Just a few days ago I returned from a three-week long vacation in northern India (Himachal Pradesh), which was Fabulous. For me it was the first time in India, and I was really impressed with this amazing (yet different) country. One thing I knew before going there – There will not be a lot of whisky, or there will not be a lot of Good whisky, to be more precise. I was traveling to small towns which had no whisky bars I am sure bigger cities have. Also, as most of you know, The well known Indian single malts (Amrut Paul John) are not sold domestically, but only available for export, and the majority of Indian whisky lovers have to make do with Domestic Blended whiskies.
Indian whisky consumption is Huge, in fact the best selling blended whiskies are almost all Local Indian brands or labels (owned by Global whisky brands) : McDowell’s No.1 Reserve , Officer’s Choice , Royal Stag , Bagpiper , Old Tavern, Original Choice , Imperial Blue , Haywards Fine , 8 PM , Director’s Special etc. Each is sold in the millions of cases, and are widely available in India.
I was not set to try them all, but decided to buy a couple which were recommended to me by a friend, as ones being “good” (in Indian standards, with a caution not to get my hopes too high). One thing you can say about local Indian whiskies, is that they are quite affordable (but most food in India is quite cheap in western standards, so that is not a big surprise). I was able to buy both bottles I am about to review for under $10 a bottle.
The first Indian whisky I tried (I got some poured over at a Shabbat evening meal) was the “Royal Stag”. I was warned about this one, but I did have to try it for science’ sake . It was a very young spirity tasting spirit, resembling vodka aged with wood chips, more than resembling anything close to “whisky”. You have to bare in mind that Indian definition of “whisky” is quite different than the Scotch definition, and you can make whisky even from Molasses (most do), which is Illegal in the EU, but in India, like everything in India, you can do pretty much anything. Gladly I did not take notes, and will not review the Royal Stag. My advice : Avoid.
Now, let’s get back to some whisky tasting notes, starting today with the Signature Rare Aged. Rare and Aged are usually hints that the whisky is Young, and quite common, but this is the better version of the Signature range. It also has a sibling called “Premier Grain” which I did not try.
Some info about this whisky I was able to dig up online : Signature, also Mcdowell’s Signature, is an Indian Premium Blended whisky produced and marketed by United Spirits Ltd. of the United Breweries Group. Launched in 1994, it is a premium blend made from exquisite aged whiskies of Islay and Highland regions of Scotland and selected aged Indian malts. It is further blended for an extended period of time to ensure the flavours of various scotches. It is India’s first spirits brand blended with 8 year old scotch crafted by third generation Scottish master blender, Richard Paterson.
Nose: The nose is light and honeyed with slight hints of smoke, cereals and heather. it does not feel very very young, or smell of wood chips as the royal stag did.
Palate: A nice medium body, the smoky notes are a bit more pronounced here (light peat, very very light), the younger grain whisky (not sure which types of grain, maybe molasses) is evident, and it could have been nicer without that note (but I guess, it would be young scotch without it, not very Indian, right?). Some Caramel too.
Finish: The peat and grain notes are here to stay it seems, with oily and cereal notes too.
This is not the best blend I’ve had, obviously, but happily I can say it is not THAT bad too. If you put some ice in your glass, it could be a nice summer sipper. and for that price (under 5 quid or so), you can not get expect much more , can you?. The peated scotch is a nice addition here , which does integrate (fairly) well with the young grain spirit. Not sure how to score this one, so I wont. Don’t try this at home kids