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Amrut Fusion Single Malt rated one of best three whiskies in world" splashed in the media across the world in September 2009 causing tremors (and some hiccups) in the whisky world.

Leading whisky expert Jim Murray had named a virtually unknown (especially to Indians) single-malt whisky from Bangalore the third best in the world in his 2010 edition of the aptly named Whisky Bible.

Being a single-malt whisky enthusiast, I fell off my chair in excitement and pride.

Amrut Fusion achieved this accolade while competing against 4,000 whiskies that were rated. It scored a whopping 97 points (out of 100) and just like that stormed into the highest echelon of great whiskies.

The whisky world is still coming to terms with this tour de force.

The story so far

To the makers of the whisky, this was a just a matter of time. The whisky comes from Bangalore-based Amrut Distilleries, set up in 1948 and which introduced its first single malt in the UK in 2004. Amrut has been owned and run by successive generations of the Jagdale family.

In 2004, their go-to-market strategy in the crowded Scotch-dominated whisky market was typical of the Jagdales—humble yet unconventional. Rakshit Jagdale, then an MBA student in Newcastle, UK, and now the executive director of the distillery, decided to host a blind product tasting (BPT) of their whiskies to a bunch of malt enthusiasts at Glasgow’s famous Pot Still whisky pub. The result was an epiphany to the management—a unanimous appreciation from the entire group. This encouraged Amrut to carry its experiment to mainstream success.

The report card came out in 2009 in the form of the Whisky Bible.

Recently, I was part of a BPT of several Amrut expressions in Bangalore where the home-grown trounced several Scottish single-malt heavyweights. No kidding. Knockout. The BPT is a good measure for product superiority as it strips away branding, country and other biases.

When contacted, the unassuming and extremely friendly management were happy to organize a guided walk of the distillery. Master brewer and vice-president Surinder Kumar as well as Rakshit Jagdale personally led our tour. We were treated to deep insights of the whisky-making process as well as some fascinating trivia of their journey.

How is Amrut made?

For the record, Scotch whisky regulations dictate “single-malt whisky" must be made in a single distillery from malted (sprouting) barley, must be distilled in a pot still, and must be aged for at least three years in oak casks. Only three ingredients are to be used: barley, water and yeast.

Amrut single-malt whiskies are made from selected Indian barley grown in the north Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. For some expressions such as Fusion or Peated, barley is sourced from Scotland and used along with Indian barley. Water is sourced from the foothills of the Himalayas as well as locally in Bangalore.

The barley is carefully milled, mashed, fermented and distilled in small batches to preserve the natural aroma, and matured in oak barrels in a unique tropical condition at Bangalore’s 3,000ft altitude. After maturation, the whisky is non-chill filtered to retain its natural uniqueness. The whisky is then bottled in the distillery.

The senior management takes great pride in the “human touch" that results in their truly great whiskies. The team constantly innovates with elements that affect whisky character—duration of various processes such as distillation, shape and design of the pot stills, nature of barrel selection for maturing, etc.

Our photo feature here shows a step-by-step account of how Amrut is made. Something uniquely Indian yet instantly global.

Very fittingly, the founders offer Amrut as a humble tribute to the Indian farmer, who tills the soil and grows the barley with loving care.

Ramki Sreenivasan is a Bangalore-based technology entrepreneur and wildlife photographer.

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