Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky

Sigmund Freud's sofa

It's time for your weekly therapy session or should I say 'whisky' therapy session with your learned and spirited psychoanalyst: moi.

Let's do some free association.



Yes, the home of scotch.

What else?

"Bourbon from Kentucky."

Okay.  Keep going . . . Yes, Canadian whisky from well, yeah Canada.  Irish, uhuh.  Good.  What else?


Yes!  Absolutely!  Japan makes great whisky and several are single malts.  Please continue.


C'mon.  There must be more?

. . .

But, sadly there isn't.  Most scotch and whisky fans and even some pompous, self-professed, Harris Tweed capped aficionados seem to have nothing to add, as they pull on their greyish whiskers.

Whisky Without Borders
Whisky has gone global.  Truly a global phenomenon.  Viral!  There are fans everywhere!  Many other non-traditional countries are producing whisky to satisfy growing domestic consumption.  One of the biggest consumers of whisky by volume in the world is India.

"Huh, did you say India."


Indians love whisky.  So much so that they have been making their own dating back to 19th Century British rule.

Indian whisky does not have the greatest reputation.  But, so what?  Neither did bourbon, Irish whisky, or this blog in the early days of development.  Everyone has to start somewhere and that somewhere is usually near the bottom.

The poor regard for Indian whisky stems from the fact that much of it is distilled from fermented molasses, as opposed to malted barley.  These 'whiskies' are typically blends that may have a small amount of fermented mash that is barley in addition to the fermented molasses.  So, it's basically rum and would be labelled so outside of India.  Inside India, it's labelled "whisky."

Reading the labels can make for good entertainment too:  Bagpiper, Royal Challenge, McDowell's No. 1, Black Dog.

In spite of the valiant wannabe Scottish names, many of these spirits are, as I said above, hardly whisky, but rather rums that taste somewhat like whisky due to blending of roughly 10% malt whiskies from India and maybe a little from Scotland.  Anyhow, not great stuff.  Hence, the reputation.

Against this background of rum (flavored by way of some malt whisky added to the blend) and reckless product labelling is: hope.  'Hope' in the form of a single malt made in India.  Yes, single malt.  Remember, the barley can come from anywhere, so long as it is distilled at one distillery, it is single malt.

Amrut Fusion Single Malt Whisky
This Indian single malt whisky is made in Bangalore.  The distillery takes Punjabi and peated Scottish barley and makes an interesting single malt.  Hence, the name:  Fusion.

Nose (undiluted)
Concentrated floral notes of mint, lavender, jasmine and loam.  Brine too.   Intriguing.

Palate (undiluted)
Powerful horse kick of cedar, cloves, cardamon, spiced dark treacle, coriander.  Dark chocolate that has a heavy weighting of cocoa.  Some big peat notes reminiscent of Islay are also present.

Finish (undiluted)
Long lingering flavors of polished mahogany, leather, mouth watering body, red and black licorice, slight anise, pungent cocoa, raisin, Moroccan dates.  Rich black coffee.  During the finish, your palate will tingle and the flavors spiced quality continues.  Repeated sips are less vibrant, no doubt because the palate is dulled by the 50% abv.

General Impressions
This is a big dog whisky!  50% abv!  But, I am happy to report that at no point is it rough, raw or volatile.  If you sip carefully, taking very little at a time, you will experience one helluva wallop of the aforementioned flavors.  Gigantic, towering skyscraper flavors demand your attention!  This is no shrinking violet or Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Amrut Fusion starts sweet for a nanosecond before going very, very dry!  Kinda reminds me of Highland Park 25 in the sense that it is very concentrated, powerful, heavy with flavors of dark fruit and pomegranate.  Unlike Highland Park 25 or many scotch whiskies, Amrut Fusion is not sherried.  As for peat, technically peated barley imported from Scotland is used in this whisky, but the peat is mostly lost by the time it is bottled.  It's there, but not in a significant amount.  Not a flaw.  Just an observation.

Add Water?
As I said before, this whisky is seriously huge in terms of flavor.

Think Don King's hair.  Still not clear?  Okay, think Donald Trump's ego. (The Freudian in me wonders if he is over compensating for some shortcoming in his life.  Donald, size really doesn't matter.  Melania still loves you for your money.)

So, in light of the huge flavors, water is understandably a must for some people.  However, I find water must be used in small quantities with this gem of a whisky.  For example, adding a teaspoon to a double pour is too much.  Such a tactic tones down everything.  It may make it more palatable for the novice, but the trade-off is a loss of complexity of all those competing flavors of chocolate, black coffee, and oak, to name but a few.

India - Be Proud!!!!!
Amrut Fusion is good whisky!  A whisky India can be proud of and I am very happy to enjoy.  It was not too long ago that many scoffed at the thought of Japan producing good whisky, but now the reputation of several Japanese distilleries is held in high regard.  Brands like Suntory Yamazaki, Hibiki, Nikka and a host of others are excellent and can go head to head with some of the best scotch.  India appears to be on the same path!


Jason Debly

P.S.  I recently corresponded with a reader (who will remain anonymous) in Bangalore about the whisky habits of Indians and it was fascinating.  Indians love whisky, but there is a tension with religious observance that frowns upon such consumption.  Here's a quote from his email:

"drinking in India .. largely [ except metros] is looked down upon
because of our religious beliefs.. so you ll find friends only in the
larger cities.. one or 2 states even have prohibition like where i work 

and alcohol sale is strictly a state monopoly.. very few
scotches are available..

about India or Bangalore.. the drinking scene is very crowded by
people who want to be/ are visible... those who wont be caught dead
with a teachers or any single malt below 15 years.. because its so
unbecoming of the 'high life' they so wish to portray.

and then there is the other group which includes people like me ...
who are closet aficionados...  who will experiment, take notes [
mental or otherwise] grow specific likes and dislikes.. this group is
small right now but it is growing.. here you ll find the teachers ,
jim beam and the single malt men ... who ll argue till dawn and still
smile and call it a day over a large  one with a splash of water..

[ there is a cocktail... jim beam black + teachers+ jw black label..
its called the three musketeers i think .. i got that made once at a
bar.. people thought i was mad or something.. but it was good ."

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission. Note:  All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.  Moreover, all images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.  Photograph of Sigmund Freud's sofa was taken by Konstantin Binder and is reproduced here pursuant to a GFDL license permitting reproduction in this post.  Photo of Donald Trump courtesy of Reuters.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Review: Auchentoshan 12 years, Auchentoshan Three Wood, Auchentoshan 18 years

Ever get really angry?  Like really *^%&^T%HJIU!!!!!!!! angry?  Me?   It happens every once in a while, and unfortunately rather recently.  I was so peeved I could have led an angry mob complete with pitchforks, sling shots, torches, carrot peelers,  pointed sticks and other implements of destruction!  Ah, but more about that later.  Let's start at the beginning.

A couple of months ago, I organized a scotch club in my home town, and wrote about it a few posts ago.  Anyhow, we met a few times.  At one meeting, M (he wants to remain anonymous for some reason . . . he seems to think any public affiliation with this blog might harm his career) suggested we try the various releases of the Auchentoshan Distillery in an upcoming meeting.

Inwardly, I cringed while outwardly maintaining an unflappable Mitt Romneyesque smile and demeanour.  I was familiar with the horrifically tedious, uninspiring, pine board flat, supremely insipid Auchentoshan 12.    But, I appreciated that I am not the Sun King, and my opinion, well, is just that, one man's opinion in a room with several others in various states of inebriation whose punching reach was a lot greater than mine.  The meeting ended and I was tasked with picking up at the local liquor store: Auchentoshan 12, Three Wood and the 18 year old.

Fast forward to the next meeting.  "Mission accomplished!" I declared as I hoisted out of environmentally unfriendly green plastic shopping bags the aforementioned Auchentoshan progeny.

Auchentoshan 12 years
I stared at the bottle of Auchentoshan 12 knowing that it would disappoint, as it had in the past.  But, I thought to myself, if I can just wrestle that gag reflex under control till the Three Wood is opened, maybe, just maybe, I would make a new, pleasant discovery.  And the 18, yes, sweet 18, maybe this distillery could delight yours truly.

I don't normally comment on the color of whisky, but I do this time because the Auchentoshan 12 looks unusually dark given it comes from the Lowland region.  My suspicion is the presence of caramel E150a added by the distillery ostensibly to bring uniformity of color from batch to batch.  The great problem with the addition of E150a is the hard to predict impact on the taste of the scotch.  Too much E150a and you have bitterness coming through the caramel flavor notes.  At other times, E150a may actually improve the taste.  Video whisky reviewer Ralfy discusses this, in part, in his review here.

Nose (undiluted)
Very faint citrus, Pine-Sol or is that Mr. Clean?  Maybe some peat in there somewhere, but again very, very weak.  Weak like Reese Witherspoon's acting.

Some of the whisky club members were picking up little or nothing on the nose.  M scrunched his nose up and quizzically looked at me.  "Don't look at me Einstein.  It was your idea to try this," I thought to myself, but neglected to utter out loud given his boxer's reach.

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth.  I'm talkin' plate glass dude.  Flat like the business side of an iron.  Not a lot goin' on.  So, I hold this on the palate.  It commences with a sweetness that is slightly soapy before becoming malty.  Caramel candies that have been in the vending machine way too long, in violation of all imaginable food safety laws governing confectionery.  In a word: stale like forgotten Halloween candy discovered in July.

Finish (undiluted)
Ginger, green onion, cloves, some smoke, oh alright yeah, there it is: a scintilla of peat.  There is something a little spoilt, bad, flawed on the finish.  A peculiarly subtle bitterness.

General Impressions
Guess I'm still not a fan.

Drinking Auchentoshan 12 confirms my suspicion that triple distillation is best enjoyed in Irish whiskey.  The Auchentoshan distillery trumpets on it's website (click here) that all its spirit undergoes this process:

"What does it mean to be the only Triple Distilled Single Malt in Scotland?  Auchentoshan new spirit is the highest distillate of any single malt distillery in Scotland.  When you taste our new spirit, strong notes of fruit and citrus are revealed because we have distilled away all the impurities in the liquid."  (Emphasis added)

Actually, I think the triple distillation process also distilled away much of the flavor!  That's the risk with that process.  Yes, you make the whisky lighter, but do it too much and you lose the flavors too.  With Auchentoshan 12, I am asking myself:  "Where's the sherry, the peat, anything?"  All I have is a mouthful of lemon/citrus notes mixed with a stale maltiness.  Finished with some ginger/green onion and a grizzly taxi driver's exhale of a Matinee cigarette.

I like light whiskies, but they have to have some character, some flavor.

You may be thinking:

"Jason, you are being overly harsh.  You're just a pompous snob with a severely receding hairline and unaware that a circa 1985 Corey Hart haircut is not attractive."

Ok, cruel world, don't listen to me.  Let's see what Adam of the L.A. Whiskey Society has to say about Auchentoshan 12:

"I get strong barley soup in the nose.  Also some rye.  Interesting.  But the palate . . . it's so plain and watery.  There's a slightly fruity/winey character, and slight spice and hay/grass hints.  More spice creeps into the slight but long finish.  Though I've had some tasty treats from Auchentoshan (Lowlands tend to get some bashing), this is whisky with little to say."

L.A. Whiskey Society's Dave is not much kinder:

"Dark in color makes you think it will be rich and flavorfullll . . . . but not so much.  Pretty weak and I see why they did the 'triple wood' thing to 'fix' what was broken . . . too bad the fix was just a bandaid that didn't actually cover the wound."

. . .
A Suggested Alternative

Whisky club member "M" is a fan of Glenkinchie 12 years and suggests it as a superior alternative to Auchentoshan 12.  While I am not a huge fan of Glenkinchie 12, I would agree it is better than Auchentoshan 12.  Glenkinchie, another Lowland malt, is distilled only twice.  More flavorful for those who like the ginger/citrus scotch flavor profile without much peat or sherry.  If for some strange reason you are already an Auchentoshan 12 fan, then you will probably like this suggestion.

My suggestion is ignore "M"s suggestion and go with mine: Glenfiddich 15.  It's floral, complex, honeyed and delivers a nice light honey fest.

Auchentoshan Three Wood

Next up was Auchentoshan Three Wood.  A no-age-statement bottling of the distillery that is priced higher than the 12 year old.  My anticipation is that it's gotta be better, particularly in light of it's rasion d'etre embossed on the back of the container:

"Triple distilled and matured in American bourbon oak; the whisky is finished in Spanish Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks."

So, three different types of wood used, you know, plus the price greater than the 12 year old indicates this is gonna be better.  I must say, all of us, were disappointed at the 12 and so had high hopes for the more expensive Three Wood.

Nose (undiluted)
An improvement over the 12.

Subtle, very subtle, hot chocolate, vanilla and sherry.

Palate (undiluted)
A rounded body delivering sherry, mushroom, brackish water, black coffee, raisins and preserved beets.

Finish (undiluted)
Carmelized onion, pepper, bitter fig, bay leaf, and some bad smoke that is damn close to vinegar.

General Impressions
I and the others dejectedly stared at our respective Glencairn glasses.  You could cut the silence with a knife.

Damn!  This stuff is bad.

The 12 year old was a disappointment, but we all had the hope that the Three Wood, being $13 more would improve our spirits!  Not so!  Like I was getting really ticked off at this point.  I had dropped well over $200 for these three bottles and so far, the first two were huge disappointments.  What ran through my mind was what I could have done with that money.  There were so many good whiskies and we just threw it  away on this crap.

What kills me is the finish of the Three Wood.  It just heads right off a cliff.  It's just a vegetal/caramel  bitterness  hugging a mustiness of some serial killer's basement that has no place being a component of a scotch flavor profile.

The Three Wood ranks as one of the worst single malts I have ever had the misfortune of tasting.  I'd drink any blend over this junk scotch.

Again, don't take my word for it.  Andy from the L.A. Whiskey Society summed up the Three Wood as follows:

Nose:  Musty old kitchen drawers (perhaps with old glue inside it).
Palate:  Mustiness with an old wood, feintly with molasses.  Maybe a bit of cough syrup.  The finish grabs the tongue but doesn't taste like much."

(DISCLAIMER:  It turns out that this bottle of Three Wood I bought and reviewed was flawed.  Click here for an updated review of a proper bottle of Three Wood.)
. . .

Auchentoshan 18 years
So, here we are.  I pull the Auchentoshan 18 year old out of the carton and am confronted by a slanted, Johnnie Walkeresque label.  It's crooked.  We got a wonky labelled bottle.  Is it gonna be worth something one day?  We'll never know as I open it.

Nose (undiluted)
Not terribly pleasant sea air.  Kinda alcoholic on some level.  Gentle Vicks Vapor Rub.

Palate (undiluted)
Again smooth.  Lemon grass, green tea, lentils and celery.

Finish (undiluted)
Woodsy, oak and ginger merge into a gustatory travesty of scotch mediocrity that no one should endure at this price point.  There's more too: dry, balsa wood, pencil shavings and eraser.  And the salt, that ain't Kosher.  Boring.  Snorefest.

The more I drink of this, the more the finish becomes maltier with an emphasis on those aforementioned pencil shavings.

General Impressions
OK, this takes the cake for the biggest snorefest of an 18 year old single malt I have ever tasted.  Matter of fact, I cannot think of an 18 year old single malt that I dislike (other than this one).  I always like the 18 year olds:  Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Highland Park, Macallan, etc.  But, now there is an exception:  Auchentoshan 18.  No complexity.  Flat liner in terms of flavor profile.  There are blends that offer way more!

Superior alternatives to Auchentoshan 18 that are floral, delicate, complex and honeyed are:  Cragganmore 12 yrsGlenfiddich 15Glenfiddich 18; and Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition.  All those suggestions are better and roughly 50% lower in price.  Do the right thing and take a pass on Auchentoshan 18.

Outrageous Price!
What really gets me steamed is the price of this 18 year old single malt:  $122.79 

No value for money whatsoever.  I could be a little more tolerant had this bottle been priced at half the sticker.  Where I live, Glenlivet 18 goes for $71.00;  Glenfiddich 18 is $72; Aberlour 18 is $115.00 and several others that I would always choose over this canine Auchentoshan bow-wow!

Now you know why I am a wee bit angry.  I could easily lead a mob through my town at night to ferret out all the vampire bottles of Auchentoshan 12 and 18 and pile them in the town square and burn them up!  I am thinking a bonfire with flames reaching 20 feet in the air, high enough to divert the attention of US spy satellite operators from the latest Megan Fox sighting to this very important crisis of whisky nuts everywhere!


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for certain photographs.  Some of the photographs appearing on this site are not by the author, but rather other photographers and/or copyright holders and so their permission is required to reproduce.  Photo credits as follows:  Image of Simpsons characters mob is the copyright of © The Simpsons TM and 2007 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. Auchentoshan 12 bottle and back of same bottle by Paul Henman; the great photo of the Auchentoshan cork is by Steven Garvin; Back lit line up of various Auchentoshan bottles by Ian Murray; Mitt Romney photo by Reuters.  Bonfire photographer is Paul Stevenson and reproduced here pursuant to the Creative Commons copyright.  Note:  All images appearing in this article are for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment.  Moreover, all images used are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Review: White Horse Blended Scotch Whisky

I like blended scotch whisky.

I keep good company because most of you reading this post also share my affection.  Blended scotch whisky makes up about 85-90% of single malt sales.  Comparatively, the market for single malts is much smaller.  You wouldn't know it if you surf the web and search "scotch reviews."

Anyhow, I like blends because they like are an old pair of shoes: comfortable and familiar.  Yeah, yeah single malts are typically more complex and therefore more impressive, but there are times when I just want to chill.  I am not looking for challenge.  I spent all day slaying dragons (albeit mostly paper ones) and now it's night time.  I am mentally spent and I just wanna listen to my eclectic line-up of music like Iggy Pop's Search and Destroy, Urge Overkill's most excellent rendition of that Neil Diamond classic Girl You'll Be a Woman Soon followed by maybe Nancy Sinatra's Bang Bang and sip a familiar blend.  Comfort scotch if you will.

Three Great Blended Scotch Whiskies
There are three truly great economy blends that you must become familiar with in this life of yours: (1)  Teacher's Highland Cream; (2) Black Bottle; and (3)  White Horse.

The first two, I have written about plenty, but the third, not so much.  White Horse is a very old brand.  Been around a real long time.  Occupied space in many grandads, and dads liquor cabinets.  And for good reason.  It's cheap.

White Horse retails for $18 in North Carolina.  Elsewhere in the US, it may be a couple of bucks more, but it is still very affordable.  Amongst the cheapest blends on the market.  The question that immediately comes to mind: "Is it any good?"  The perpetual question eh?  Okay, my budding Siddhartha, let's find out.

Nose (undiluted)
A touch of sherry, prunes and the citrus notes of over-ripe blood oranges.  Maybe a hint of salt laden sea air too.  Not the most impressive of aromas to ever float heavenward from a glass.  Matter of fact, pretty bland.  But, at this price point, the noteworthy attribute is that it is not offensive.

Palate (undiluted)
Smooth, viscous, mouth-coating, creamy body.

Blood oranges, buttery shortbread cookies, slight sherry, counter balanced by wild honey, lemon zest and very subtle peat and smoke.  There is some see-saw action going on between the fruity orange/honey flavors of Speyside at the forefront and the very restrained Islay/Islands smoke/peat at mid-palate.

Finish (undiluted)
This is where Islay and the Islands (ie. Skye) come through.  Lagavulin, Cao Ila, Talisker make an appearance.  Nice smokey finish with great malt notes.  Hmm!  Ginger and salty pretzel too.

General Impressions
White Horse delivers sweet, buttery soft flavors of oranges, honey, some limes and finally a nice puff of smoke from a menthol cigarette and a little peat.

It is the "finish" that is impressive. Breathe through your mouth after sipping this blend and you can taste the smoke much more clearly.  It becomes far more pronounced.

Smooth, totally inoffensive with nice briar patch fire smoke and salty tang on the finish.

Complex?  Ahh no.  But, remember, this scotch retails for $18!  Enjoyable?  Ahh yes!

Claim to Fame?
White Horse is famous for having Lagavulin as one of the principal single malts composing this blend.  It seems that every review I read makes mention of this fact.

In all honesty, I can't say that I taste Lagavulin in this blend.  It is stated so on the back label, but again, I am not tasting much of it.

I taste Talisker on the mid-palate to finish.  Caol Ila is another malt in this blend.  The smokey finish tastes of that fine malt.

There are 40 whiskies making up this blend.  Some grain and some malt.  The grain whiskies are well integrated and taste crisp.  Malt whiskies make up 40% of the blend, which may explain the lack of a grainy character.

At $18 a bottle, it is hard to criticize this blend.  If I had to make one, I guess I do find it extremely smooth and consequently very drinkable.  I mean $18!  Dude, can you have breakfast for two less than that?

Anyway, it is very smooth.  I would, in a  perfect world like it to be a little more vibrant, but this is just an observation and not really valid at this price point.

Sweetness is another concern.  This blend like the vast majority of bottom shelf scotch tend to be very sweet.  White Horse succeeds where others (ie. J&B, Ballantine's, etc.) fail.  While White Horse is sweet, it is not cloyingly so, and more importantly, by the time of the finish, it is no longer sweet but rather smokey with some peat giving a drying affect.  So, while I had many reservations upon initially sipping it, my concerns washed away, literally, by the time of the finish.

Highly quaffable and highly recommended when one is on a budget or just wants a friendly blend to keep them company and not make any pesky demands.

Special Thanks
A reader went to great lengths to have this bottle delivered to me.  Thanks a lot Will!

Now, I must get back to that rather eclectic music collection of mine . . . Hole performing "Doll Parts."


Jason Debly

Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2012. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission.

P.S.  Will is not a brand ambassador for White Horse or Diageo.  By the way, I reimbursed him for the cost of the bottle of White Horse.  Money well spent!