Updated: May 10, 2019
I recently had the privilege of visiting the Amrut distillery in Bangalore. While I’ve visited before, this time was special as I got to spend time with Mr. Rakshit Jagdale, the third generation Jagdale operating Amrut. As I spoke with him, I really felt that every Indian whisky drinker and beyond must know more about the Amrut story. That led to this piece.
Indian whisky has for a long period been the highest selling whisky in the world. It currently commands approximately half of the world whisky market. Unfortunately, most of the whisky is low budget and includes flavoured and coloured grain or molasses based alcohol in varying quantities perhaps blended with some malt whisky.
However, some Indian whisky producers have garnered the attention of the whisky world. The pioneer in this movement has been Amrut Distillery in Bangalore.
Amrut traces its roots back to 1948 when Mr. Radakrishna N Jagdale founded the distillery, originally as Amrut Laboratories. Over the years Amrut grew steadily to be a leading player in the Indian Made Liquor (IML) category. Amrut ventured into the production of rum and brandy, before they began to distill malt whisky in the 1980s. The malt whisky went into blends that were reportedly of fairly high quality due to a large portion of malt whisky being used in them.
However, the industry slowly started moving to a lighter blend which used less malt whisky, thereby making it cheaper. Amrut was left with no choice but to follow this path. What this meant was that there were large stocks of malt whiskies aging in the Amrut warehouses.
Mr. Neelakanta Rao Jagdale, son of the founder was now at the helm of affairs at Amrut. He suggested to his son, Mr. Rakshit Jagdale who at the time was at business school in Newcastle to work on a project to ascertain if an Indian single malt would gain acceptance in the UK. As Rakshit says, “ We marketed the whisky to several restaurants and bars at the beginning. While there was some amount of appreciation, it was an uphill task to convince the Scots to drink whisky from India.” What Amrut had on their side was a determined team who stuck it out for years to succeed after the Amrut Fusion Single Malt was first launched in 2004. Ashok Chockalingam, the Amrut brand ambassador and Rakshit’s classmate from business school is held in high regard in the industry for traveling across Europe spreading the Amrut brand. And of course, the man behind the whisky, the master distiller Surrinder Kumar, must be mentioned.
It was the Amrut Fusion that really put Amrut on the world map. In 2010, Jim Murray, author of the Whisky Bible declared Fusion as the third best whisky in the world. Since then, there has been no looking back for Amrut, with the Indian market also standing up and taking notice.
Amrut popularity has reached a point now where the distillery isn't able to keep up with demand. On my visit, I was shown around the new distillery that had been commissioned in late 2018 to keep up with demand. Amrut has scaled up from their original capacity of 350,000 litres per year to now being able to produce just over a million litres annually. It was fascinating hearing about the interesting challenges faced during commissioning of the plant from Rakshit. It was particularly interesting to note that the fully automated plant and all equipment are entirely Indian made. The old plant will now be entirely dedicated to the production of peated whisky and the new plant to unpeated. Rakshit says, "The new stills are exact replicas of the stills at the old distillery. The new make spirit off the new stills is almost a 95% to the spirit from the old stills". This is great news for Amrut fans.
I’m told that a visitor centre is also in the works. This is exciting news for Indian whisky fans, close on the heels of the visitor centre at Paul John distillery opening in 2018.
If that wasn't exciting enough, while walking through the old distillery I came across their newly commissioned gin still. Watch out for a high-quality Bangalore made gin very soon!
The Amrut core range for the Indian market includes the Indian Single Malt (unpeated), Peated Indian Single Malt, Fusion (75% unpeated Indian barley and 25% peated Scottish barley) and the recently introduced blended malts – Amalgam and Amalgam Peated. The Amalgams are blends of malts from Amrut with malts from other distilleries from Asia and Scotland.
The majority of the best malts that Amrut makes however are for the export market. Some of them include the Spectrum, Portonova, Intermediate Sherry, Kadhambam, several single cask releases, independent bottlings and more. My personal favourites are the Spectrum 005 and the Amrut 100 Peated.
I was lucky to taste the new make at the distillery and though I've been to many distilleries, this is one of the best new makes I've ever had. It was luscious, malty and had a beautiful citric liveliness. I got to try some limited editions as well that were very special.
I would highly recommend seeking out Amrut whisky wherever you are. They have truly changed the way Indian whisky is seen around the world.
Special thanks to Mr. Prakash, GM Amrut Distillery for always being available to answer questions and support in any way
Uday Balaji is the Managing Partner of The Whisky Advisor, your one stop shop for Whisk(e)y training, events, advisory and beyond. Uday is based out of India, but constantly travels across whisky regions learning and passing on knowledge about whiskies from across the world. Get in touch with him at uday[at]thewhiskyadvisor.[com] if you would like to collaborate.