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Top 10 single malts in India, picked by a sommelier

Along with recommendations from Scotland, Ireland, and Japan, the list includes some great single malts made in our very own backyard

Elevate your home bar with these whiskies.
Elevate your home bar with these whiskies. (Marcelo Verfe, Pexels)

Writing any Top 10 list on wines or spirits has always been somewhat tricky for me. There’s just so much out there that I want to include that I often find myself unable to write, because I cannot decide which are the ones that I’m okay with leaving out.

For this one, I’ve included (on purpose) some great single malts made in our very own backyard that I promise would give even the most demanding whisky connoisseur a run for their money. All whiskies mentioned are available in India, maybe not in every state.

Also read | The story behind a made-in-India whisky that reached Cannes

Indri Trini, India
A new entrant to the market launched only last year in July, this one has definitely gotten my attention and if you have not had it, please stop what you’re doing and get yourself a bottle.

Tasting Notes: Gentle and mellow on the nose. Hints of black tea, caramelised pineapple with a whiff of oak comes forward, followed by vanilla and honey from the bourbon oak and traces of spiced tannins from the European oak, finally topped up with vinous raisin and sweet sherry notes. Elegant richness, smooth and warm on the sides of the mouth. Gentle spice and woody characteristics. A subtle and balanced finish.

Paul John Mithuna, India
In my opinion, this distillery along with Amrut set the tone and the standard for the current wave of quality of Indian whiskies. Paul John Mithuna is part of the distilleries Zodiac series. 

Tasting Notes: Aromas of liquorice, gentle beeswax with honey on crisp toast and tender notes of vanilla. Coffee mocha, orange peel, delicate spice on active tannins with gentle oils and dark cocoa notes. Long and complex with multi-toned sugars and delicate honey.

Teeling Single Malt, Ireland
We don’t realize this, but at one time Irish whiskey ruled the roost. Teeling is by far one of the most exciting distilleries from Ireland and their Single Malt aged in a range of wine casks offers a very complex and layered experience. Personal bias aside, this is a great drop.

The whiskey is matured and finished in casks that impart the influence of five wine casks (Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon). Known as “a symphony” of flavour, due to its fruit forward flavour, complex yet balanced.

Tasting Notes: Vibrant aromas of melon, figs, lemon and toffee. Dried fruit, citrus, vanilla, spice and cloves on the palate with long sweetness in harmony with the dry tannins from the wood.

Also read | On a high-spirited whisky trail through Ireland

Yamazaki 12YO, Japan
Owned by Beam Suntory, this relatively young distillery is responsible for elevating Japanese whisky in general and creating a cult-like following across the world. It is pricey with indubitable high quality. If you get your hands on the 18YO, then we are really talking! The color is pure gold. 

Tasting notes: The aroma is peach, pineapple, grapefruit, clove, candied orange, vanilla, Mizunara (Japanese oak). The palate has coconut, cranberry and butter. The finish is of sweet ginger, cinnamon, and a long finish.

Glen Grant 18YO, Scotland
I have immense respect for this distillery. They bottle what is the inherent quality of the spirit without any attempt to mask or colour it into anything else. Crisp Barley bite here again. Consistently regarded as one of the finest distilleries in Scotland.

Tasting notes: This complex Single Malt Scotch Whisky delivers delicate notes of vanilla, butterscotch and resins with hints of spice and a long finish. Voted best single malt in the world multiple times.

Glenmorangie 18YO, Scotland
After 15 years of maturation in American white-oak, ex-bourbon casks, around 30% of the whisky is transferred into Spanish Oloroso sherry casks for three years. When both parts have reached 18 years, they are blended. The Oloroso casks provide an incredible degree of vibrancy, while the American oak balances the raisin-like sweetness of the sherry.

Tasting notes: 18 Years Old is a dazzling, luminous whisky, balancing sweet and floral lushness, with rich marmalade flavours, honey and fig.

Lagavulin 16YO, Islay, Scotland
No one single malt attracts so much respect for the style that it offers. A classic benchmark for peaty whiskies, the 16 YO is just perfect. Pour yourself a glass, put on some Led Zeppelin and let the world disappear.

Tasting notes: Intense peat smoke with iodine and seaweed and a rich, deep sweetness. A rich, dried fruit sweetness with clouds of smoke and strong, barley-malt flavors, warming and intense. At the back of the mouth is an explosion of peppery smoke. Huge, long, warming and peppery with a distinct appetizing sweetness.

Kilchoman Machir Bay, Scotland
A baby of a distillery, this one opened in 2005 and is the first new distillery to open in Islay in 124 years. It is a vatting of Kilchoman matured in bourbon and sherry casks with more spirit from bourbon barrels in the mix. 

Tasting notes: Citrus fruit, layered vanilla and butterscotch sweetness and some lovely peat.

Longmorn 16YO, Scotland
Relatively unknown to most, hard to get most of the time but what a drop. This has quickly become one of my personal favourite distilleries.

Tasting Notes: Fresh and green. Notes of apple peel and Bramley apple, hints of citrus and herbal notes. There are some notes of balsa wood, calvados and plenty of dry oaken tannins. Rich and compact. Notes of lemon zest and a leafy greenness. A good level of tannins develops with a vinous character and spice. The oak is dry and full. Long and dry with a zesty quality.

Oban 14 YO, Highlands, Scotland
A classic oily, peaty extremely balanced drop. Also, the first single malt I ever had. It is getting increasingly challenging to get this bottle in India, but by far it's one of the best money can buy.

Tasting Notes: Flavours of orange peel, smoke, sea salt and honey. Dried fig, spice, and a smoked malt dryness on the palate. Scents of fresh oranges, lemon and pear with a hint of sea salt and peat. Long, smooth, and oaky sweet with a grain of salt.

Mumbai-based sommelier Nikhil Agarwal is the CEO All Things Nice. 

Also read | What is Japanese whisky?

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