Raising a toast…

Karina Aggarwal | Updated on January 20, 2018
Serious contender: Apart from Amrut, Paul John whisky is gaining ground as an
established single malt

Serious contender: Apart from Amrut, Paul John whisky is gaining ground as anestablished single malt

Class apart: A bottle of Desmondji rum

Class apart: A bottle of Desmondji rum



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…from your own backyard. Local Indian liquor is making waves across the world

In the world of drinks, terroir is a much-cited term. It is a loaded word that most commonly implies the climatic conditions of an area that impart a particular character to the beverage. But terroir also encompasses the people who, in many ways influence the taste we perceive. The French swear by it even as certain non-believers put it down as pure marketing.

Well, for what it’s worth, in the last few years India has come up with quality potions yielded forth from our own soil, and even though we have emulated the original products in some cases, they are still bound to have a certain autochthonous stamp of taste. And our local terroir must be working, for some of these products have consistently been wowing audiences around the world. Here is a selection that you should watch out for and always remember, more than flavour alone, it is the story that can make a sip more enjoyable.

Amrut Single Malt: Launched in 2006, our first legitimate single malt only became known in India via vacationers to London who chanced upon it in the upmarket Knightsbridge area. Cut to 2010 when a mention by Jim Murray in The Whisky Bible catapulted Amrut into the big league. Bottles were flying off the shelves and haven’t stopped since. The brand may have started cautiously but now it’s mixing things up, upping the ante with each new release. So far Amrut has put out more than 20 expressions in all, only four of which are available in India. Its most recent malt to grab headlines was Spectrum — an experimental whisky aged in a specially constructed cask that uses wood staves from six different sources. Now that’s something you’ll want to pick up on your next expedition!

Paul John Single Malt: While Amrut has thus far been synonymous with the new-age Indian single malt, Bengaluru-based Paul John is steadily gaining ground. The people behind Big Banyan wines and other iconic brands (more popular in the Southern states) launched their eponymous single malts in 2012 in the UK. A couple of years later they released two of their six variants in India. Brilliance is styled as a delicate Scotch while Edited is partly peated. Bold, their heavily peated version, is still making its way onto Indian shelves. In its few years, Paul John has already amassed more international medals than any other local whisky brand and the journey continues.

Licor Armada: A casual tinkering with an ancestral recipe is what started Oscar De Sequeira Nazareth’s journey to create Licor Armada. The original liqueur recipe demanded Portuguese oranges, spices from India, Ceylon, Indonesia and sugar from Brazil — ingredients that at one time came aplenty from the colonies. After a little tweaking, Goa-based Nazareth arrived at a sustainable recipe and set the wheels in motion. By December 2012 he had his finished product. In 2013 he won a bronze medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition backed by a silver at the International Wine & Spirits Competition (IWSC). Now this wasn’t a neighbourhood competition where the judge is your uncle, winning at this level brings serious attention and prestige to the brand. Today, Armada sails forth to Finland and the UK, and soon other countries as well.

Wild Tiger Rum: When you consider how most Indian whiskies are molasses based, it begs the question — why doesn’t India have a premium rum? Gautom Menon asked the same question and almost a decade later, he has changed the status quo. Wild Tiger rum is a blend of molasses-based spirit and pure cane juice spirit that is aged in ex-Bourbon casks. It’s hard to miss Wild Tiger on a shelf, what with its almost-velveteen stripes and tiger tooth neck tag. The plan seems to be to reel in the consumer with the imagery, then seal the deal with taste. As shipments of Wild Tiger roll out to the UAE and nine other European nations, the brand has already secured a spot on Singapore’s Tiger Air, followed shortly by British Airways and South African Airways as well. Though Menon is wary of entering the Indian retail market (and for good reason) he plans to be in all major duty free outlets in the country within the month.

Desmondji: Back in 1999 Desmond Nazareth moved to India after 17 years in the US. In his attempt to set up a good home bar he realised that it was impossible to find a decent, affordable tequila here. He wondered why no country other than Mexico made a similar spirit and research threw up a picture of the agave plant, which he remembered seeing in his youth while crisscrossing India with his parents. Some nifty calculations led him to the Deccan Plateau where he found this precious agave. A series of experiments followed and finally in 2011 Desmondji was released. Today he is possibly the only person to be legally making agave spirit outside of Mexico. Desmondji is available in Mumbai, Goa and a handful of other cities. If things go as planned, this year it will also export.

Karina Aggarwal is an internationally certified beverage professional. She runs the beverage-themed website Gigglewater411.

Published on June 15, 2016

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