Whiskies are so much of an unexplored and unappreciated lot that it took me over a decade to realize what I was really missing. The outlook the world over has matured and continues to do so with more and more people appreciating the drink; not to mention distillers going beyond just age and ingredient in creating flavor rich concoctions.
Indian whiskies too have evolved over time and so have distillers in terms of satisfying the consumer needs. Yes, we still do have those blends that are a ‘Scotch and sugar based neutral spirit mix, but we’ve also moved on to the ‘Indian malt and Scotch’ mix and the not so recent introduction of Single malts into the mainstream market.
Amrut and Paul John are a few examples of Indian distilleries that have put out amazing, delicious malts – Fusion, Spectrum, from the former and Brilliance, Classic from the latter. And although Single Malts weren’t the norm here in India initially, they were primarily blended along with Scotch and/or local grain whiskies thus allowing cheaper liquors to be readily available to the public. With time and a lot more whisky awareness, the opportunity to experiment with Indian Single Malts presented itself and the people took to it!
In the early 90s, there was one such venture by the McDowell’s distillery – The McDowell’s Single Malt (no credit to creativity here!). The whisky is very much indigenous with everything sourced locally. They’ve also aligned to the most traditional practices, using copper pot stills for the distillation and then maturing the resultant white spirit in ex-bourbon American casks for a period of 3 years.
McDowell’s No 1 was named after Angus McDowell, a Scotsman who started a trading establishment ‘McDowell and Company’ in 1826 near Madras (now Chennai). He traded and sold imported cigars, tobacco, tea, wines, spirits and other commodities to the British that were posted in and about. In 1898, McDowell’s was incorporated as a company and bought half a century later by United Breweries, only to be acquired once again by Diageo.
Funny thing is the McDowell’s brand hadn’t introduced whiskies until much later- 1968; Brandy was the liquor of choice for over 5 years! And while most of their whiskies do have a good proportion of neutral grain spirits, the Single Malt promised 100% pure ‘all malt’ goodness with a view to tap an unexplored market segment.
ABV : 42.8%
Nose: Sweet caramel, with the zest of lemon and bits of malt, wheat and cream. Carbon ash and wood take up the foreground. Hints of grape, red apples and bananas form the base with spices and aromatics trailing at the end.
Taste: Sweet, woody and slightly astringent. Some of the fruity characteristics from the nose along with corn husks pull through to the palate.
On dilution, a lot of that aggressive woodiness and rough nature is cut through. The aromatics on the nose are more pronounced and broader while the palate sweeter with a cherry-like finish- Reminds me a lot like a heavier, rugged version of the Jameson’s.
Finish: Dry, sweet, long, and woody.
This is by far the most pocket friendly single malt and for the price it doesn’t bore. It’s not praise worthy and in no way stands close to the bigger Indian single malt players but having said that it it does have a few traits of what a single malt ought to be. The woody characteristics make a presence in all the facets of the tastings with a bit of smoke lurking in the background. It certainly is a bit rough which gives me the hint that both wood and whisky didn’t have much time to acquaint, but on diluting the mix to a small degree, the world is once again bright and blissful!
The McDs Single Malt can be had neat, or as a cocktail; and with the flavors it brings to the table along with the price it commands you really are at a win-win either ways.