard and oak.

Yup, it’s all there and it all works together wonderfully. This is a whiskey of sumptuous integration and high style.

The palate is more potent than it’s 43% would suggest, and is dominated by tingling, salty spice under the fruit cake and syrup; on the second wave I notice a slightly dry and nutty maltiness that diminishes to reveal cocoa powder despite a nice creamy feel on the tongue.

I would love to taste this mellowed by a couple more years in oak, at 16 or 18 years of age.

The finish is fairly long, slightly sweet, nutty, warm and soothing.

This was quite a surprise, though I’m not sure why. A wonderful whiskey!

Highland Park 18 Year Old – Love Takes Time

It took awhile…

As if a woman I’d long been longing to hold, but who had resisted me, teasing then turning away, warm but not generous, non-committal, has finally answered my entreaties with a full, whole-hearted, loving embrace.

More than a wink, this time she fulfills all promise and slays me with her charms.

Highland Park 18 is one of those whiskies one hears about as a consistent pinnacle of the distiller’s art, a high point, one of the great ones. However, when I first bought a bottle, maybe two months ago, it did not – in my opinion – live up to it’s reputation. Rich, warm, many layered – no aspect of the nose, palate or finish had anything wrong about it. It just wasn’t the masterpiece I had been led to expect.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I read a few comments about this whisky on a review iste that got me interested again. The posts suggested that HP18 improves over time once opened – that a bit of oxidation is good for her. One post even suggested pouring it – roughly – into a decanter and letting it sit for two or three weeks.

Well, I took that advice, even shook it up a bit before putting it aside. I am so glad I did! What a difference a shake and a fortnight make!

The nose has opened and broadened. Baked fruits, heathery honey, butter and salt, just a hint of peatiness. And something just a bit sharper, brighter, rising up with the fuming alcohol – salted celery, perhaps? A hint of smoky pineapple? In any case, if a woman smelled like this, I would propose marriage even before opening my eyes to see her!

The palate delivers on the promise and adds more layers of honey, butter, fresh sweet cream in a warming pan, stewed fruits in a refined body oil texture. Ground almonds? There’s a malty sensuality here that is exciting, but soothing and serene.

Now that I’ve proposed and fallen head over heals, will she say yes?

The finish is where she takes your hand, kisses you passionately and holds you in a warm, lasting, sensuous, honey-spiced, flowing nocturnal embrace that spreads its elegant heat through your chest, cradling your now submissive heart in soft spirit fire. Yes, she says – Oh, yes, let’s do it again!

Auchentoshan Three Wood – A Kiss on the Cheek

Though I have others in my cabinet, this is the first Lowland single malt I’ve opened and tasted – ever – if you don’t count Springbank (and, despite the chapter headings in many whiskey books, you should not think of Campbeltown distilleries as having anything whatsoever to do with Lowland whiskeys). Springbank is a riotous lion compared to this untroubling little lamb chop.

Two of the three woods referenced in the name of this unambiguous but piquant libation were sherry (Spanish Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez) and it shows in the deep red-amber color.

The legs are thin, slow and shy.

The nose is surprisingly forceful. Sharp sherry, peanut brittle without the peanuts, diet vanilla wafers, fig squares and maybe a waft of almond dust. And what is that vegetable smell? Fresh cut beets, but they’re far across the room.

The palate is not as airy and fresh as “fresh cut beets” might imply. Rather, it brings a stinging sparkle (should have added water?) and a very slight oily feel. The vanilla wafers have liquefied and the sweetness in not as thin – not as diet – as in the nose, unfolding in a small but determined wave of confectionary sugar that has a slight butterscotch or caramel shading to it. Are there flowers in the room? Perhaps, but, if so, they are far on the other side – and they have oaky stems!

Beyond the slight vanilla-sugar sweetness, the slightest hint of sherry and oak and the alcohol burn, the finish has little to offer – it is, to my palate, the most disappointing aspect of this otherwise well-dressed and domesticated dram. Or is that lamb?

Or, to put it another way…

Auchentoshan Three Wood is a woman I am glad to have met, but whom I will be calling again only if I’m in need of some information I think she may have, or if I’m a bit lonely and looking for no more than a pleasant companion to walk with me through too-cultivated gardens.

Nothing wild or steamy or dreamy here, but sometimes a kiss on the cheek is very nice.