We hear the name ‘single malt’ and it immediately takes us to ‘Scotland’, a country synonymous with whisky and famous for producing the best single malts.
However, Scotland is not the only country creating this elixir. India, the biggest whisky consumer in the world and the home of high-volume ‘whisky’ made from molasses is now making some excellent single malts. At no point in India has there been as diverse a selection of Indian single malt whisky as there is today, making it very exciting for the consumers.
Which brings us to the question, what exactly is a ‘single malt’? Single Malts are small-batch whiskies produced at one distillery in a specified location, using only barley, water and yeast. While whisky can be made from many different grains, a ‘single malt’ can only be made from malted barley.
It is a simple recipe to which nothing else can be added, but one that creates an infinitely complex drink.
Indian distillers are now deconstructing the single malt whisky and coming up with homegrown brands with a whole new world of flavours that are winning awards at prestigious international competitions.
Thanks to our warm climatic conditions, single malt whisky made in India is matured and ready to drink at a ridiculously young age. One year of barrel ageing in India is equal to three years ageing in Scotland.
The manufacture of whisky from malted grains was pioneered by Amrut Distilleries in 1982 and they were the first to launch India’s first single malt whisky on 24th August 2004. This was followed by John Distillers who launched “Paul John Single Cask 161 Whisky” on 4th Oct 2012 in London, marking an exciting new chapter for Indian whisky.
Since then, several expressions by Amrut and Paul John have received high praise from well-known whisky writers like Jim Murray and won awards on the international stage.
The latest entrant on the Indian single malt whisky scene is Kamet, the result of a joint-venture between Peak Spirits and Piccadily Distillery, produced near Kurukshetra, in Northern India.
I got a chance to taste it and found it to be deliciously harmonious, light on its feet yet rich in flavour, with a touch of finesse and complexity that keeps you interested.
For me, Kamet stands out for several reasons starting with the attractive packaging. The aesthetic use of local Indian motifs is eye-catching and immediately creates curiosity to check out what the bottle holds.
A quick glance at the label reveals that the name Kamet is derived from Mt. Kamet, the third highest peak in the Indian Himalayas, located in Uttarakhand. The whisky is distilled in copper pot stills, is non-chill filtered with no added colour and bottled at 42.8% ABV. The tasting notes mention that the single malt whisky is fruity and spicy with subtle hints of oaky vanilla, raisins, caramel and sweet dark chocolate.
So, what exactly are the factors behind Kamet uniqueness?
Let’s begin with barley, one of the three raw ingredients that are the very essence of whisky and the source of its flavour. For making Kamet, the distillery’s focus is on using local ingredients, starting with the six-row barley grown at the foothills of the Himalayas, which lends it a unique flavour profile, its spicy and fruity character.
But then all Indian malts use the six-row barley as opposed to the two-row variant used in the rest of the world.
Coming to the second important ingredient permitted by law to make a single malt whisky; ‘yeast’. Even though distillers do not place too much importance on this component, yet the yeast used during the fermentation process does affect a whisky’s aromatic palate. Each distillery protects the nature of the yeast strains it uses, as well as their proportions and blends. Kamet uses special French yeast for fermentation to create fruitier flavours.
It is estimated that close to 75% of the final taste of whisky is contributed by the oak barrel in which it is aged.
Ansh Khanna, the co-founder of Peak Spirits and India’s leading fine wine importer, is also of the view that it is the cask maturation of whisky which really defines its taste. For this reason, they pay a lot of attention to cask selection in the production of Kamet, using a combination of ex-Bourbon American oak, ex-Sherry casks (Pedro Ximenez & Oloroso) and ex-wine French oak. This diversification of casks plays a very important role in imparting a special character to Kamet.
Most Indian distilleries producing single malt whisky use American oak and Sherry casks for maturation. The use of American oak gives the whisky a softer, sweeter taste with notes of crème brûlèe, vanilla and caramel, while the sherry casks lend the maturing spirit a heavier spicier body and a deep amber sometimes reddish colour and a nutty finish. However, using wine casks in whisky is far from common in India, Kamet being the only exception.
Kamet is the first Indian single malt that is finished in red wine casks (ex-wine Bordeaux oak casks) before bottling, after maturation in a combination of American oak and Sherry casks. This gives it a vinous touch and an added layer of complexity and depth on the palate.
Ansh Khanna gives credit for Kamet’s excellent quality to the people behind the dram, his master blenders Surinder Kumar and Nancy Fraley.
Surinder Kumar is India’s most renowned whisky personality, widely considered as being the father of the single malt whisky in India. He previously served as Master Blender for Amrut Distilleries, founding and spearheading their single malt program, and showing the world the potential for India to produce a whisky of great complexity.
Nancy Fraley is one of America’s greatest whisky blenders, having worked with numerous distilleries around the US. She serves as the Director of Education for the American Distilling Institute (ADI).
It may be too early to say that there is an Indian single malt boom going on, but the consumption of India-made domestic single malt whisky is definitely growing slowly but steadily.
With the launch of brands like Kamet adding a vibrancy to the single malt scene, it is an exciting time for whisky diversity in India.
By: Lavina Kharkwal
Kamet is currently available in Gurgaon (Rs 2800) and Goa (Rs 2999)
Some stores in Goa still have it at last year’s inaugural price of Rs 2699.
Kamet will be available in Maharashtra in a few weeks at Rs 4999 and soon after in Bangalore.