Matters of the spirit: Notable whiskies of 2021

Our spirits connoisseur lists out some of the best whiskies to have hit the shelves in 2021.

Amrut Spectrum

Amrut spectrum

Ashok Chokalingam is normally a quiet and reserved man, so when he starts off his virtual presentation with shades of 007, by saying that the name was Chokalingam, Ashok Chokalingam, I knew that the theatrics must be leading to something special. And indeed, the whisky lives up to the drama. Amrut Spectrum 004 is the fourth release in their Spectrum series, with a maturation technique used that is apparently unprecedented in the whisky industry. After maturation for 6.5 years in ex-bourbon casks, the whisky is matured in a barrel that has been made using staves of four different types of wood: New American Oak, French Limousin Oak, an ex-PX sherry (Pedro Ximenez) and ex-Oloroso sherry casks. This is what’s known as the Spectrum barrel. 

It’s a limited release with 12,000 bottles being made available globally, 600 of those in Bengaluru, at a price of INR 12,500 each. I’ve been sent two 60ml miniatures, and I pour a little into the accompanying Glencairn glass, marvelling at the dark hues of the liquid and the Christmas pudding-like aroma notes. On the palate, as Krishna Nukala, a Hyderabad-based malt connoisseur describes it, it’s like a “beeswax, dry fruit and dark fruits bomb.”  

Epitome Reserve 

Having occasion to visit the Diageo Technical Centre last week in Bengaluru, I can testify (at the cost of being guillotined) that there’s more in their craft spirits pipeline than just Epitome Reserve. But for the moment it’s Epitome Reserve releases 1.0 and 2.0 that you’re going to have to satisfy yourself with, and that’s more than enough to chew on. For a start these whiskies represent pretty much the first craft premium spirits to emerge from a multi-national in India. Both whiskies are priced around the INR 10,000 mark, a little less or more depending on where you’re looking. Epitome 1.0 was a single-grain whisky that used a broken rice-based distillate, while Epitome 2.0 was a single malt whisky made from Indian six-row barley and finished in wine casks. “I would say overall it’s an impressive world whisky,” says Keshav Prakash, founder of The Vault, an importer of boutique spirits. “Woody, malty and heavy bodied,” says Vikram Damodaran, Chief Innovation Officer for Diageo when asked to describe how Indian single malts differ from their counterparts say in Scotland. 

Both whiskies are non-chill filtered helping retain for purists some of the more intrinsic aspects of the liquid. The single malt also goes through a winey filtration that gives it a touch of effervescence. 

Paul John Christmas Edition 2021

My first encounter with the Paul John Christmas Edition was in 2019, when as a part of the visit to their beautiful new visitor centre in Goa, we tasted the 2019 edition — it was absolutely amazing, and led to some surprising side effects. I’m normally economical in my buys, but this was so good that I picked up a bottle. A limited-edition release, it’s availability (I think) is confined to new markets, so it’s best to pick up in Goa. The 2021 Christmas Edition is now available, and is a blend of malts finished in ex-bourbon, Port and Madeira casks. The fourth release in this series, Christmas can never come too early. 

Black Bowmore 50yo

For those of you looking for a collector’s edition, look no further than this beauty from Bowmore, the Black Bowmore 50yo. This is the fifth and final edition of its Black Bowmore 1964 distillation. This is the oldest of the releases, spending 50 years in cask at Bowmore’s No. 1 vaults, the world’s oldest Scotch maturation warehouses. It’s presented in a beautiful wooden cabinet. You can expect to spend between USD 75,000 and 90,000 for the privilege of owning a bottle. Don’t forget where you read about this, and be generous with this author. 

Ardnamurchan Single Malt AD07.21:05

Ardnamurchan single malt ad07. 21 05

With a brief as ambitious as this, I’ve tapped into the knowledge of a few leading lights of the whisky industry in India, and this is one whisky that came recommended to me by Keshav Prakash. The name is a tongue twister, but the whisky as I understand it is anything but, sweet and fruity, and a combination of peated and unpeated spirit, matured in both ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. 

The distillery is located in the West Highlands, and is styled as a green distillery with all the power and heat requirements coming from local renewables and all by-products recycled on the peninsula. 

Ardnamurchan is also future ready via its use of blockchain technology “to provide a secure and immutable model of the full supply chain that describes the manufacture of our whisky”. In layman terms, this enables you as a customer to know the provenance of each bottle of whisky.

Jack Daniel’s 10 Years Old Tennessee Whiskey

Jack daniels 10yo

My go-to man for American whiskey is Singapore-based Anupam Dikhit, tech evangelist by day, American whiskey nut by night. It was a toss-up for him between the Jack Daniel’s 10yo, the Maker’s Mark Limited Edition, the Woodford Reserve Masters Collection and the Four Roses Limited Edition. He ultimately plumped for the JD, considering it’s their first new-age statement release in 100 years. The inaugural release in 2021 saw 200 barrels yielding 24,000 bottles for sale. At a higher proof than the Old # 7 and richer in taste also. Do keep a look out for this collector’s edition. 

Glenmorangie Taste of Cake

Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Whisky Creation at Glenmorangie is as close as I can think of to a Willy Wonka of the whisky industry. I’ve had multiple interactions with him over the years, including being a part of tastings that he’s conducted, and am always amazed at his inventiveness. 2021 saw me tasting a special edition called A Tale of Cake. Inspired by how some of his best memories involved cake, Dr Bill dreamt of replicating the taste of cake in a single malt whisky and achieved this magic by finishing Glenmorangie in Tokaji dessert wine casks. Best enjoyed with a slice of pineapple upside-down cake.  

Vikram achanta

Vikram Achanta is founder and CEO of Tulleeho, a drinks training and consulting firm, and a co-founder of www.tulleeho.com, a drinks website. He is also co-founder of 30 Best Bars India, India’s first bar awards and ranking platform. His Instagram handle is @rumdoodle69.

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