Amrut Cask Strength (61.8%, OB, Batch 87, 2017)

Well, it almost seems a bit unfair reviewing a Paul John Whisky and not look at Amrut too, so here it goes… ehhh, ok, ok, ok, it has nothing to do with being fair. I seem to like Indian Whiskies, so I will come up with almost any excuse to review another one. I had to hurry writing this review, (spoiler alert), because this one is going fast! At Amrut they also make entry-level cask strength versions of their Whiskies. We already know NAS is not a terrible problem with Indian Whisky, since maturation in India moves at a pace like trains move in Japan. Apart from this Amrut Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky there is also a Amrut Peated Cask Strength Single Malt Whisky, which will find a place on my lectern right before I finish this unpeated one, and I’m guessing that won’t take long…

Color: Vibrant orange gold.

Nose: Creamy, vanilla and oak, with a hint of orange (the fruit, this time). Vanilla powder and fairly simple initially. Hints of oak, exotic spices on oak and sometimes pencil shavings, fresh air or ozone. Sweetish and full on aroma. Warm, warming and fuzzy, sunny. This has a very positive vibe. Milk chocolate, maybe even some mocha. Creamy with a slightly acidic top note, yet not fruity, so no unripe berries here, although I do get some candied yellow fruits. Dried apricots but well in the back although on some occasions it is more upfront. That’s it really. That’s all there is. Now for something funny, in a Whisky like this, it is also all you might need. It is well-balanced and very tasty, so I have no beef with the relative simplicity here. It’s instantly rewarding, not far behind the single cask reviewed earlier.

Taste: Creamy pencil shavings on steroids. Lots of exotic spices with soft oaky bitterness. Very nice wood notes, and again fruity. A bit hot, like the climate in Bangalore, but definitely all about Indian 6-row barley malt, and American oak. Candied yellow fruits again. Apricots in sweet yoghurt. Very high quality and very, very balanced. No off notes and everything is in the right place. Spicy, with very good wood notes. Tasty stuff. Amazing value! Not for nothing, this is already batch 87, and this was back in 2017! Wonderful aftertaste, maybe even better than the body itself since it seems to reach an even higher level of balance. Good, slightly short, aftertaste with hints of lightly roasted coffee, arriving late.

First of all, this looks the part, simple bar style bottle with a nice label, and packaged in a proper shiny heavy-duty tin.

If Master Quill would be an institute of some sorts, issuing awards, this Malt would most definitely win a category, something like best (Indian, or World, or any) cask strength bang-for-your-buck Whisky. Excellent quality for an excellent price. I’m baffled you’re still reading this. Stop it now, go out and buy one. Wonderful stuff, a definite must-have.

Last but not least, I have to make the same remarks as I did the previous review (Paul John). For me, this might be a no brainer, but I have been informed, and I occasionally witness, that Indian Whisky may not be for everyone. personally, I love this style and I can’t believe someone wouldn’t like it, but the same goes for every style of Whisky. Some don’t like peat, some don’t like heavy sherry, some don’t like grassy Lowlanders and some like Loch Dhu… So be warned. Keep an open mind though, you don’t know what you’re missing otherwise…

Points: 87

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Paul John “Christmas Edition 2018” (46%, OB, Batch 1, 3.000 bottles, 2018)

No, you’re dead wrong! I wasn’t hibernating. I know it’s march already, but in my defence, I opened this on december 25th, as it should be. By now, I had plenty of time to try it several times and write something sensible about this stuff. Even when spring is almost upon us, this is still available. How is that even possible with a limited edition of 3.000 bottles worldwide? Don’t say because it’s Indian, because it’s more like; even when it’s Indian. Indian Malts have managed to find their own place upon the world market and expanding on it by the day.

The people of Paul John are busy spreading the gospel about their Whisky, the people in the background are busy working on ideas for new expressions. Where, in the not to distant past, we only had a few standard expressions and some single casks, It wasn’t long before we had the green “Select Casks”, the 7yo Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish, a Kanya and a Mars orbiter. Still in the pipeline are a PX Sherry Cask Finish and the “Nirvana”. A strange move into the world of 40% ABV Whisky. An entry-entry level Malt, placed even before the Brilliance, upping the status of that one in the process. The point I was trying to make is that Paul John is expanding its range, and one of their expansions is this Christmas Edition 2018. My guess would be that it is highly possible, there will be a Christmas Edition 2019. Hopefully, for the fun of it, making it different in composition from the 2018 edition.

Color: Copper gold, cloudy.

Nose: Fruity and waxy, Paul John style. Extremely fruity. Red fruits and sugared yellow fruits. Tiniest hint of peat, no smoke and most definitely no pine cones. Vanilla, but everything comes through this barrier of fruit. Wood comes next, fresh, almost virgin oak, pepper and pencil shavings. Vanilla. Waxy. Sugared mango, sugared pineapple and sugared papaya. However I also pick up on something more like apple, Calvados comes to mind a bit. Sweet mocha and toffee finally pop out as well, after some breathing and swirling. Almonds and Amaretto. Oloroso finish? It seems to be done sparsely and tastefully. It seems to be only there, on the sides of my tongue, right upon entry and in the finish. For me? This one is about wood, wax and almonds, these are the key markers, and balance. Good stuff again from the tropical shores of Goa.

Taste: Sweet. Toffee and caramel. Wood. Fruity with a light bite of peat. And a separate fruity and slightly acidic layer of unripe red fruits. Again no smoke. Lots of the waxy almondy and Amaretto notes I got from the nose. Both fit together nicely. Nutty with definitely almonds in the finish, and a lovely development towards the aftertaste. Both the nose and the taste were not as complex as I might have thought, since this is peated ánd unpeated Paul John distillate married and finished in Oloroso casks. Still no complaints here. I like it.

For me this is the fourth member of Paul Johns entry-level output. This particular expression seems to be a mixture of casks intended for “Brilliance” and “Edited” as well as (unpeated) Whisky that was finished in Oloroso casks for a short period of time. Like “Brilliance”, “Edited” and “Bold”, this “Christmas Edition 2018” lays down a very high standard for a Whisky at very fair price-tag. It’s really amazing stuff. Sure, Indian Whisky is different from Scottish Whisky (for instance), and if you’re hooked on that, and somewhat conservative, I can imagine Indian Whisky is not for you (yet), but otherwise it is great stuff. For me Paul John, as well as Amrut (more about that later), were true eye openers, which changed and expanded my Whisky world. Rampur is a third, worth a mention, which seems to have potential.

Points: 85

Paul John 2009/2015 (58.4%, Malts of Scotland, Peated, Bourbon Barrel, MoS 15068, 156 bottles)

Paul John already had some Whiskies reviewed on these pages, but up ’till now they all have been the official deal, and making up the standard range. Brilliance, Edited and Bold, are the trinity of entry-level Malts from Paul John, where the peat level rises gradually from left to right.

Sometimes a malt is so good, I finish it before I even get the chance to review it, or sometimes I think I reviewed it, remembering the words, and it turns out that I haven’t. This is a bottle I got because the owner wasn’t all that fond of it, even though it was half empty (or half full, depends how you look at it), and thought the stuff he got in return was better. Right now I can’t remember with what I traded it. This bottle is soon to be empty, meaning it’s good! I give you that already. Before moving on to more of the official stuff, here is the first independently bottled Paul John on these pages. This is one of four casks bottled by Malts of Scotland. Three casks from 2009 (#15065, #15067, peated and #15068, also peated) and one from 2011 (#15066).

The officially released Single Cask bottlings of Paul John, were all very nicely priced, and people picked up on them, as well as the more available bottlings. When the independent bottlers started to release Single Cask bottlings of Paul John, they upped the game asking a (much) higher price than Paul John did themselves. Luckily the casks that went to the independents all turned out to be very good casks as well, so they are worth your money. Having said that, all the official Single Casks released were pretty good as well.

When independents started asking higher prices, Paul John followed suit and new releases are more expensive than they were before. I understand Paul John asks a bit more from independents as well, so if my information is right, Malts of Scotland won’t be releasing more Single Cask bottlings of Paul John for a while. Never say never again ‘eh.

Color: Orange gold.

Nose: Soft peat and meaty. A little bit of barley and a tiny hint of dry orange skin and varnished wood. We’re talking luxury department here. Already this smells like near perfection. This is bottle is empty so soon, because I have fallen in love with how this smells. Luckily I was able to replace it another bottle from the same cask. Deep fruits and spicy warm air. A slightly sweet edge. Big nose altogether. Hints of black fruits from old Islay bottlings, salty. Fresh mint and unlit tobacco. Licorice and warm butter. The wood adds notes of pencil shavings and smoke now, adding to the spiciness of the Whisky. Stunning nose. Not a lot of development though, so maybe even in India (almost) six years is (almost) six years. Reluctantly I have to move on, but to be Frank (Not John) I can’t stop smelling this, and have a hard time moving on to taste it. (If I would score noses by itself this would get 95 Points, maybe more, utterly wonderful stuff).

Taste: Sweetish, syrupy and woody. Slightly waxy even. Not even the peat comes first, but rather the big and bold body. Wood, pencil shavings but not exclusively, and various yellow fruit marmalades, bitter orange marmalade first, followed by dried apricots. Several different bitters coming from wood and smoke. That’s about it first time around. The end of the body well into the finish seems a bit thin, but the aftertaste gets the big body back and has a lot of length, keeping you warm and giving you subliminal images of warmer places. Give it time and air to breathe folks. It doesn’t taste like 58.4% ABV. Again, this might not be the most complex stuff around, but what’s there is very good, albeit not as good as the nose though. But when you’ve swallowed this, and enjoying the long lingering aftertaste and thén smell the glass, Ahhhhh, bliss. This hits the right spots with me.

This was the deal breaker, after this one, I had to make more room for Indian Malts on my lectern. What an experience! A word of caution. I have ready and spoken to enough people to know that this might not be for everybody. Indian Malts are not Scottish, Six-row barley gives a lot of exotic spiciness compared to the barley’s used in Scotland, as well as the conditions of maturation on this continent. As I said before, the previous owner of this bottles wasn’t such a big fan of this as I am, so proceed with caution, but keep an open mind.

Points: 91

This one is finished now, and took a while to write, since I couldn’t stop smelling this. I replaced this stunning MoS bottling with another independent bottling of Paul John, a 6yo Cadenheads bottling released this year. Can’t wait to open that one.

Paul John “Bold” (46%, OB, Batch 1, 2016)

To finish off the trilogy of entry-level Paul John’s, here is Bold. Bold was the last addition to the standard range, bottled at 46% ABV. Earlier I already reviewed the other two, “Brilliance” is the base-model so to speak. Just well made Indian Whisky, no peat used. “Edited” is like the base model, only this time tweaked with a little peat, achieved by blending in up to 30% casks of peated Whisky. Today we’ll have a look at “Bold”, introduced in 2015 and made from peated Whisky alone (35 ppm). For this edition, all peat was sourced from Islay.

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Lots of butter and vanilla, youth, and I’m guessing quite some first fill casks. Nice clean peat upfront, smoke second. Enticing stuff. The peat might be recognizable, and it definitely comes across as a young smelling Whisky, but add to that an uncommon floral bit, which sets it apart from Scottish or even Islay peated Whiskies. Slightly waxy. Lacking a bit in the balance department. Sometimes there are whiffs that are too close to new make, but the next breath can be excellent. After a while, still creamy, the peat dumbed down a bit, and the smoke has almost gone. Some green notes, mainly (almost new) oak. If you smell this very calmly, it’s all about the butter, the vanilla, the cream, the toffee, but when you “smell hard”, yeah, that’s where it all comes together. More spicy, dusty and better balanced. Nice peat, latex paint, mocha and nutty as well. The nose lures you in. It’s seductive.

Taste: Sweeter than expected and initially not very peaty, let alone smoky. Lots of warming notes going down though, with nice development in my mouth. All nice aroma’s, but initially not very bold. A wee bit too young again, moving into the direction of new make. Not a lot, but enough to notice. Hints of orange skins and bread, that must be the influence of indian six-row barley. Terroir is happening! Hey, now apart from the floral bit, I also get a slightly soapy note. Fruity and friendly notes appear next. Very easily drinkable. Please do not expect a heavy hitter, it’s not a heavily peated malt in appearance. Its fruity and floral. Sunny with a slight peaty bite.

I would package it in pink and yellow with some black mixed in for the peat used, but it is more a happy Whisky than a brooding one. It’s not gloomy, misty and Scottish, it’s bright, colorful and Indian. So for me not so bold, and the anthracite packaging is way to dark. It’s like your dog, its your best friend and its happy when you get home, wagging its tail trying to lick your face. It’s not a bad-tempered pit bull with a spiky collar, that growls at you when you get home, disturbing its sleep, passing gas, chewing on your beloved furniture.

I preferred the second batch of “Brilliance” over the first, and I’m sure the second batch of “Bold” will be better than the first as well. It’s coming along nicely and I guess all the initial casks at Paul John were rather new. So, a great effort for a first batch, it’s pretty good, but I’m eagerly awaiting the second batch. With more experience and more time, I’m guessing that one will be at least as good as the second batch of “Brilliance”. Paul John is definitely on the way up!

Points: 85

Paul John “Brilliance” (46%, OB, Batch 2, 2016)

Today the Paul John range of Whiskies has three entry-level Malts. The unpeated “Brilliance” of which I’m about to review batch #2 (released in 2016). The very lightly peated (8-10 ppm) “Edited” of which I already reviewed batch #1 way back in 2013. The lightly peated style is achieved by blending peated and unpeated Whisky. For Edited, Aberdeen & Islay peat was used. Both Brilliance and Edited were introduced in 2013. In 2015 the third expression was released, called “Bold”, where all Whisky used in the blend is peated. The names speak for themselves. Edited is a slightly tweaked version of Brilliance, tweaked with a little peat (8-10 ppm in the final product), and Bold is bolder in the use of peat (25-30 ppm in the final product). Where Edited contained Aberdeen & Islay peat, Bold is made with Islay peat only). When I wrote the last review, there was not a lot more Paul John around besides “Brilliance” and “Edited”. Back then only three single casks were issued (The P1’s).

Today the core range has more members than the original two. Apart from the addition of “Bold”, in come two more additions; The Classic Select Cask and the Peated Select Cask, both are cask strength Whiskies (released in 2013), so not really entry-level any more. All other bottlings, and there are quite a few by now, are single cask bottlings, some of which were released for particular countries alone.

Color: Pale gold.

Nose: Fruity and fresh. Nice barley aroma. Fruit cake. Sugared yellow fruits with a hint of smoke. Very, very appetizing. Extremely fruity and floral as well. Fruity first, floral second. Vanilla third. Dry powdered vanilla. Dusty and silent. I imagine a hot day. Next some glue and paint which only broadens the aromatic palate. Warm soft wet wood. Definitely summer in the air. What a wonderful nose. This works perfectly for me. Sure this may be a young Indian Whisky, but it already shows a lot of evolution. Ghanging and growing in my glass.

Taste: Barley and some sweetness, again with a bit of smoke. Incence, smoke from burning herbs. More exotic than the nose. Nice soft wood again and a bit of cardboard. Vanilla, so definitely American oak. Oak bitterness (and herbs) come next, giving the Whisky character and backbone. Both aroma’s are coated with vanilla ice-cream. How’s that for balance?

So this is entry-level Whisky. Wow! I’m not sure about you, but this is right up my alley. It differs from other Whiskies. Its exotic and it is definitely high quality stuff. Amrut already has a fan-club (Amrutfever), but I believe its time someone should start a fan club for Paul John as well.

By the way, reading back my review of the first batch of Paul John “Edited”, also shows me how much the Whisky world has changed in the three and a half years that have passed since then. In 2013, it seems, Whisky was just starting to get global, and today it seems every country in the world already has at least ten distilleries producing Whisky.

Points: 85

Many thanks go out to Shilton (Paul John brand ambassador), for your patience answering all my questions, and for the quickest response-time in the industry!

Amrut 4yo 2009/2013 (60%, OB, Single Cask, for Europe, Virgin Oak & First Fill Bourbon Barrel #3445, 172 bottles)

Maybe Amrut is a true Malternative, because it’s another Malt Whisky. If you love Scottish Single Malts best, why look at other distillates? They are just different. Other distillates can broaden your horizon, but will not replace your Single Malt that has become too expensive. For instance look outside of Scotland.

Looking back I seem to like Amrut. This is now the third review, and after the Intermediate Sherry (87 points) and the Portonova (88 points), this is something of a speciality. Maybe I should take that back. Most Amruts are in fact specialities. Something out of the box is often done. Maturing on two continents, or blending many different casks together, to name but a few of things Amrut does.

This time a single cask bottling. Often, you will have a Whisky that has matured in a first fill or second fill Bourbon cask, barrel or hogshead, but no, Amrut had to do it differently. This particular example was first matured in charred virgin oak and then transferred into a first fill Bourbon barrel. Barrels being the original casks Bourbon matures in, where hogsheads are remade casks from the staves of barrels. Hogsheads are bigger than barrels. Most barrels are shipped in staves anyway.

There is some additional useful information on the label as well. I like that. In the four years this Whisky has been maturing, 42% has evaporated over time, as compared to around 8% in that evaporates is Scotland over the same period of time. By the way, unpeated (six row) Indian barley was used.

Amrut Single Cask #3445Color: Gold.

Nose: The first whiff that enters my nose is of virgin oak. Creamy sawdust and vanilla. Although only four years old, at the fast forward maturation rate, this can be called a woody Whisky. The typical American oak notes are here, but I actually miss the typical Amrut spiciness. Amrut is indian, and Indian Whisky should be a bit exotic, not just another copy of Scottish Whisky. This Amrut does hide it Indian. After some vigorous movement in the glass and some patience, there is exotic spice emerging and apart from that the Whisky becomes a bit dusty.

Taste: Initially hot and then an explosion of sweet Vanilla. When the thick vanilla, travels down, quite some (virgin) oak, emerges here in the taste as well. So we have wood and vanilla. What else? Over the top vanilla combined with hot butter. Just as with the nose this needs air to show some exotic spices. Luckily it’s Indian-ness is here at last. Spicy hot sawdust from Massaranduba. A very hard tropical wood. It’s so hard in fact that you can’t cut it without the saw charring the wood. This slightly sour odour is very similar to the spiciness of this Whisky, especially in the taste of it.

I mentioned decanting Whisky before. This Amrut is one that needs a lot of air as well to fully blossom. This is still a pretty full bottle, but already there is a difference to the first taste of the freshly opened bottle. I will score it now (after lots of air in the glass), but I feel this will grow even better and more balanced over time. This may very well be an example of a Whisky where the last drop from the bottle will be the best drop.

Points: 88

The initial score was 86 points, but as I expected, this got only better over time. The bottle is gone now, but the last third scored an easy 88 Points. Again lesson learned. Give it time to breathe…

Amrut Portonova (62.1%, OB, Batch 5, 2014)

Ahhh, another Amrut. Nice. I had the pleasure to try some Amruts in the past and was very nicely surprised by the Intermediate Sherry (which I then bought) a Single PX Sherry Cask #2699 (which I then bought) and the Kadhambam (which I have yet to buy). I also tried the “plain” cask strength version, and although pretty nice, I preferred the former ones. Now this Portonova crosses my path. This time a Port finished Amrut, and yes, I have high hopes for this one too…

Amrut Portonova Batch 5Color: Light orange gold. No typical Port pinkishness.

Nose: Although this has a huge ABV, this doesn’t leap out of the glass. Give it some time and some dust and cinnamon emerges. Wow. Cookie spices, dried plums and raisins. Exotic and Christmas in a bottle. Fresh air after rain. Creamy and soft oak. Hot metal. Barley, but different from barley you get from (young) Scottish Whisky. Sweet milk chocolate and red fruit juice. Apart from this all, it has a sweet and deep feel. Exotic spices, curry, cardamom, but where is the Port? I already missed the pink hue, but I also miss its smell. Complex stuff this because there is even a lot more happening in the nose than what I noted here.

Taste: Condensed red fruits. Thick, but initially simpler than the complex nose promised. Obviously quite hot with this high ABV. The wood tastes more like paper and cardboard, than any kind of wood. Not a lot of the wealth of spices shine through on the palate, and that’s a shame. Its more a fruity Whisky with maybe some faint hints of Port. Vanilla comes next. With time if becomes more outspoken and creamy. Nice evolution though. Hints of banana in the aftertaste. Lovely.

First I have to air a disappointment. This would be a stellar malt if the spices from the nose were noticeable so more in the taste as well, without being overpowering of course. Missing the spices on the palate makes the taste of this Whisky a bit simpler than it could have been. Now that we have that out-of-the-way. The whole is still an utterly good Whisky. Very much recommended. An excellent winter warmer I would say. I will have to get me one of these soon.

Points: 88