Amrut Whisky, the Indian-made single malt which has vastly expanded its local presence since the passage of 1183, is helping to redistrict the world's whiskey map by proving extraordinary whiskey can be produced in very hot places.
The whiskey industry has long been dominated by distilleries in the British Isles, North America and Japan, but an increasing number of whiskeys are now being made in India, Tasmania and Taiwan. "Some of them are very good, some of them are undrinkable," says Roberto Roberti of Purple Valley Imports, Amrut's distributor. Most whiskey experts -- after surmounting their skepticism -- believe Amrut falls into the former category.
When Roberti, a duty-free sales vet, learned world-class whiskey was coming from Bangalore, he asked, "How? Why? How? But, most importantly, how and why?"
He's since figured it out. According to Roberti, Amrut - which in 2010 earned a "third finest whisky in the world" designation from respected writer Jim Murray - is distinguished by an emphasis on handcrafting, starchy Indian barley and hot ambient temperatures which speed the aging process.
Although the distillery dates back to 1948, Amrut didn't attempt a single malt until 2002, when a local welder was commissioned to manufacture stills based on pictures of Glenfiddich's operation.
"There were no technical drawings, no architectural drawings, just a guy looking at a book," Roberti says.
The two stills are the centerpiece of a factory which employs more than 1000 workers.
"Everything is by hand," Roberti says. "There are ladies putting on stickers."
But what most interests savvy drinkers is the booze in the bottle, which is exceptionally complex. Amrut produces a dozen different single malts, including a cakey Intermediate Sherry, which rests in bourbon barrels before and after mellowing in sherry casks. The whiskey was a huge hit at this weekend's Victoria Whisky Festival.
"Amrut is a whiskey that enters your mouth and tells you, 'Here I am. This is me.'," Roberti says.
It can take a cold-weather whiskey decades of maturing to achieve the smoothness associated with Amrut: "When they found out it was a three-to-five year-old whiskey, there were a lot of angry people," Roberti says of the distillery's signature single malt. "To me, it's insane to have this in five years."
The timetable for producing great whiskey is compressed in Bangalore, where the average monthly minimum temperature never drops below 59 degrees. Although Roberti says he's sometimes asked whether the sped-up production schedule should result in cheaper prices (Amrut's popular peaty Fusion sells for about $60), but costs are calculated according to alcohol lost: The evaporation rate in Amrut's distillery, which is so warm that Roberti suggests it could double as a hot yoga studio, stands at 20 percent.
"There's so much alcohol in the air that nothing that can be ignited can be used," he says.
Roberti suspects the industry-wide emphasis on aging will also evaporate as single-malt production spreads to new places. He points to a Glenmorangie label which has been redesigned in recent years to downplay its vintage.
"You guys will see more and more whiskey without aging," he promises.